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Condo work on waterfront halted • Brooklyn Paper

Condo work on waterfront halted

A Brooklyn judge this week halted construction on a $70 million luxury
condominium conversion in a six-story former book warehouse on the Red
Hook waterfront.

The order came as the result of a lawsuit brought by the Red Hook-Gowanus
Chamber of Commerce against the city Board of Standards and Appeals seeking
to overturn the panel’s granting of what, the chamber charges, is
an unreasonable zoning variance.

The pricey condos would be located in a manufacturing district, 30 feet
from piers that currently house an active shipping port, which are slated
to dock Carnival and Norwegian cruise liners.

Community Board 6 issued a negative declaration to the variance application,
but the BSA disregarded the board’s recommendation, granting the
site-specific zoning change last December.

Despite a strong outcry from local businesses that fear being pushed out
in favor of residential developments along the majestic waterfront —
with panoramic views of the New York harbor, Statue of Liberty and Manhattan
skyline — the developers, Industry City Associates, claimed the residential
conversion was the only way they could turn a profit. Calling the massive
warehouse “unique” the developers claimed they tried for a year
to find a conforming tenant, to no avail.

On Nov. 5, state Supreme Court Judge Yvonne Lewis ruled that the Red Hook
chambers may have a case in charging that the BSA had no strong supporting
evidence with which to grant the variance. She issued a temporary restraining
order, haulting construction. On Friday, Nov. 12, she extended the temporary
order until Nov. 19, when she is expected to render a decision.

Michael Hiller, the lawyer for the chamber, said that to even have the
restraining order issued, “we had to prove to the court that it was
very likely we would win our case.” Hiller said the developers did
not meet the minimum requirements of providing strong evidence to the
BSA that a variance must be issued.

“Prior to the decision three of the four commissioners for the BSA
were on the record saying the owner would never be able to meet the five
factors,” said Hiller. “One of them even called the variance
application ‘offensive.’”

Additionally, he said, the BSA vote of 3-1 left the chairman of the board
standing firm, but alone, against issuing the zoning change. “Two
of the three people who supported the variance are on the record being
against it,” he told the judge on Friday.

Pasquale Pacifico, executive director for the BSA, declined to comment
for this article.

Bob Liff, a spokesman for Bruce Federman, one of the principals of Industry
City Associates, said demolition had already been completed and the restraining
order was merely delaying the start of reconstruction. The building, one
of a pair of twin warehouses on the small street that fronts Pier 11,
is currently shrouded in scaffolding and protective netting.

“We’re confident the BSA acted properly,” Liff said.

“This place is ill-designed for modern manufacturing,” Liff
said. “The developer can have it completed by the end of next year,
with occupancy by late 2005.”

While business and job advocates in the area, including Rep. Jerrold Nadler
and Councilman David Yassky, chairman of the Waterfronts Committee, have
publicly opposed the condo conversion, saying it will ultimately lead
to the loss of hundreds of blue-collar jobs, some community members say
housing is a more pressing need, and with new people will come more job
opportunities.

“I think people fail to understand, either purposefully or otherwise,
that when Red Hook, which has lost half its population over the last 20
years, had twice as many people, it had thousands of more jobs,”
said John McGettrick, a co-chair of the Red Hook Civic Association.

He said the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which is planning
the future of the Red Hook waterfront, had no objections to the building’s
proximity to the cruise ships “and they’re the operators of
Piers 11 and 12.”

“So I am hard-pressed to find the reason why the people are opposing
it,” McGettrick said.

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