Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cell tower war off the hook

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

It’s getting ugly on 81st Street, where tenants of an apartment building — furious over the installation of cellphone equipment on their roof — confronted workers and nearly came to blows with their landlord’s relative after construction crews began installing more phone machinery.

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

Then, last Friday, residents of the radio active complex awoke to find their street blocked off for the second time in two weeks so a crane could hoist even more equipment to the roof.

Residents of the block swarmed around the workers, prompting a relative of Sideratos to get into “a really heated and nasty argument with a resident senior citizen” outside of the complex, said one witness.

“There was yelling and cursing and even threatening as the young man accused the senior of starting all the protests and making the petitions,” said one source who lives within the building and requested anonymity out of fear of landlord retribution.

The confrontation didn’t sit well with other tenants and neighbors, who are already at a breaking point over the lack of community say over the installation of equipment they believe to be unhealthy.

“There are obviously multiple issues here, including reported intimidation by the landlord and his cronies, traffic disruptions, and a lack of leadership by local officials,” said Joe Jordan. “Let’s not forget about the possibility of adverse health issues related to the non-stop and involuntary bombardment of these telecom signals.”

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

A call from The Brooklyn Paper to Sideratos’s office was not returned by deadline.

But Sideratos is not alone. The conversion of rooftops into beacons for cellphone bars has become a growing trend all over Brooklyn. 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.

Last year, parents of St. Anselm’s School fought the installation of a Sprint/Nextel tower atop a nearby building. As on 81st Street, school parents didn’t know that the tower was coming until a crane showed up late one night.

Parents were able to garner enough negative publicity — and political support — to force Sprint to change plans.

Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) is again in the fray, backing the 81st Street residents.

Gentile wants governments to have a say in the placement and number of cellphone towers in their communities.

“The situation on 81st Street is a perfect example of why Congress should amend the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and give the people who know what’s best for their local communities the ability to regulate cell phone towers,” Gentile said.

The councilman also called for a study of health issues related to cellular equipment. Though there is little data to support the claim that cellphone radiation is harmful, most residents are afraid.

“I have heard that these towers can cause cancer, and that is what a lot of people are concerned about,” said Ernie Homsey, a resident of the 81st Street building since 1945. “How can they do this when their have been no long-term studies to assure us they aren’t harmful?”

Reps for cell phone companies have insisted that the signals are harmless, and assert that not one reputable study has shown adverse health effects. But that didn’t fully satisfy Homsey.

“When you have people who feel their family’s health is being jeopardized and no one will listen, they begin to feel desperate,” he said.

Is Kohen Ridge Ratner?

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Developer Andrew Kohen wants to build a new Home Depot and hundreds of units of housing along a vacant Bay Ridge railyard, but faced an Atlantic Yards–sized backlash from local preservationists and Community Board 10.

In fact, Bruce Ratner’s taxpayer-underwritten antics have inspired an uprising by community boards against developers.

Locals fear that Kohen’s ambitions are too large for the surrounding area’s infrastructure and that the developer is more concerned about his wallet than the interests of the community (sound familiar?).

Of course, Kohen isn’t Bruce Ratner and Home Depot isn’t Atlantic Yards. In fact, in many ways Kohen is the anti-Ratner: he is accessible (he even speaks to reporters), has a proven track record of keeping his word (at least according to CB10), and isn’t looking to boot anyone out of his house or have the state seize private property and turn it over to him.

But that hasn’t stopped the Ratner cloud from blowing over Kohen’s proposal.

The cynicism of local officials towards developers has hit a new high (which is really saying something in Brooklyn).

Board member — and failed congressional candidate — Steve Harrison even accused Kohen of greed at CB10’s land-use committee meeting last month.

Harrison and others have seized on one aspect of Kohen’s project to deride it as Atlantic Yards-lite: Kohen needs a zoning change before he can build residential units on the commercial land of the railyard at 62nd Street and Eighth Avenue. The resulting complex 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 Home Depot.

CB10 members chewed him out — but mostly because they could, unlike the three boards around the Yards site, which never got to quiz Ratner directly because his project is sponsored by the state and, thus, has no local oversight.

When members finished their anti-development sermons, ranging on everything from the height of Kohen’s buildings to the size of his carbon footprint, they privately said that the real problems can be boiled down to two things: trust and accountability.

“[Like we’re learning with Ratner], we know what Kohen is telling us and what actually happens could be two different stories,” one member said. “These projects have a way of spiraling out of control.”

No one could blame local officials for being a little gun-shy to greenlight Kohen after details keep emerging about that other developer’s development in that other part of Brooklyn.

Despite Ratner’s promises to the contrary, it becomes increasingly clear that taxpayers are actually footing the bill for his “privately built project,” and local officials who approved of the deal are learning they have no way of holding Ratner accountable now that they’ve approved the project.

So it’s no wonder that other communities are now asking a lot more questions.

But Kohen has an answer for them. “This is not an extension of Atlantic Yards, and those who may take that view are sadly mistaken,” he said. “Unlike Atlantic Yards, there is no vehement opposition to this project, and in fact, there is very strong community support.”

Late Wednesday night, CB10 actually surprised me by approving Kohen’s rezoning request (see page 4), but the board did as the hard questions. So I guess we can thank Bruce Ratner for one thing: the current climate of developer distrust could at least force developers to start giving answers if they want local support.

The Kitchen Sink
Al Gore is coming to Bay Ridge, or at least his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” is. Gore’s cinematic war against carbon dioxide will unspool on July 12 as part of the Narrows Botanical Gardens free Summer Cinema Series. Bring a hemp blanket and some organic snacks. …

Little Cupcake Bakeshop at 9102 Third Ave. has a great red velvet cupcake, but if you order a piece of Oreo cookie cake, be prepared to loosen your waistbands — the slice sizes are absolutely monstrous! …

State Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) may be limping into the Mayor’s race. Our source tells us the bum knee that he hurt a few years ago on an elliptical machine has been giving him problems again. That sure didn’t stop him from shaking every hand and kissing every baby at last week’s Independence Day Parade on Third Avenue. …

A country-club Democrat? Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) recently got funding for some new tennis courts and free tennis lessons in the PS 229 schoolyard. The program runs from July 2–Aug. 24. For information, contact Gentile’s office at (718) 748-5200. …

The Bay Ridge Hum is back! The Stoop is getting reports that the hum that keeps residents along Shore Road awake on some summer nights, is back and as annoying as ever. Many believe it’s the mating call of the Oyster Toadfish, so if you’re interested in a little frog action, head to the waterfront.

Pol pushes for black magic

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

One pol is willing to do anything to get kids excited about books — even if that means recruiting a little hocus pocus to accomplish the task.

Last Monday, state Senator Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) announced plans for a block party in honor of the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the last in author J.K. Rowling’s series.

The blessed event would take place on Friday, July 20 in front of the Bookmark Shoppe.

As he made his announcement, Golden (above) was greeted by a handful of fans (Potter fans, that is) and two young wizards in full garb.

“I love Harry Potter because he can do anything,” said the young magician from under his golden wizard hat.

Golden shared the young lad’s sentiment.

“I am a big Harry Potter fan, and I can’t wait for the new book to hit the shelves,” he said. “I myself have stayed up many a sleepless night reading these books.”

(Some political insiders joked that it’s no wonder that Golden is such a fan of black magic — he’ll need plenty if the Conservative Republican is going to be the next mayor.)

Kids and pols aren’t the only ones caught-up in Potter-mania. The appeal of Potter is universal, according to Shoppe owner Bina Valenzano.

“Harry Potter casts a spell on all ages,” said Valenzano. “It is essentially the story of a boy who is bullied and picked on, who is then swept away to a magical place where he is important and loved.”

The “Harry Potter Midnight Bash” is scheduled to begin at 8 pm on July 20 in front of Bookmark Shoppe (8415 Third Ave.) and conclude at midnight, when the book is officially put on sale.

Update: CB10 backs Home Depot

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

A developer’s plan to build a new Home Depot and 214 units of housing along a vacant Bay Ridge railyard got a big thumbs up from Community Board 10 late Wednesday night, despite weeks of controversy over the proposal.

The board vote was 30–11.

The vote came only a week after CB10’s Zoning and Land-Use Committee not only rejected developer Andrew Kohen’s request for a zoning change on the commercial land in the railyard at 62nd Street and Eighth Avenue, but also made him stand for two hours while members berated him.

The developer 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, office space, and the 100,000-square-foot Home Depot (see rendering above).

On Wednesday night, CB10 members again complained about the project’s size, but the majority of members supported the project.

Board member Steve Harrison, an outspoken critic of Kohen’s, even flipped his vote, in part due to a strong call to action by Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge).

“This project will bolster the area, spruce up the surroundings and provide significant employment and housing,” Gentile said.

Kohen, who sent several minutes before the meeting praying quietly near the entrance, was gratified by the news.

“Unless people stop having babies and looking for jobs, then we need development,” said Kohen.

Slowing down Dahlgren Place

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Residents of Dahlgren Place won a small victory last month when the city agreed to finally install a speed limit sign on the fast-moving street.

The signs are necessary because drivers often exit the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge without adjusting their speed to the slower pace of the residential street, said Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge), who had requested the speed limit sign at 92nd Street.

“Cars come off the bridge at 40 to 50 miles per hour — and since there aren’t many stop signs or lights on Dahlgren Place, they just continue at their speed,” said Gentile. “The sign should remind drivers they are not on the bridge anymore.”

The city speed limit — whether posted or not — is 30 miles per hour. One resident of Dahlgren Place wishes the speed limit sign would post an even lower number.

“That (the sign) is good news,” said the woman. “But I suggest they make it even slower. After all, this is a neighborhood.”

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