Civic gurus accuse city of ignoring issues with McCarren Park House overhaul

Mccarren Park house
The planned McCarren Park House and its controversial new annex to the right.

North Brooklyn civic gurus slammed the city for moving ahead with a partial privatization and renovation of the McCarren Park House, saying the Parks Department ignored their concerns with the design — in particular a controversial storage annex next to the historic building.

“That accessory building — by another name it’s a garage — really just violates the spirit of the park,” said Community Board 1 Parks and Waterfront committee member Steve Chesler at an Oct. 29 virtual meeting.

Parks plans to lease the 19th century building to the owners of the Greenpoint’s former Brooklyn Night Bazaar for a new cafe, and the business owners will in turn fund a gut renovation, an expansion of the building’s restrooms, and an additional structure at the southeastern corner to house Parks’ offices and equipment.

The renovation includes fixing the peeling paint on the façade, replacing the windows and doors, and making the building compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Parks spokeswoman Anessa Hodgson declined to say how much the revamp will cost Brooklyn Bazaar, but said the licensee is on the hook for $1.2 million in improvements during the next 20 years. 

A rear view of the proposed design.Screenshot/KTISMAstudio

But Chesler said Thursday that the planned shed on the side does not mesh with the 1911 building, which was designed by the Gilded Age architecture firm behind Manhattan’s iconic old Penn Station McKim, Mead, and White.

“When people enter the park from Driggs [Avenue] and Lorimer [Street], they’re confronted by this appendage to the building that’s unnatural and wasn’t part of the original,” he said.

Greenpoint resident Kate Naplatarski agreed and said planners should move the building elsewhere or redesign it.

“It looks like a garage and I don’t think that’s necessary,” Naplatarski said. “I think that it could be changed a little bit to not look like a garage.”

In February, the full community board gave an overwhelming — albeit purely advisory — vote to oppose the project’s design. The civic panel followed up with a letter to Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver outlining a laundry list of issues they had with the scheme.

Locals demanded more bathrooms in the design, and that builders move the proposed shed away from the building to the edge of the park. Board members also expressed concerns about the concession’s incursion into the park, and people illegally taking booze beyond the limits of the proposed eatery and into the lawn.

“The preference for the community board that was stated in the letter for you guys in February was for the building not to be placed adjacent to the park house,” committee co-chair Trina McKeever reiterated Thursday.

A side view of the proposed concession to be operated by the owners of the former Brooklyn Night Bazaar in Greenpoint.Screenshot/KTISMAstudio

Regardless, the city moved ahead with the building’s construction last week without fully addressing those concerns, said Chesler.

“The full board took a vote basically saying no until these issues are resolved, so I think we’re all kind of taken aback that construction has commenced,” he said.

An architect for the project said they had to move Parks’ staff offices and equipment out of the building to make way for the new cafe and extra bathrooms, but that they couldn’t relocate the addition further from the building because workers needed it to be close by. 

“The maintenance operations staff needs their tools needs their vehicles directly adjacent to their offices,” said Jonathan Chesley. “There is nowhere else it can go.”

Officials further contended that they shrank the offending structure in response to the criticisms and that they will try to make it more subtle by changing the color from a reflective surface to either grey or brick-colored and by surrounding it with trees.

One Parks honcho said that bureaucrats did listen to locals’ concerns by increasing the number of bathroom stalls from six to 10, but maintained that the civic panel’s concerns couldn’t hold up the project any more.

“We do have a license agreement with an operator to move forward and we can’t unreasonably withhold them from proceeding with their license agreement and financial commitments for the city including a substantial capital investment and fees to the city,” said Parks’ director of concession architecture and development Anthony Macari. “While we always want to make the community board happy and we responded to their comments, it’s not a binding vote.”

After getting permits for interior work from the Department of Buildings last week, the city is set to start demolition and Chesley said they expect to finish the project by next summer.

Officials are still awaiting the final sign-off for the outside work by the city’s Public Design Commission, according to Chesley, and Brooklyn Bazaar will likely come back to the board some time in the future for a liquor license application in order to serve booze on the premises.