Hook developer seeks a little sweetness

The Brooklyn Paper
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Money can’t buy love, respect or even a zoning variance.

At a Community Board 6 hearing earlier this month, Thor Equities developer Joe Sitt fished for new friends in the neighborhood that surrounds his latest big-money buy — a large, rusting sugar refinery on Red Hook waterfront with an unsure future under a proposal by Mayor Bloomberg to limit residential development along the waterfront.

“[This site] deserves to be activated by the community,” he told the board in a plea for an exemption from the so-called Industrial Business Zone scheme so that he can tear down the Revere Sugar refinery, for which he paid $40 million in September.

Since then, his vision for a shopping strip that would include a fish restaurant, mixed-income housing and neighborhood shops has been entirely unrealized.

“In order to even create a plan, we have to get out of the IBZ,” his publicist, Lee Silberstein, told The Brooklyn Papers.

But getting out may be tricky.

Even residents in support of bringing new faces and shops to the neighborhood are warily eyeing the developer.

“We can’t just have a block of manufacturing on the waterfront, but we don’t want another boring place with hip luxury condos,” said Kristine Fradenburgh.

Following the hearing, the waterfront committee voted against exempting Sitt from the IBZ.

In what has become a persistent tug-of-war between residential development and industry in Red Hook, two of the neighborhood’s largest landowners — Tom Fox, who keeps his New York Water Taxis at the Erie Basin; and Robert Hughes, who docks 200 barges there — testified that waterfront condos can’t coexist with the diesel engines of a working port.

Sitt is best known for an also-unrealized plan to convert 12 acres of Coney Island land that he owns into a Las Vegas-like pleasure mall.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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