Friday, October 29, 2010

The Hope and Anchor Hosting Halloween Fundraiser for "Falconworks"

Our friendly neighborhood diner, the Hope & Anchor, is throwing a Halloween costume Party to benefit Red Hook based Falconworks. "Falconworks Artists Group" is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is, in their own words, "to empower communities and individuals through the arts. Falconworks is everyday people making theater about the issues, big or small, that affect our families, friends and neighbors."

This event is a night-time, adult, Halloween night party, (but they'll allow kids till 9pm) so get all of your Trick or Treating done and get along afterwards. This will also work for those who are coming along to the "Red Hook Howler" neighborhood block party (bouncy castle, music - including AudraRox @ 1pm - pumpkin carving, food and drinks from local vendors), on Van Dyke Street, between Van Brunt and Conover Streets, between noon and 7pm.

So, the details -

when: Sunday, October 31. 8pm until...
where: Hope & Anchor
(347 Van Brunt Street)
what: Halloween Costume party; music all night, juke box karaoke, best costume prizes, raffle prizes

how much: $20 (going directly to Falconworks)

Happy Halloween!!


Monday, October 25, 2010

Red Hook's Archaic Zoning Regulations Kill Plans for CIty's First Zero Emissions Building

Photo from Redhook Green website

The sad news came this week that "Redhook Green", Jay Amato's proposed live/work building project in Red Hook - the first "zero emissions building" to have been constructed in New York City - has been 'killed' by a ruling in the Department of Buildings.

Jay writes on his blog post, titled "Buyer Beware" (here), that when he was looking at plots of land on which to put his building he was having a hard time finding an appropriate block - one that was zoned either R - residential, or MX - mixed use, that was on a corner which would be most appropriate for a solar powered building. He did, however, find a perfectly located block with an M-manufacturing zoning.

Jay writes,

"I was advised that given my particular use, I could make an “M” zoned plot work. What that means is that given the majority of my structure was to be dedicated to commercial use, the living quarters would be an ‘accessory’ to the true function of the building. Therefore we would request the building department grant us permission to live in what would is called a “caretakers apartment”, which would be incidental to it’s primary use. Jim Garrison ( Jay's architect) assured me on the advice of a former NYC Building Commissioner and “a careful and correct reading of the zoning law”, that this was very common and would “sail through the building department” without incidence."

Well, unfortunately it seems that wasn't to be. After proceeding appropriately and "dotting his I's and crossing his T's" this is how things turned out for Redhook Green. Jay writes,

"That brings us to where I am today (basically screwed)! After a telephone hearing last week, the all knowing, politically charged and narrowly minded men and women of the NYC building department capriciously determined “that the proposed living or sleeping accommodations for caretakers in this case is not incidental to the principal use”. To quote James P. Colgate; Assistant Commissioner of Technical Affairs and Code Development “ The request to have a living or sleeping accommodation for caretakers as per ZR 12-10 as an accessory use to this new office building is DENIED.”

Just to give you an idea of how inappropriate partial residential use would have been on this site, let me show you a screen shot of the Google maps Street view of the location -

That's the lot on the left - NEXT TO THE TWO HOUSES!

... and Jay's structure would have had a street front and whole first floor that looked more industrial than residential - take a look at more of his renderings (here).

This is a problem not only for Jay Amato and Redhook Green, but for Red Hook as a whole. How can this archaic zoning and the Dept. of Building's strict adherence to it serve our community's need for more housing and residential regeneration. Our own 197a Plan has laid out the need for supporting residential uses in Red Hook, as have Community Board 6 recommendations - such as the ones that were laid out when the plans for Pier 7-12 were being discussed. Despite the fact that these recommendations have been often ignored by City planners, the NYC Economic Development Corporation and others (as was the case with the uses of Piers 7-12), it's not an excuse for these anti-residential attitudes to continue.

The recently released draft recommendations for the City's "Vision 2020 - NYC Comprehensive Waterfront Plan" (my post here) - omit any significant mention of the potential for the regeneration of residential use in the City's waterfront neighborhoods. The Wall Street Journal has an article titled "A Sea Change in Waterfront Plans", in which the writer, Eliot Brown, states, in regard to the City's draft recommendations,

"there is a notable omission: new housing and commercial redevelopment. While it was a top goal of prior strategy documents, it's barely mentioned in the new strategy. The emphasis instead lands on areas such as expanding the maritime industry, ferry service and public access."

Maybe the Dept of Planning didn't see residential planning as being 'within their scope' this time, and I get that the city doesn't want a rerun of the high rise development on the Williamsburg waterfront taking place in Red Hook, or Sunset Park, for instance - the residents of those neighborhoods hardly want that either - but I hope the Department of Planning isn't relegating our mixed use waterfront neighborhoods, like Red Hook, to a more industrial and more polluted future, with disregard for the quality of life and health of our residents.

Isn't it all about balance? Residential use. Industrial use. Commercial use. Upland connections. Waterfront access. Public transportation. All working together to everyone's benefit.

That's why this decision seems so wrong-headed. Red Hook has a history of these battles, where reasonable residential development is thwarted by pro-industrial advocates who - falsely, in my opinion - complain that residential uses can't co-exist with industrial uses (despite the evidence to the contrary in my old home town of Sydney and elsewhere in the world). This was seen in the fight for the rezoning of the 160 Imlay Street building, where the battle was so drawn out that, despite the ultimate court ruling allowing for at least partial residential use of that magnificent building, it has been left empty, shrouded in black netting and generating no activity, no economic prosperity for the neighborhood and it's small businesses, nor revenues for the City. It's a waste and an awful shame.

I remember another example of wrong-headed zoning decisions when, in 2006, the Community Board voted against recommending a variance for 146 Conover Street, a vacant lot which was zoned, like Jay Amato's block, M-Manufacturing. The owners had wanted to build a residential building on the site, but because of the CB6's denial of the zoning variance, they couldn't.

Here is the lot in question -

... right in-between the TWO HOUSES. How inappropriate!

So, Jay, you're not alone in being on the wrong side of one of these wrong-headed decisions.

Unfortunately, these decisions don't bode well for the regeneration of Red Hook's residential population and innovative solutions such as Redhook Green's. Without residential regeneration how can Red Hook's burgeoning small businesses hope for more activity, how can our residents hope for better transportation or services, or a greater say in what goes on in and around our neighborhood - more advocacy for cleaner air and better quality of life? If Jay Amato can't get this one done, what is the hope for anything else?

Redhook Green has laid out their possible options going forward (from Jay's post)-

  1. Build a green office building - It’s too small and off the beaten path to make a sound business case for such a structure in the next few years.
  2. Apply for a zoning variance - 60 to 100K in professional services expenses, one year and no guaranty that it will be successful.
  3. Walk
None of these seem particularly appealing. Any thoughts, ideas, recommendations, contacts or kind words of encouragement would be appreciated. I will think about this a bit and keep you posted on my progress.

Contact details HERE

If Mr. Amato can't find a way to get around this decision, it will be a great loss, not only to him, but to Red Hook, Brooklyn, the City as a whole, and the advocates of healthy cities around the world - ones in which, in Jay's words, we can all "live and work responsibly".


Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Vision 2020, NYC Comprehensive Waterfront Plan" Draft Recommendations - Have Your Say - Attend the Final Public Meeting or Comment On-line


Following a series of public workshops, the NYC Department of Planning has released a number of draft recommendations for its "Vision 2020 - NYC Comprehensive Waterfront Plan" - a plan that hopes to shape the use of our city's waterfront for the next decade and beyond.

You can go to their web site (here) and download the various recommendations in full (PDF) or in sections, each pertaining to the individual 5 boroughs. The section relating to Brooklyn, specifically, and our neighborhood is also available (here), as a Google doc. The recommendations for "Reach 14 South", the section of waterfront that includes Red Hook, Cobble Hill, the Gowanus Canal area and Sunset Park can be found starting on page 5 of the Brooklyn section. You can also find, (here), an additional section, containing broader "Programmatic Recommendations", that outlines the "recommendations for citywide policy and programmatic changes".

These are "draft" recommendations, so the Department of Planning is still looking for public input. If you would like to have your say, you can still do so on line - HERE - till 5 p.m., November 12th. Additionally, you can attend the final public meeting that is being held on Tuesday, October 12th. The details of the meeting from the Dept. of Planning are here, but please find below the main details from their web site -

The Department will be holding a public meeting on October 12th. At this meeting the Department of City Planning will give a presentation, which will be followed by an opportunity for public comment. Many thanks to all those who have participated so far, and we hope you will continue to be a part of the process!

Public Meeting on Draft Recommendations
Tuesday, October 12th, 6 p.m.
Rosenthal Pavilion, NYU Kimmel Center for University Life
60 Washington Square South, 10th Floor, New York, NY
(corner of La Guardia and West 4th)

A,B,C,D,E,F,V at West 4th St.
R,W at 8th St-NYU
6 at Astor Pl.

As the Dept. of Planning is stating, "participation is a critical component of the Vision 2020 process", so make sure you make your ideas known.

What do you think of these draft recommendations for Red Hook and surrounds? (click to enlarge) -

There's some good stuff here, but is there something else you think should be addressed? For instance, I don't see anything specific about increased access to waterborne public transportation here - ferries, water taxi. etc - at the Atlantic Basin or elsewhere. There is nothing that acknowledges Red Hook's connection to Governor's Island via its close proximity to it, or anything that works towards strengthening that connection via transportation or other means, something that would benefit our residents and small businesses. It would be a shame if Governors Island - with its new parks and other development - essentially turned its back on Red Hook, its closest neighbor.

Something that is included in these recommendations - something that wasn't included in the initial goals set by the Dept. of Planning for "Vision 2020" - is the "support for green port initiatives, including cold-ironing" at Piers 7-12, which would include the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. When the initial Vision 2020 Plan was announced, there was actually no mention of the impacts of port pollution on the residents of our city. I made note of this point in my post (here), written after attending the Brooklyn Workshop in May this year. I wrote -

"In all of the points listed in the various handouts, including the “Preliminary List of Goals and Issues” distributed at the workshop – a list that contained 7 goals, and 27 specific issues under the headings: Natural Waterfront; Working Waterfront; Public Waterfront, Mixed Use, Residential and Commercial Waterfront; and Blue Network (which includes transportation and freight movement, alternative energy, etc) - not once was mentioned the idea that the activities of the ports are actually polluting, and that the Vision 2020 Plan should acknowledge that fact and seek out a strategy to mitigate this pollution and its detrimental health effects."

It's good to see that these issues are now being taken somewhat seriously by the Dept. of Planning and not only in Brooklyn. As part of the broader section I mentioned before, (here), titled "Programmatic Recommendations" that outlines the "recommendations for citywide policy and programmatic changes", there is a 'goal' titled, "Support Economic Activity on the Working Waterfront". Under this goal is a section encouraging the use of "green technology and practices to make waterfront industrial areas and ports throughout the city more environmentally sensitive and to reduce negative impacts on neighboring residential areas". Outlined are a number of potentially port 'greening' initiatives, including encouraging the use of shore-based power and cold ironing. If this is a city-wide recommendation, then this is a thankful acknowledgment of the impact of port pollution on the residents of our city and the urgent need to mitigate it - especially when the Environmental Defense Fund estimates that pollution created by ships visiting the Ports of New York and New Jersey is equivalent to the pollution produced by 7.8 million new cars, and when the Port Authority itself acknowledges that the monetized health cost of the pollution from cruise ships visiting Red Hook, Brooklyn (alone - not including the container ships) is estimated to be $9 million a year.

Hopefully these recommendations will spur serious and urgent action on these issues - something that has been lacking so far, even with the "lowest hanging fruit" - the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal - where, despite serious commitments both financially and otherwise from the cruise operators, the Port Authority and others, the promise to initiate cold-ironing at that terminal has languished in some sort of limbo, lost in a void between the impenetrable deliberations of the Public Service Commission and a mindset at Con-Edison that refuses to provide an electricity power rate to make this practice economically viable - thereby saving lives, and taking carcinogenic gasses and asthma causing particulates out of the air and the lungs of our children in the process.

So, while you wait (don't hold your breath!) for the cold-ironing situation at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal to be sorted out - something that Rich Kassel from the National Resources Defense Council described as being a "no brainer" at the New York City Council's Committee on Waterfronts' "Oversight - Clearing the Air: Greening New York City's Working Waterfront" hearing in June - have a look over these other draft recommendations.

Have a think about what you might want included in plans for our waterfront. More transportation? Better waterfront access? More connection to the upland residential and commercial communities? Creation of a connection to Governors Island? Better and more equitable use of publicly owned property - e.g. Cruise Terminal site, Atlantic Basin? More programs like the successful ones PortSide New York mounted over the summer?

Let your thoughts be known - at the meeting, details HERE, on Tuesday October 12th - or on-line HERE before 5pm November 12th.

(Photo: The Atlantic Basin and tall ship, Clipper City - an event made possible by PortSide New York)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Red Hook's Sidewalk Sale Returns + more stuff to buy/sell at the PS15 School Yard Flea Market

This SUNDAY, OCTOBER 3, Red Hook neighbors are turning out for a COMMUNITY DAY of Van Brunt Sidewalk Sales / PS 15 Flea Market & Community Activities.

Community Activities at PS 15's school yard (Van Brunt between Sullivan and Wolcott)

Local organizations will provide the following activities:

11:00am - DRAWING TOGETHER: Families and people of all ages can participate in a community drawing project guided by Kentler's K.I.D.S. Art Education teaching artist, Meghan Keane.

12:00pm - Come learn from the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy: A Center for Environmental Education, Community Stewardship, Culture and Maritime

1-2pm - Creative Movement Sample Classes. Children ages 3-12 can leap, gallop, spin and laugh together in 10-minute sample creative movement classes offered throughout the hour by Shannon Hummel, Artistic Director of Red Hook's own Cora School for Dance.

2pm+ - Get to know Falconworks Artists Group and Dance Theatre Etcetera


Are there vending fees?
There is NO FEE to sell goods either along local sidewalks or in the PS 15 school yard - RHED has just received funding to cover the school yard permit cost!
So, no fees!

Can I set up along Van Brunt? You can set up in front of your own residence or business. If you don't own or rent property, get permission from those who do before staking out a place.

Can I set up in the PS 15 school yard? Everyone is welcome. You'll be joined by various neighbors and community groups, including Falconworks - who will have a mega sale/fundraiser (with a wild variety of goods donated by supporters); several families with children attending the school (sounds like a good place for buying/selling kid's things); AND fun activities provided by several of RH's stellar organizations.