Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Brooklyn Deserves Atlantic Yards

By Matthew Lysiak
Serf City

If there ever was a time when Brooklyn was home to the counter-culture, anti-establishment movement, it died long ago—the current prevailing philosophy now
ruling the borough is one of righteous conformity.
Like most philosophies, this one has begun to manifest itself in the form of the steel and mortar called Atlantic Yards, and nowhere this is more evident than in the hypocrisy of Brooklyn residents who have been expressing outrage over Bruce Ratner’s project and its broad abuse of government power. These “activists” should afford themselves a moment for introspection because, after all, this “redevelopment”
is largely of their own making.
Or as some might say, you reap what you sow.
Atlantic Yards is developer Bruce Ratner’s mixed-use commercial and residential development project of 16 buildings, currently in the works around Downtown Brooklyn, and centered on the development of the Barclays Center. 8.4 acres of the 22 acre project is to be built over a train yard that is utilized by the Long Island Rail Road—and the project has been embedded with controversy from the beginning.
First, the project is employing the use of eminent domain to acquire the property Ratner can’t purchase conventionally. Ratner had offered tenants up to $1 million to leave their homes, plus he guaranteed them an apartment in the new
complex at the same rent they were previously paying, but those who have refused Ratner’s offer are being threatened with government intervention.
Another controversial aspect of the development is that the same property that was valued at $214 million in 2005, ended up being sold to Ratner for only $100 million. The sale was made despite higher bids, since the MTA decided to negotiate exclusively with Ratner. All inquiries into the details of the plan have been met with resistance.
Despite the controversy and ongoing litigation, construction
began in February.
Last month the New York Libertarian Party appropriately called for a nationwide boycott of Barclay’s Bank on the grounds that its participation in the Atlantic Yards project is an endorsement of the seizure of private property— but the LP represents a small percentage of reasoned-consistent dissent on the issue.
For most residents who are actively involved with Atlantic Yards, it isn’t private property rights, the estimated $1.1 billion in taxpayer subsidies, or the sweetheart deal that has provoked community outrage amongst Brooklyn’s proud citizenry (although they have opportunistically jumped on each of these reasons when it has become convenient), but rather what appears to be a deeply rooted hysteria about progress in the form of change.
Just listen to the discussions about the Atlantic Yards, which always seem to center on the unspoken concept that a larger-than-life force is invading Brooklyn, pushing our cherished structures, and more importantly, the memories they represent, right out of existence.
Change is coming, and Brooklyn is afraid.
It is becoming more and more apparent that Brooklyn has lost her will and sense of adventure; she fears the future and the progress that comes with embracing technology, and instead looks for comfort in the familiar, through the structures of the past—a living representation of a fear based world-view.
As their old, stale building begins to come down to make way for a newer and improved models, many residents are agonizing like they have lost a child, because in many ways, the security (through familiarity) that the crumbling structures represent evokes powerful emotions—just as the fluid dynamic of the new buildings is almost instinctually a threat.
This misplaced connection to the structures of our past may be the root of the anti-progress fears in Brooklyn, but the erosion of individual freedom is only truly feared by residents on a superficial level.
Residents of this once proud borough will sooner fear Wal-Mart (competition), carbon dioxide (global warming), cell phones (radiation),and transfats (unless it is the Krispy Kreme), then they will the government seizure
of private property.
The “old” Brooklyn that was built on the backs of the tough-minded and hard-working middle class is dead, and has been reborn into a “new” Brooklyn, governed by small intellectual elite that make up the political class—and the vast majority of conformists that prop them up.
To those who live outside of the borough and think this to be an exaggeration, don’t only examine their words, but look at their actions.
Evidence can be found in the zoning measures that restrict property owners from being able to build on their own land, and as zoning has become embraced by local community boards across the borough, with the stated goal always some form of “preserving neighborhood integrity” or to prevent congestion, the results
are always the same—the pricing out of Brooklyn’s residents who least can afford the housing escalation caused by artificial price controls, as well as the continual erosion of liberty.
What was once the Borough of Churches and bars is now the Borough of regulations
and regulations, and the concept of private property has become antiqued.
Still, activists who routinely ignore the constitution and have accepted the premise of collectivism can now be found screaming from the rooftops at Ratner’s government sanctioned abuse of power. Brooklyn voters now find themselves in the moral dilemma that intellectual contradictions often cause, now that their nanny state has come back to bite them. They have embraced the idea of an allpowerful
government and the loss of personal freedoms and; now residents act surprised that
they have an all-powerful government and the loss of personal freedom.
Brooklyn should get used to it; it is of their own making.
On the bright side, there is little doubt that Atlantic Yards will improve the overall fiscal health of Brooklyn, but while concerned citizenry would be wise to embrace the modernization that comes with this development, advocates of personal liberty are left asking themselves, at what cost?
Brooklyn voters who have long considered opponents of eminent domain to be extremists, and have instead chosen to embrace big government over individual
liberty, under the assumption that the government would always be under their
control, would be wise to remember the eternal words of Martin Niemoeller:
“In Germany they came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t
a Communist. Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I
didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I
didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time no
one was left to speak up.”
Or as some are being heard to say today as
their property is being seized, then they came
for Downtown Brooklyn, and by that time…

Cell tower wars in Ridge

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Tenants of an 81st Street apartment building are up in arms over the installation of more cellphone equipment on the roof of their building — and now want someone to give them some say over where cellphone carriers install their antennas.

The trouble began several years ago, when the owner of the building at 301 81st St. installed several antennas atop the building.

But last Friday, residents of the radio active complex noticed a crane attaching even more equipment to the roof.

“I asked the workers what they were doing and they wouldn’t tell me,” said Ernie Homsey, a resident of the building since 1945. “They tried to sneak it up there without anyone knowing what was going on and now the whole block is furious.”

Tenants filed complaints with the Department of Building against the owner, Gus Sideratos, for “storing heavy equipment on top of roof,” but the complaints were dismissed after an inspection.

Sideratos may have been unavailable for comment — but his actions aren’t without reason.

Cellphone companies pay building owners big bucks in exchange for a little rooftop space — and most residents enjoy the full bars on their phone and the flush cash in their building’s general fund.

But there is so much cellular equipment all over the neighborhood — and virtually no advance warning about its placement — that residents are revolting.

“I have heard that these towers can cause cancer, and that is what a lot of people are concerned about,” added Homsey.

At this point in the column attentive Ridge residents might begin feeling some deja-vu.

That’s because it has been barely 18-months since parents of St. Anselm’s School fought the construction of a Sprint/Nextel tower to be placed atop a nearby building at 8300 Fourth Ave. As in the 81st Street building, parents at the school didn’t know that the tower was coming until a crane showed up late one night.

The public uproar caught the attention of state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) who quickly intervened.

“For companies to come in the dark of the night and simply erect these towers is unacceptable,” said Golden. “Communities should not have to wake up and find that a cellphone tower was placed near their school or their home.”

Golden even pushed for legislation that would have prohibited the erection of cellular towers and antennas within 500 feet of schools throughout New York City — but the bill never became a law.

But for parents at St. Anselm’s, they gladly took a loss in that battle for a victory in their tower war.

That’s because although the bill may have been defeated, parents did garner enough negative publicity to force Sprint to halt construction of the antennas.

Now the angry 81st Street residents are going to use the same textbook to force their landlord to take down all the equipment amassed above their heads.

They are signing petitions, calling their pols, and even contacted the local media (hi, everyone!) to help get the word out.

“We are looking to bring this to people’s attention,” said Homsey. “All we are asking for is to have a discussion about the effects these towers will have on the neighborhood.”

The phone at Councilman Vince Gentile’s (D–Bay Ridge) office has been ringing off the hook over the issue and it is going to be brought up at the next meeting of Community Board 10 (which is currently enjoying its summer vacation now).

It looks like another tower war is coming to Bay Ridge.

Of course, Yellow Hooker can’t find one study that validates community concerns that cellphone towers actually hurt people’s health (not that I want one on my roof). That said, I am gracious enough to offer one sure-fire way for residents to rid our neighborhoods of these towers: throw your cellphone in the garbage.

Can you hear me now? I didn’t think so.

The Kitchen Sink
If you find your street overrun by teens dressed as Goths, don’t worry — you didn’t take a wrong turn and end up in the Village, it is only Harry Potter Night, sponsored by state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge). The magic begins at 8 pm in front of Bookmark Shoppe, at 8415 Third Ave., and concludes at midnight Friday, July 20 (12:01 am on Saturday, July 21), with the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”… On July 10, the Strictly ’60s will be playing, what else?, classic ’60s music at a free concert at 79th Street and Shore Road. Bring a blanket. …

Nouvelle, located at 8716 Third Ave., has a great eel sushi, but it is the last time our source attempts to order a margarita at an Asian fusion restaurant! …

Brooklyn’s new Republican Party Chairman Craig Eaton is trying to rebuild the GOP from the ground up, and is starting in cyberspace with a new Web site And Eaton says he’ll launch the organization’s “School of Politics” in the next six months. Can President Bush take a refresher course? …

It may be early, but Bay Ridge is already busy mobilizing for the presidential election. Bay Ridge for Obama will hold its next meeting on June 28, at Chris and Erin’s Bay Ridge Obama Headquarters (also known as their apartment), at 7911 Fifth Ave. What’s next, a Ron Paul Fan Club? Any man who goes after Rudy the way he does will certainly get some votes in Bay Ridge.

Home Depot developer stands there and takes it from CB10

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

The Brooklyn Paper / Matthew Lysiak
Standing room only: Developer Andrew Kohen (left) pitches a packed crowd at Community Board 10 on his plan to build a Home Depot — and residences — on Eighth Avenue.

Developer Andrew Kohen — who wants to build a new Home Depot and hundreds of units of lucrative housing along a vacant Bay Ridge rail yard — was forced to stand silently for an hour as members of Community Board 10 committee slammed him as greedy on Monday night.

And then, in the end, the committee voted against Kohen’s request for a zoning change on the commercial land in the rail yard at 62nd Street and Eighth Avenue. The developer has already cleared the land, but needs the rezoning so he can build the profitable residential units in the complex, which would consist of an 11-story building with 216 apartments (43 of which will be below-market-rate), office space, and the 100,000-square-foot Hoe Depot.

The vote by CB10’s land-use committee came after board members took their best shots at the developer, who was asked to stand by silently.

The two main points of contention were the height of the building, and the cost of the so-called “affordable” housing. Kohen said a three-bedroom affordable unit would cost $1,700 per month.

One member called that rent market rate.

“That’s what we are paying now, [so] how is that affordable?” one member asked. “This is nothing except for you trying to make a profit.”

Kohen will be eligible for a tax abatement, a government subsidy for developers who include low-income housing in their buildings. He defended his right to make a profit.

“I am walking on thin ice,” Kohen said. “At the end of the day, if there is no profit, what is the incentive for me?”

Making a profit is one thing, but committee members accused Kohen of greed.

“Isn’t that what this is all about?” asked board member — and former congressional candidate — Steve Harrison. “You are going to be getting subsidies when my constituents will not. This looks like a win for you and a loss for the community.”

Harrison also complained that Kohen ignored the board’s earlier request for a decrease in the building’s height.

“I just have to say, I am baffled by you,” said Harrison. “Two years ago, you came to us asking for approval and we told you to do something about the size, then you come back again without making any changes.”

To add insult to insults, Kohen also found himself attacked by Community Board 7 Chairman Randy Peers, who stopped by to offer his disapproval.

“All the feedback I am getting is very negative,” said Peers.

It wasn’t all bad. Land-use committee Chairwoman Joanne Seminara offered kind words — then withheld her support.

“You are a quality developer who builds good buildings,” said Seminara. “I know you are disappointed. But when I look at traffic, overcrowding, and the height of this building, I cannot give my support top this plan.

When the exasperated Kohen was finally allowed to speak, he offered a compromise — though it didn’t appease the beast.

“I have heard the wishes of this honorable committee and I will take a floor off the building,” Kohen said, before being interrupted by one angry board member.

“Yeah, take off the penthouse,” said board member Ron Gross.

Kohen soldiered on. “Nothing in the law compels me to [include the affordable housing],” said Kohen, as some members rolled their eyes. “I took a big chance and volunteered to do this.”

Kohen’s one ally in the room, CB10 Chairman Dean Rasinya, warned that if the board didn’t work with Kohen, the city could rezone the land anyway, giving CB10 no negotiating power.

“Listen, this is a hole in the ground,” said Rasinya. “If the city changes the zoning, we will have no control, and the truth is, we can always use the jobs and housing.”

Community Board 10 will have one more meeting on the subject, on July 11, at a location to be determined. Call (718) 745-6827 for information.

Bike path fix in Bay Ridge

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

The restoration of the Shore Parkway Greenway is finally complete.

The hefty $20-million project was fast-tracked by the city because the crumbling seawall caused giant potholes along the path, which stretches along the waterfront from the 69th Street Pier to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

On Monday, a group of politicians cut the ribbon on the completed portion — and basked in positive reviews from their constituents.

“What they have done here is really something to be proud of,” said a man who gave only the name Peter. “It is nice to bike without worrying that you might be swallowed by a giant hole.”

That was certainly the case back in March, 2005, when Rep. Vito Fossella (R–Bay Ridge) brought representatives from federal and city agencies, as well as the local community board, to the path to stress upon them the severity of the situation. As a result, the Army Corps of Engineers declared the site an “emergency,” allowing the city to begin work immediately. Almost two years to the day after work began, the ribbon was cut.

The project included the installation of new asphalt pavement, aluminum railings, benches, a chain-link fence, and 60,000 pounds of boulders placed to protect the seawall from the pounding waves in the lower part of New York Harbor.

The improvements also got thumbs-up from state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge), who is now calling for the true missing link in Brooklyn’s bike network: a pedestrian/bike pathway across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

“Now that the bike path along Shore Road is repaired, there has never been a better time to construct the ‘Lifeline’ to … the Verrazano Bridge,” he said. “We must seize this opportunity.”

After the ribbon-cutting, most of the pols retreated into large gas-guzzlers.

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