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Fire on the Gowanus

Fire on the Gowanus
The Brooklyn Paper / Gregory P. Mango

The merry pranksters behind David Letterman’s late-night hijinks have drafted their own “top 10 list” for what they want from the city — and there’s only one entry: stop the proposed residential rezoning of the area around the Gowanus Canal.

Transforming the mostly industrial area into a community of environmentally friendly homes, offices and shops is a major Bloomberg administration initiative — but businesses in the area remain resistant.

Set decorator Ruth Siegel, for example, said that Bloomberg’s vision would force her Sackett Street company, Jauchem & Meeh Special Effects, to relocate — which could not only send the company out of New York City, but also affect Letterman’s ability to get laughs.

“Prop lists are generally handed down from the writers on the day of the show,” said Siegel in a letter to Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D-Park Slope), which went on to describe the trouble in TV land that could ensue if Jauchem & Meeh is “forced to relocate further and further from the city core.”

How important is the company to Letterman? Consider this: Most recently, the company cooked up cauldrons of a trans-fatty-acid-like gook for a sketch that involved dumping gallons of Mayor Bloomberg’s least favorite Frankenfat on the show’s announcer. That’s comedy, with a capital K.

Siegel’s letter comes at a time when dozens of business along the canal have raised similar fears of being zoned out of the area if city allows developers to build housing on land that until now has long been reserved only for manufacturing uses. (See other business profiles below).

Even before the final rezoning map has been drawn, the anticipated change has begun to pose complications for Jauchem & Meeh, which holds more than 40 permits to do non-neighborly things like store cryogenic gases, manufacture firearms and use “high and low explosives.”

Directly across the canal from the warehouse, Toll Brothers — known for bringing the McMansion to the suburbs — plans to build apartments and rowhouses.

“We have the permits to set a propane fire, break a large pane of glass, or test very loud weapons,” said manager Bohdan Bushell. “But what happens when people start moving in?”

Bushell, like Siegel, also worries about losing his close proximity to the city. Letterman’s trans-fat order came at 12:15 pm on the day of the show and the Gowanus-made gook was on the air by 4:30 pm, he said.

“This is a last-minute business,” he said, “Our proximity to Manhattan is very important. The fact that [clients] know how to get here gives us a huge advantage. Where else is there [industrial land] so close to the industry decision-makers?”

Industrial businesses advocates argue that as residential development encroaches on industrial land, conflicts will develop over noise and traffic — and the residents will win.

“We have to ask where all the people who are moving [to these areas] will work,” said Rachael Dubin, policy and planning manager for Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation.

Planning officials say there can be a balance between business and residential uses.

“We are trying to balance the need for housing and [for] job opportunities,” said Rachaele Raynoff, a spokeswoman for Planning. “We are still studying all these questions.

“Everyone is [talking] like this has been decided. Nothing has been decided,” she added.

Nonetheless, employees at Jauchem & Meeh say that they can already read the oil shimmers on the canal.

“Even if we stay, the [rezoning] will change what people build here and then, what work people do here,” said Fred Pisciotta, foreman of the shop and its resident expert on motorcycles, bicycles and guns, which he can build from scratch.

He said the prospect of de-industrialized canal saddened him.

“Rank or not, the water makes me creative,” the gunmaker said.

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The Brooklyn Paper / Gregory P. Mango

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