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Sunset Parkers ‘Minerv-ous’ over building push

Green-Wood Cemetery’s Minerva will still have her view of Lady Liberty in the new “cutout” design of 614 Seventh Ave.
Scarano Associates

On a recent steamy morning, the goddess Minerva was given her annual wax.

Battle Hill in Green-Wood Cemetery was quiet as an international crew
of volunteer preservationists set out to coat (using paintbrushes) the
9-foot-tall statue in a protective sheen of Butcher’s Bowling Alley
Wax.

But for Sunset Park neighbors watching the preservationists work, the
morning’s sultry peace felt more like a pause in a storm of construction
and demolition that has left them with 311 on speed dial.

Those concerns have centered on plans for a five-story condominium at
614 Seventh Ave., between 22nd and 23rd streets, that neighbors fear will
obstruct the historic gaze in which the Battle of Brooklyn monument and
her sister across the harbor, the Statue of Liberty, are locked. (See
previous story
.)

There is also concern that the condo design put forth by Scarano and Associates
Architects will open the floodgates for developers rushing to build in
Sunset Park before a down-zoning proposal can be approved as has been
done to the north, in Park Slope, and to the south, in Bay Ridge.

Those neighborhood-wide zoning changes have left the area between 16th
and 65th streets, west of Eighth Avenue, vulnerable to the development
push, neighbors worry.

[Community Board 7 will hold a public hearing, followed by a special board
meeting, on Wednesday, Aug. 24 at 6:30 pm at the board office, 4201 Fourth
Ave., on the proposed “South Park Slope Area” rezoning, which
encompasses the portion of the neighborhood from 15th to 24th streets,
between Prospect Park West and Fourth Avenue.]

Meanwhile, Scarano and Associates, seeking to appease the concerns over
the historic stare between Minerva and Lady Liberty came up with what
some see as a bizarre compromise, keeping most of the bulk of their building,
and the same number of units, but providing a setback that allows the
two statues to maintain their gaze across the harbor.

So far only seen on a digital rendering provided by the DUMBO-based architects,
the new design troubles Green-Wood officials and neighbors.

“Its not that we think there has been deliberate deception but obviously
an architect is concerned about preserving favor for their project, and
we, obviously, are concerned about our view,” said Richard Moylan,
president of the historic cemetery.

After discussions last month with Moylan and Borough President Marty Markowitz,
Scarano agreed to appease doubts about the rendering by putting up a scaffolding
model or “mockup” on the site before moving forward with the
final design — a recommendation often made by the city Landmarks
Preservation Committee.

But plans to begin construction before completing the mockup, add urgency
to Green-Wood’s worries.

“We have no recourse once the foundation is in,” said Moylan.

Neighbors concerned about view spoilage say that construction at the site,
like at other sites in the area, is being rushed by developers who want
to beat a rezoning process expected to expand Park Slope’s R6-B contextual
zoning into this northern fringe of Sunset Park. The rush, they say, comes
at the expense of careful building.

“It’s a natural occurrence,” said Department of Buildings
spokeswoman Jennifer Givner. “If developers know they can build now,
but they can’t build later they are going to try and beat the clock,
as they say. It doesn’t make it right, but it does happen.”

Scarano and Associates disagree with those who say that laying the foundation
will prohibit later revisions to the building’s roofline. If the
mockup shows the redesign as inadequate to preserve the skyline, “We
can still make final adjustments in the floor-to-floor heights on the
levels below the setback to reduce the height at this critical area,”
said the firm’s principal architect, Robert Scarano.
In an e-mail to The Brooklyn Papers, Scarano noted that the firm believes
it is “correct with the geometries since all the math was done by
an independent, third-party surveying company.”

Yet the redesign continues to provoke doubt from neighbors. “The
design is not a cutout or a pedestal for Liberty, it’s a roof deck,”
said neighbor and local activist Aaron Brashear. “As soon as a barbecue
or a picnic table goes up there, the view will be gone.”

While reluctant to praise Scarano until the mockup is complete, Brashear
noted the orderliness of the work site, pointing out that the construction
team there has been a lot more attentive to neighbors than other developers
in the area.

Working out of his home studio last week, Brashear heard keenly the sound
of falling debris when workers with axes in hand and no protective gear
took to the roof of the house next door to his, at 324 22nd St.

“I could hear them just chopping away and things just falling,”
he recalled.

The Department of Buildings logged six complaints by that afternoon. By
the next day, the city had shut down the site for unsafe conditions and
within a week, a second site in the neighborhood was shut down as well,
this one slapped with a stop-work order after inspectors found that holes
in the construction fence had left the excavation at 639 Sixth Ave. open
— a danger to children in the neighborhood.

Both sites can be found on a spreadsheet titled “Street Knowledge,”
that Brashear and friends have circulated on the Internet. A comprehensive
listing of potential demolition sites in the area, their existing structures
and any notes on permits or deeds, the document is one attempt by residents
to track what is going on around their homes — and when.

“We’ll be waiting, “ said Brashear, “At this point
we feel like we might not be able to stop [the construction] but we are
watching.”

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