Monday, May 08, 2006

Community responds to Giant Possible Arson Fire in Greenpoint/Williamsburg, Thursday, May 11, 10am, at Oak and Franklin Street intersection – no rain

The North Brooklyn Alliance announces a press conference for Thursday, May 11, at 10 am, to respond to the devastating nearby waterfront fire that looked suspiciously like a deliberate and callous strategy to hasten luxury housing construction.

The North Brooklyn Alliance is a broad coalition of 35 Greenpoint and Williamsburg-based community organizations, businesses and partners from other neighborhoods throughout the City who are also the victims of over development and poor public policy. The mission of the Alliance is to ensure that big, important benefits, promised to the community, by the City, during the rezoning process are fulfilled. Unresolved zoning issues and community needs are also the Alliance’s concern, plus advocating for the creation of an action plan for timely and effective progress before any more catastrophic damage is done.

May 11th marks the one year anniversary of the City Council approval of the Mayor’s rezoning plan and it has become clear to the community leaders that corrective actions are needed now!

As controversy swirls over the possible criminal source of the fire, the North Brooklyn Alliance is calling this public gathering to proclaim the community’s outrage over the endangered lives, and lost history at the burned 100 –year-old warehouse landmark, and to demonstrate the unity that exists to work to protect the neighborhood from avaricious developers. Rather than succeeding to demoralize residents, the huge fire has catalyzed community attention and resolve to fight for community benefits, not destruction, and to protect the neighborhood from harm by avaricious developers.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Photography show and walking tours -Williamsburg/Greenpoint: The Disappeared And The Endangered

at ART 101 Gallery
The Disappeared and The Endangered
An Exhibition of Photography curated by Nancy Wechter
Works by Meredith Allen, Einat Bar, Vince Cianni, Joyce George, Peter Gillespie,
Anders Goldfarb, Regina Monfort, Mary Quinn, Claudia Sohrens,
Nancy Wechter, Bernie Yenelouis
A long-time resident of Williamsburg, photographer Nancy Wechter has felt the impact of the typhoon of alterations rained upon a once stable and peaceful neighborhood.  It is just one year since the rezoning plan was passed, but the changes began with the first whispers of city-sponsored  development along the waterfront and the old manufacturing district.
The loss of much that was familiar and comfortable; the endangered physical and human landscape, prompted Wechter to seek out documentation by her peers; to call attention to what is rapidly vanishing, while there is (is there?) still time.  The photographs exhibited at ART 101 are by professional photographers, who live in the area and are deeply involved in the daily lives of the neighborhoods that have nourished them, both visually and personally
 “As a born and bred New Yorker, I’m used to the constant changes that come with living in this city. However, Williamsburg and Greenpoint …are experiencing change on the scale of the Robert Moses era …and something special is being lost.  By viewing what has existed in this neighborhood and what is now extremely vulnerable, we can define what we care about and what we want to work to keep…” (N.W.)
The Disappeared and The Endangered
May 12 – June 4
ART 101
101 Grand Street between Berry & Wythe
Friday through Monday 1 – 6 pm
Or by appointment 718-302-2242
Reception May 19,  6 –9 pm
There will be two walking tours during the course of the exhibit: 
1. Saturday, May 13, 10 am to 12 noon  “Endangered Landmarks” led by Ward Dennis of The Waterfront Preservation Association,
2. Sunday, May 21, 10 am to 12 noon, “Urban Removal” led by Stephanie Thayer
Meet at ART 101 at 9:45 am
 photo: Women Sunbathing on the Williamsburg Waterfront by Joyce George

Monday, March 20, 2006

NY Times: S. 11 St. tenants at risk from potential development

New York Times - Williamsburg Journal
The Good Life on South 11th Street
Published: March 15, 2006
For more than a century, the book business flourished inside two brick warehouses on South 11th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a block from the East River. Since the late 19th century, when the six-story structures were built between Berry Street and Wythe Avenue, they have often been occupied by publishers and presses, both recognized and rarefied.

Jim Fleming and Lewanne Jones, who may have to leave their 2,700-square-foot loft, can remember when the area was so bad that car thieves burned stolen cars in the street after stripping them for parts.
In recent decades, artists and performers moved in, but now they, along with the last remaining book publisher, may have to leave soon.

In the fall of 2004, a real estate concern, DOV Land L.L.C., bought one of the warehouses, which includes 36 spaces in which people live or work. Residents said the new owner made it clear to some of them that it wanted them to move out and began eviction proceedings against others. About three dozen residents in 13 living spaces went on a rent strike, and have withheld their payments for about a year.

Now the tenants are waiting for a decision by a judge in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, who will determine whether they are protected by rent stabilization laws. If not, then many longtime residents, including an array of artists and artisans, members of two circuses and the last publisher in either warehouse, are likely to have to move.

"If we have to leave this building it'll almost certainly mean leaving New York City," said Jim Fleming, 56, who has lived on the fourth floor of 55-65 South 11th Street since 1982. "Williamsburg has come to be thought of as hip, but we were a bunch of pioneer artists."

While living on South 11th Street, Mr. Fleming started Autonomedia, a nonprofit company that publishes criticism by authors like Dwight MacDonald, Guy Debord and Michel Foucault. Mr. Fleming and his companion, Lewanne Jones, 53, an archivist, live in a 2,700-square-foot loft — with painted wooden floors and homemade wooden shelves holding Mr. Fleming's personal library of 60,000 volumes — for which they had paid $787.35 a month since 1985. Since 1997, Autonomedia has used a space the same size on the second floor, with a rent of about $1,100.

Mr. Fleming and Ms. Jones, who have two children away in college, acknowledged that the rates they paid before joining the rent strike were well below market. They added that although the loft was spacious, life there was far from luxurious. Over the years, they said, they made their own plumbing repairs, paid for their own heat, and navigated streets lined with burned-out buildings. At times in the 1980's, Ms. Jones said, she was awakened by the sound of cars burning in the street outside; she said thieves would bring the cars there, strip them, and set them afire to dispose of them.

"Market rate has been created by the fact that people want to come here because of communities that were created by people like us," she said.

Gerard Proefriedt, a lawyer for the landlord, said his client had tried to negotiate with the tenants but without success.

"Through changes in the neighborhood and inflation and other market forces, the rental values have gone up," Mr. Proefriedt said. "The landlord, like any landlord who owns a building, wants to maximize rental income." Mr. Proefriedt refused to say what his client planned to do with the building. (The landlord also bought the other warehouse across the street, but many of the tenants there are protected by the loft law and cannot be easily evicted.)

While market values on the north side of Williamsburg have been rising for several years, gentrification has taken hold more slowly in this part, the south side. But on Kent Avenue, four blocks from Mr. Fleming's loft, some units in a new 26-story development called Schaeffer Landing are listed at up to $2 million.

More changes could be on the way nearby. Last May, the city approved an ambitious rezoning plan for the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfronts that will allow developers to build towers up to 40 stories tall.

Mr. Fleming said the two warehouses on South 11th Street were completed in 1870 and housed McLaughlin Brothers, which at the turn of the 20th century was one of the country's biggest companies making board games and publishing children's books. In the 1930's, he said, the American Book Company, which published school textbooks, moved in.

The cultural history of 55-65 South 11th Street took a more colorful turn as publishing faded. Alan Saret, known as an anti-form artist who makes wire sculptures, lives on the sixth floor, and the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat used a studio there in the 80's, Mr. Fleming said.

Two members of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus live in rooms they built in the Autonomedia space on the second floor. On the floor above Mr. Fleming live Cindy Greenberg and Jennifer Miller, both members of the Circus Amok. Next door to them lives Gary Fierer, the singer in a band called Primordial Ooze.

On Thursday afternoon, Ms. Greenberg, 37, stood in her 1,500-square-foot loft, for which she and Ms. Miller were paying $450 a month. A trapeze hung from bolts in the ceiling and a closet was crammed with costumes and props.

At times, the story of 55-65 South 11th Street has inspired performances. Ms. Greenberg said the circus performed a series of shows last year about a magical cat that comes to the aid of embattled tenants.

"This is the headquarters, the storage, the rehearsal space, the living space," she said, noting that the circus is able to perform free because of the low overhead. "If we get kicked out, the question of whether we'll be able to keep the circus going is up in the air."

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Finger Building Crane Hits Neighbor

Yes, it finally happened, we've been worried about living 6 feet from the crane and the fact that it comes within inches of our building every time it swings. The crane tipped into our building this morning between 7:30-8 am. Between the 2nd and 3rd floors, you can see 2 indents on the outside wall of 143 North 7th that were left by the 2 counterweights of the lower part of the crane. It was a frightening experiencing on the inside. Max was playing beside our defunct fireplace in the front room. We both heard this soft thud and a long, loud ripping sound and looked up immediately at the wall above the fireplace to see this crack appear above and below a painting.

Paul ran out to stop the construction and one of the hard hats told him "we almost lost the crane!" It seems the wind caught the crane and tipped it backwards, but our building helped keep the crane from falling. The new safety director immediately disappeared, he's no longer the jovial fat guy but a young man with a scruffy beard who clearly has little experience.

911 was called, the fire dept came by and stopped the crane, checked their permits, checked the outside and inside of the building. They deemed the building sound. They expressed concern that the crane was so close to the building but was told it was out of the fire dept's jurisdiction to stop the crane's operation. They said it was up to the DOB. A best squad inspector came and believe it or not, issued a violation and said the construction site could go back to work. That's it a lousy violation and they're not moving the crane. They're pouring cement on the 4th floor now.

We've contacted the Cranes and Derries inspector of the DOB because if wind can tip the crane into our building, then it's too close and they say they'll send out someone today. btw, the C&D inspector referred to our building as a 20-story one so I'm sure the announcements about keeping the Finger to 10 stories is all BS.

Still it was a horrible experience especially since where the crane hit the wall, Max was playing with his toys on the other side. We're feeling a bit shaken and rather vulnerable. Though we don't want to leave our home, we don't feel safe in it either.

Paul and Sandra Leussing

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

More press: stop work orders don't stop work,moses,72430,5.html

Residence Evil
Stop-work orders don't stop bulldozing in Williamsburg

by Paul Moses
March 7th, 2006 11:38 AM

What bothers Ana Jaramillo the most is that her daughters, who are 7 and 9, remember it all. Faulty excavation at a construction site next door to their apartment on Havemeyer Street in Williamsburg tore gashes in their home and
rendered it unstable. The building where Jaramillo and her husband had been tenants for 10 years was ordered closed and sealed off. That was in June. The Red Cross sheltered the family of four in a motel. In July, the Jaramillos were consigned to a city shelter for homeless families. Jaramillo, 35, a kindergarten teacher working on a master's degree at City College, made the best of it. She continued working and studying and brought the girls back to Williamsburg to carry on their schooling at Northside Catholic Academy. The family had its own unit in the Harriet Tubman shelter in Harlem. Jaramillo wasn't used to the atmosphere there. So her husband, Luis, who had just started a security job at Kennedy Airport, quit to be around for his wife and girls to feel safe.

It went on that way until November, when the Jaramillos got an apartment in Sumner Houses, a Brooklyn housing project. "It was around Thanksgiving time," Jaramillo said. One of the girls asked, "Mommy, are they going to take this house away from us also?" "No," said Jaramillo. "They said, 'Mommy, is it going to fall like the other house?' I said, 'No.' They had questions. . .. I thought it would be less traumatic for them. . . . The first time we ate here, those were the questions they had. They'll have that with them."

This is one more example of how the levees protecting many a New Yorker have been breached by a storm of real estate development. The city needs new housing, just as it needs water. But it doesn't need a flood of dangerous construction
or rising rents to displace its own residents. The protections against these hazards are as suspect as the Gulf of Mexico levees.

The city department of buildings is one of the weak bricks in the wall. "Forget about it," said Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, who held a news conference February 24 outside 22 Havemeyer Street, the construction site next to Ana Jaramillo's apartment. "How can anybody have any confidence in them?"

Here's one measure of that: Last year, there were 1,609 complaints that stop-work orders the buildings department issued were violated. Upon learning that, Lentol said, "It sounds to me that they are unable to enforce the law."

A computer-assisted analysis by the Voice of city records finds that most of the time, inspectors find no construction going on by the time they arrive˜but there are violations in about 10 percent of the cases. The numbers raise serious questions about public safety: If stop-work orders don't stop unsafe construction, what will?

Almost never does the buildings department refer a complaint to police, who can make an arrest. Buildings department spokeswoman Ilyse Fink said it happened once last year with a charge in Queens. She said the agency routinely sends copies of stop-work orders to police. But police spokesman Detective Walter Burnes said police wouldn't move on a case unless the
buildings department sought assistance.

Fink said the buildings department is moving forward on various fronts to improve construction safety. The agency˜which critics have long said is dangerously understaffed˜has gotten more employees in recent years, Fink said.

In his news conference, Lentol called for a fund to be created to provide for people who are displaced by faulty construction and for a task force to scrutinize applications for excavations. Fink said the buildings department is working on similar ideas.

Mike Choi, the developer at 22 Havemeyer, did not return a phone message asking his reaction to the news conference. When the Jaramillos were forced out in June, the buildings department had issued a citation charging that work was done without the proper permit. A stop-work order was issued. Records show that in August, a citation was issued charging a violation of
the stop-work order; it was later dismissed without a fine. In an interview in January, Choi said everything was resolved.

Not for Ana Jaramillo, who said she has to reassure her daughters that their new apartment is built firmly. Nor for Josephine Peluso, 77, who owns the building where Jaramillo was a tenant.

On President's Day, I chanced to find her standing outside her boarded-up building on Havemeyer Street, her Yorkie leashed to the fence. She told me that she now lives in an apartment down the block, having given up her two cats to qualify. But she spent her afternoon standing in front of her real home. "I was born in that house," she said.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The latest on the building mess

Dateline : Thursday, March 02, 2006
Buildings Consensus: Agency a Mess

By Shane Miller
Large demolition projects, damaged homes and forced evacuations are starting to become a way of life for residents of North Brooklyn, and many feel there is a genuine lack of concern on behalf of the city as their neighborhood and homes crumble around them. Frustrated, residents have spurred their State Assemblyman to introduce legislation at the state level that would place new oversights on a city agency.

"These are the kinds of buildings that are coming down all over the neighborhood," decried Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, pointing to a home on Havemeyer Street that was evacuated last year because excavation work next door made it unsafe to occupy. "In their midst, the Department of Buildings has seen it fit to throw up their hands and allow what is going on to continue to go on."

Lentol has already introduced one bill into the State Assembly that would require developers to set up an escrow account in case they damage the homes on either side of a construction site. The money could be used to pay for repairs or help with temporary relocation costs when tenants or homeowners are forced out of their residences. Lentol's legislation would also set up a system to expedite claims quickly.

"The money could be paid without having to go to court," Lentol told a crowd of about 20 on a blustery Friday morning.

Lentol also hopes to introduce a bill that would place strict liability on developers if they damage homes nearby. This would save slighted homeowners the trouble of proving negligence on the part of builders, which can result in long court cases at great expense to the aggrieved party.

Finally, Lentol wants to create a task force consisting of engineers, architects, inspectors and other professionals who would evaluate every demolition application on an individual basis. As Lentol noted, the homes in North Brooklyn sit on top of clay, water and sometimes even an underground oil spill, and therefore present a unique set of circumstances. "I'm not an architect or an engineer," admitted Lentol. "I don't know that much about buildings, but I'll work with the best people."

Lentol is waiting on a final draft of the last bill, but hopes to introduce it in the Assembly next week, and all of the bills will need to find co-sponsors in the State Senate. Lentol also doesn't expect a lot of help from the city or the mayor. "I expect the city will fight all of the bills," predicted the Assemblyman. "They don't want the micro-management of DOB, and they don't want the State Legislature telling them what to do."

When the Star called the mayor's office for comment, they referred inquiries to DOB. Spokesperson Ilyse Fink said that she felt the department and Lentol were basically "on the same page." "The assemblyman thinks that the problem is attached to demolition, but we think excavation is where we need to focus our energies," explained Fink.

Fink said that the Department met with Lentol last November and discussed many of the issues Lentol is addressing with his proposed legislation. She said that perhaps both parties walked out of the meeting with a slightly different expectation of how the other would proceed. "What is important is that we all agree that action is necessary," said Fink.

Fink said the department is considering a rule that would require developers to notify DOB 24 hours before they start excavation - like they do with demolition projects - so the department can keep closer tabs on the work. However, the new guidelines are in the very preliminary stages.

"This type of notice would enable our inspectors to visit these sites at the start of construction activity, and hopefully prevent the type of accidents that seem to be proliferating," wrote Fink in an email. Fink said that DOB was also pursuing "similarly themed" legislation that would require contractors to carry insurance specifically to cover damages they cause to adjoining properties. A draft version of the local law is currently under review by the city's Law Department. Fink added that Commissioner Patricia Lancaster has also formed a forensic engineering unit with expertise investigating construction accidents. The experts would examine collapses or accidents and work with the necessary parties to develop a plan to shore up surrounding homes.

But North Brooklyn residents like Peter Gillespie argue that it is time for the city to realize that there is a real crisis in the neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, and that they need to take drastic steps.
"The city needs to understand that this is because of the recent rezoning, and that they can't deal with this on a case-by-case basis," Gillespie said last Friday.

Gillepsie said that in many cases it is up to individual homeowners to ensure that construction and demolition work next to their houses is proceeding in a safe manner, which he feels is backwards. "The responsibility falls on the developer, the DOB and ultimately the mayor," he argued.

Councilman Tony Avella of northeast Queens, an outspoken critic of DOB, agrees."The mayor has to see that the agency is in chaos, and in some ways I can't help but think that he is part of the problem," hypothesized Avella. "We need to take immediate action to get immediate results."

Avella and several of his like-minded colleagues are trying to set up a City Council task force that would oversee DOB. However, the Councilman says because there is a new Council it could take a while before the idea makes it back to the table. In the meantime, he has suggested to Commissioner Lancaster the idea of setting up a cabinet comprised of council members, DOB representatives, concerned residents and industry professionals, all of whom would meet on a regular basis. "We could set an agenda, and meet maybe once a month," explained Avella. "We could discuss the major problems, and then was could talk about what is being done to address them."

Last Friday, Lentol promised that if the city failed to take adequate action, he would call hearings at the state level. "I may be accused of overstepping my bounds, but it wouldn't be the first time," said Lentol.
"I wish more politicians would overstep their bounds," shouted Roger Owens, who along with his wife and two small children had to be evacuated from their home just before the holidays. They just moved back in last week. "If you hadn't," Owens continued, "we would probably still be homeless."

Friday, February 24, 2006

Good news: DoB comes back!!

Ken Lazar and Bryan Winter will return to CB1 Public Safety meeting on March 9, at 6.30pm. The meeting will be at the Swinging Sixties Center, corner of Ainslie & Manhattan Ave (glad we have more room, since it was sooo crowded). Bring your stories, pictures, printouts from DoB website, anything to call attention to the epidemic problem of neighbor damage.

Remember, spring is coming and construction will really fire up!

The Williamsburg-Greenpoint Development Watchdog is gathering info for the meeting.

See you there!