Gates of wrath! Greenpoint fights illegal fences along waterfront

Gates of wrath! Greenpoint fights illegal fences along waterfront
The Brooklyn Paper / Shannon Geis

They say good fences make good neighbors — but these fences ain’t good.

Greenpoint residents, community groups, and politicians are calling on the city to force waterfront property owners to remove illegal gates that have been erected across public streets.

Two weeks ago, city workers tore down a chain-link fence that had long closed the riverside foot of Kent Street from the public, but the ends of other neighborhood blocks — including Java and Noble streets — remain obstructed.

“They have privatized what should be public land,” said Stephanie Thayer, executive director of the Open Space Alliance, a group that joined Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights) in the fight to reopen the long-closed section of Kent Street.

According to Thayer, business owners along the North Brooklyn waterfront erected the unpermitted fences during the 1970s and ’80s to protect their properties from trespassers.

But as crime declined and civilian demand for waterfront access increased, the land owners never removed the unpermitted barriers — and the city never laid down the law.

That left Greenpoint residents like Mike Gomez locked out.

“[Java Street] is a nice cobblestone street — it should be open to the public,” he said.

Yassky agreed — and he pinned the blame on city bureaucrats in a scathing letter last month to Robert Lieber, the city’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, demanding the removal of all three fences.

“No one at present appears willing to actually remove the fences for fear of incurring potential liabilities,” he said. “I insist … that the removal of these street-end fences and gates be addressed immediately.

“Greenpoint continues to have virtually no access to its waterfront and [proposed] parks are still years away from completion,” Yassky continued. “These street ends, once fully open, accessible, and clean, will provide the community with three desperately needed waterfront havens.”

Weeks after receiving Yassky’s letter, the city fulfilled the lawmaker’s wish on Kent Street.

“It’s a great thing that we’re now going to be able to have access to the water,” said Michael Freedman-Schnapp of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth. “These can be informal spaces where you can go and relax, they can be gathering places for the community throughout the year.”

Java and Noble streets, however, remain blocked.

The iron gate that crosses Java Street is often unlocked, giving North Brooklyn residents some access to the waterfront block, but the barrier itself is enough to convince many passersby that the public street is actually private property. Some drivers told The Brooklyn Paper that they refuse to park on the block due to fears that the gate might be closed when they return.

The gate has also turned the seemingly private street into an attractive location for homeless people, according to Yassky.

The Noble Street fence provided public safety after a fire ravaged the Greenpoint Terminal Market, but Yassky claims the site is now safe enough for pedestrian access. In fact, sources say that film crews are often given access to the street end, while neighborhood residents are barred from the block.

Property owners responsible for the gates could not be reached before The Brooklyn Paper’s impenetrable online deadlines.

Eventually, the street ends — some of which are planned as connectors between long-promised parks and a waterfront esplanade — might be decked out with benches and seating, but for now, many residents are happy just to have access.

“It might just be a crumbling street end, but people are eager to get down there and be by the water,” said Thayer.

— with Shannon Geis

The Brooklyn Paper / Shannon Geis