Condo work on waterfront halted

The Brooklyn Paper
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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.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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