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Council Approves Makeover of the Brooklyn Waterfront
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
12 May 2005
The New York Times

The City Council overwhelmingly approved plans yesterday to rezone 175 waterfront blocks in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, removing the last major hurdle to the city's most ambitious redevelopment effort in decades.

The final plan -- the product of months of negotiations between the City Council and the Bloomberg administration -- is an ambitious blueprint to create new housing and amenities in an area once dominated by manufacturing. It would create 54 acres of parkland, help cushion the transition of businesses forced to relocate, and require that one-third of new apartment units in the rezoned areas be set aside for moderately priced housing, among other provisions.

''We are very happy,'' said Councilwoman Diana Reyna, whose Brooklyn district includes parts of rezoned neighborhoods, at a news conference before the vote.

''When we talk about jobs, when we talk about affordable housing, when we talk about open space -- those are not privileges,'' she added. ''Those are rights.''

A single council member, Charles Barron of Brooklyn, voted against the legislation, saying that the housing provision was a ''step in the right direction'' but too modest.

''There has to be a day in this City Council where we don't settle for less than 50 percent affordable housing,'' Mr. Barron said during the voting.

The Council also ratcheted up its fight with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg over the stadium proposal, passing legislation requiring that the mayor get Council approval before spending money from the Payments in Lieu of Taxes, or Pilot, program.

The mayor has insisted that his administration can budget and spend Pilot money -- including millions of Pilot dollars he has proposed using to pay for the city's share of a West Side stadium -- without Council approval.

Gifford Miller, the Council speaker, explained that such a move would improperly give the mayor the ability to spend as much as $10 billion annually without Council input, which he called an abuse of power.

''The mayor seems to believe that because money is going to go into the treasury, until it does, he has the right to spend it however he sees fit on anything he wants, without any review,'' Mr. Miller said.

Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for the mayor, said the Pilot legislation passed by the Council was ''patently illegal'' and ''nothing more than an attempted power grab by Gifford Miller.''

The day's drama, however, came at the hearing's end, when Councilman Lewis A. Fidler formally introduced a resolution condemning Lenora B. Fulani, a prominent member of the Independence Party, for comments that she made about Israel and the Jews during the 1980's.

''I believe that when a public figure utters words that are racist, bigoted, homophobic or anti-Semitic, we have an obligation as a body to stand up and repudiate it,'' Mr. Fidler said upon introducing his resolution, which has 20 other sponsors on the Council.

A few minutes later, Mr. Barron rose to respond.

''I'd like to see Council Member Fidler just one time in this City Council standing up and say that some of the things that Rabbi Meir Kahane, who is no longer with us, the racist, bigoted things that he said about the Palestinians, that we should condemn them,'' he said, referring to the controversial founder of the Jewish Defense League, who was killed in 1990. ''How about standing up and talking about Ariel Sharon, and some of the racist, bigoted things that he's doing?''

The debate degenerated from there, with the two councilmen trading sharp words as Betsy Gotbaum, the city's public advocate and the presiding officer at Council hearings, tried to impose some order. Eventually, Ms. Gotbaum gained the upper hand.

''Gentlemen, gentlemen, let's behave like gentlemen,'' she said firmly. If they wanted to step outside, Ms. Gotbaum suggested, she would ''ask the women on the Council to be referees.''

The matter ended there.

The Council also passed a package of bills intended to combat identity theft. Among other provisions, the legislation -- the first city law of its kind, according to Councilman Philip Reed, the package's primary sponsor -- requires businesses and city agencies that collect personal information to notify people immediately when that data has been compromised.
 

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Port Owner Says City Is Wavering on Waterfront Plan
5 April 2006
The New York Times




Some Red Hook residents welcome plans for housing and stores at the Revere sugar site, an eyesore that has plagued the area for decades.


The owners of the Erie Basin Bargeport, which employs 680 blue-collar workers, said they feared that a housing plan would hurt their business.


The owners of the Erie Basin Bargeport, which employs 680 blue-collar workers, said they fear that a plan for housing would hurt their business.


It can be eerily quiet or a raging symphony of foghorns, ship alarms, diesel engines, clanging steel and shouted commands from tugboat captains at any time of day or night at the Erie Basin Bargeport in Red Hook. The operation, home to 200 barges and tugs, is one of the last remnants of Brooklyn's working waterfront.

Nearby, a developer has tentative plans to convert the long-abandoned Revere sugar works into waterfront housing, loftlike offices, stores and a marina, a proposal that has divided the community.

The owners of the barge port, Robert J. Hughes Jr. and his cousins, fear that the project will be the beginning of the end for their operation and 680 blue-collar jobs.

''People spend all that money on apartments, but after a few nights of foghorns, it's not so quaint anymore,'' Mr. Hughes said. ''They might want us to limit our operations to 12 hours a day. My concern is that over time, we'll find it untenable to be here.''

But some residents and business owners welcome the developer's plans to put apartments and stores in place of a vacant eyesore that has plagued Red Hook for decades.

The debate over the Revere property has become a test case for the city's plans to establish industrial business zones to offer manufacturers and light industries incentives and a refuge from escalating real estate prices and development. A city commission will vote tomorrow on whether to establish the boundaries for 16 such zones, Red Hook being the most contentious.

City officials had initially placed the Revere site inside a proposed industrial zone that stretches across parts of Red Hook, Gowanus and Sunset Park, in Brooklyn. That would have prevented the developer from building housing. But now they are recommending that the site be removed from the zone.

''The city has to decide whether they'll live up to the policy they're putting out there,'' Mr. Hughes said. ''They haven't even approved it yet, but they're wavering already.''

The developer, Joseph J. Sitt, chief executive of Thor Equities, played down the conflict, saying his project can easily coexist with the barge port. ''It's not that noisy. I don't see anyone complaining about boats going back and forth,'' he said. ''At the end of the day, everyone wants to see something good come from this site, which has been closed for decades.''

New York City has lost hundreds of thousands of blue-collar jobs since the 1950's, many of them in Red Hook, a small peninsula where thousands of dockworkers once lived and worked. Unemployment is still relatively high there, but restaurants, artists and residential developers are moving in. Ikea is building a store on the east side of the Revere site and a Fairway supermarket is opening to the west.

At the same time, there has been a resurgence of light manufacturing, which the industrial zones are intended to protect and nurture. Michael DiMarino, owner of Linda Tool and Die Corporation, a precision metal fabricator with clients like NASA and Boeing, is breathing a sigh of relief that he is within the industrial zone.

In recent years, the Bloomberg administration has aggressively rezoned large swaths of crumbling, once industrial neighborhoods like Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Long Island City for high-rise housing. Then critics began to worry that speculation and rising real estate prices would undermine many of the remaining blue-collar industries.

Now the city is pledging not to make zoning changes within the industrial zones. The city also plans to provide incentives to manufacturers and light industries that move into them.

''Just having the industrial zones is a step forward,'' said Adam Friedman, executive director of the New York Industrial Retention Network and a member of the city commission that will vote tomorrow. ''We would've liked to see more areas included. Demand is very strong for industrial space.''

Carl Hum, director of the city's Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses, said that his staff had recommended including the Revere property, an eight-acre collection of crumbling buildings and piers, in an ''ombudsman'' zone that would allow the city to consider alternatives like housing and shopping malls.

''We want to make sure that folks think creatively about this site,'' Mr. Hum said.

Mr. Sitt bought the property last year for $40 million. He said he wanted to work with the community to create a mix of housing, offices and stores that it could embrace. Even in an ''ombudsman'' zone, he said, the project would still have to go through a rigorous public review.

John McGettrick, co-president of the Red Hook Civic Association, supports Mr. Sitts's effort to move the Revere property out of the industrial zone. ''Red Hook has been a mixed-use neighborhood for 100 years,'' he said. ''You have people living a block away from the site.''

Dorothy Shields, president of the tenants association at Red Hook Houses East, also supports Mr. Sitt. ''We need jobs,'' she said.

At the other end of an arm of land that sweeps into the harbor and protects the deep waters in Erie Basin sits the barge port. Mr. Hughes, who first moved to Erie Basin in the 1970's, and his tenants use the barges for bridge repairs and to move millions of tons of sand and gravel for construction projects, as well as heating oil and gasoline.

The South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation and Community Board 6 have sided with Mr. Hughes, as does Ray Hall, a founder of Red Hook Rising, a community group. ''We don't support housing on the property,'' Mr. Hall said. ''We want to keep it a working waterfront. We need retail and manufacturing jobs.''

Other industrial waterfront areas -- in Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Manhattan -- have given way to residential uses, said Tom Fox, the president of New York Water Taxi, one of 22 maritime businesses in Red Hook. ''There are plenty of places to build luxury housing,'' he said, ''but there's only one working waterfront.''

Photos: Some Red Hook residents welcome plans for housing and stores at the Revere sugar site, an eyesore that has plagued the area for decades.; The owners of the Erie Basin Bargeport, which employs 680 blue-collar workers, said they feared that a housing plan would hurt their business. (Photographs by Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)
 

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Artists Stand Ground As Waterfront Changes
29 June 2007
The New York Sun

In 25 years, the neighborhoods along Brooklyn's waterfront have traded an image of crime and economic desolation for one of trendy restaurants, killer views, and rapidly rising real estate prices. But the artists are standing their ground - at least for now.

The Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition's 25th Annual Outdoor Sculpture Show, which opens tomorrow in Empire Fulton Ferry State Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park, is called "Still Flying." One of the curators of the show, Ursula Clark, said she intended the name both to evoke themes of open air and movement and to commemorate BWAC's anniversary.

Started in 1982 by artists living and working in what is now called DUMBO, BWAC (pronounced BEwack) puts on four exhibitions a year, all with volunteer labor by the artists themselves. Except for the sculpture show, the other exhibitions, held in BWAC's 25,000-square-foot donated space in Red Hook, are uncurated, meaning anyone who signs up in time can have a space. In a city where it's increasingly hard for emerging artists to get a foothold, BWAC's low-key, democratic atmosphere represents something unusual.

BWAC "has been great in bringing the real general public closer to art," a painter, Mary Creede, said. "All kinds of people come who wouldn't normally - people who might be intimidated by a gallery situation - and I love that. I sell a lot of work at BWAC, and I like who's buying the work, because people seem genuinely excited."

Unlike the other shows, the sculpture show solicits submissions from artists not just from Brooklyn, but from around the country, and sometimes the world. Several of the works do evoke themes of flying: a welded-steeland-stained-glass dragonfly, by Tammy Bickel of San Francisco; a scrap-metal bird, by Doug Makemson of Athens, Ga.; a 6-foot, plywood "paper airplane" with its nose crumpled, by Alex Neroulias of the Bronx.

On BWAC's 25th birthday, one pressing question is how long the group can maintain its primary home in Red Hook, where real estate values are rising quickly. In the 1980s, when BWAC was located in DUMBO, it exhibited in warehouse spaces donated by Joshua Guttman and David Walentas. Its Red Hook space, at 499 Van Brunt St., is donated by Greg O'Connell, a former policeman who now owns dozens of buildings in the neighborhood, including the Fairway building. Mr. O'Connell says he believes that artists add to the mix in the neighborhood. But as rents rise, will he continue to be able to justify giving BWAC 25,000 square feet for free?

Artists who live in the area are worried about how long they can stay, as well as about changes that are stripping Red Hook of some of the features that originally attracted them there. As a result of the destruction or threatened destruction of several historic industrial sites, the National Trust for Historic Preservation earlier this month declared the waterfront one of the country's 11 most endangered sites.

A photographer and activist, Carolina Salguero, said she was particularly sad about the loss of places she used to photograph, such as the Graving Dock, which is being paved over to be a parking lot for the new IKEA. "I lost my muse," Ms. Salguero said.

She is hardly giving up on the neighborhood, though. She has founded a non-profit, called Port-Side NewYork, which aims, according to its Web site, to "breathe life into the relationship between landside communities and the maritime sector - to the advantage of both." The first major cultural event sponsored by PortSide will take place in September: The Vertical Player Repertory Opera, a company that stages operas in alternative settings, will perform Puccini's "Il Tabarro," a one-act opera set on a barge in the Seine, on a retired oil tanker docked at the Red Hook Marine Terminal.

The president of BWAC, John Strohbeen, was wry about Red Hook's transformation. "When I moved in you would find burned-out cars out in front of my building," he said. "Now you can't find a parking space." He lives in a building of live-work artist lofts, owned by Mr. O'Connell. His business, a speaker factory, is also in the neighborhood.

Ms. Creede, the painter, also owns a business in Red Hook, in another building owned by Mr. O'Connell. "We're fortunate in who our landlord is," Ms. Creede said, noting Mr. O'Connell's interest in helping small businesses stay in the neighborhood. "Otherwise, we might be in Pennsylvania."

Asked whether she appreciates the amenities that have come to the neighborhood in recent years - restaurants like The Good Fork and 360, the requisite cupcake-purveying bakery, Baked - Ms. Creede said no. "A lot of the small family businesses that were really charming are gone."

Still, the current economic vitality of the neighborhood is hard to deny. The building at 499 Van Brunt St., vacant when Mr. O'Connell bought it, is now full of tenants, from carpentry shops to architecture firms to the offices of Blue Man Productions.

As Mr. O'Connell readily acknowledges, BWAC itself contributed to the neighborhood's image makeover, attracting thousands of people to its exhibitions. "It brought more people to the waterfront than ever would havecome before, because they were afraid," Mr. O'Connell said.

Even as Red Hook approaches to the point in the gentrification curve where bankers replace the bohemians, it still doesn't have a recognizable "scene" in the way that Williamsburg did in the 1990s, Ms. Salguero said. In recent years, she has been stopped on the street by out-of-towners who, misled by press accounts, come looking for galleries (of which there are only a few)or artists sitting in cafés, wearing crazy clothes. But the artists in RedHook never cared about "all those signifiers," Ms. Salguero said. "We're very low on the purple hair index."
 

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How come they have money to create new waterfronts, but they are broke when it comes to fixing the ones that already exist?
 
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