City suit: Tear down this fence!

Greenpoint resident Dewey Thompson can’t get to the waterfront because of a private fence on Noble Street — so the city is suing its owner.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Good fences make good neighbors — but bad fences make good lawsuits.

The city is suing the owner of a Greenpoint waterfront lot to force him to tear down two fences and cement barriers on Noble Street that prevent access to the river.

A city lawsuit is also seeking an unspecified financial penalty from the site’s owner, Joshua Guttman, who built two fences in 2009, even though he knew they were on a public street, ignoring the city’s repeated requests to remove them.

“The public’s right to access Noble Street is inalienable and inextinguishable,” said the suit, which was filed last month. “The public has a common law perpetual right of passage from the terminus of Noble Street at West Street through the East River.”

The street has been closed for almost 30 years in a long-standing property dispute. Guttman’s allies say that he added the fences to protect half a dozen industrial businesses, which leave machinery, wood, steel and marble in their two waterfront lots west of West Street.

But Greenpoint residents have clamored for access to the East River for several decades — the fence is often locked and when it is open, a private security guard prevents them from walking through the property.

“It is high time to regain public access to the waterfront on Noble Street,” said Noble Street resident Jolanta Kulpa Gubernat. “The waterfront is a valuable asset and all citizens should have right of access.”

Councilman Steve Levin (D–Greenpoint), who has been urging the Bloomberg administration to take action on the property, said the suit would force Guttman to “rectify this injustice.”

“Unfortunately, private interests have long trumped the community’s needs and demands in Greenpoint,” said Levin. “Waterfront access is sparse in Greenpoint and it is essential that we protect the public’s right to enter Noble Street.”

Levin had asked Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to have workers tear the fence down — but the city chose to fight in court in order to keep the street open in perpetuity.

Community Board 1 member Dewey Thompson is encouraged by the suit.

“I want that fence down!” said Thompson. “It has literally been decades since the Greenpoint community has had access to this street and its fantastic views of the city.”

Guttman, a DUMBO-based developer, has had a colorful history in Greenpoint.

The Greenpoint Terminal Market, which he owned, burned to the ground in an alleged arson — and he owed the city $4.7 million in fines for failing to maintain the waterfront property.

And this winter, pieces of one of Guttman’s buildings fell onto a section of American Playground near Noble Street, forcing the Parks Department to temporarily close the site.

More from Around New York

>