“We’re creating a neighborhood on the waterfront.”

These were the poorly-chosen words of Melanie Meyers, a representative for the Greenpoint Landing development.  She appeared alongside representatives of the development at 77 Commercial Street and from various city agencies before a room filled beyond capacity at the McCarren Recreation Center on Monday evening to present preliminary plans for the developments threatening to deposit over 6,100 units of additional housing upon the north Brooklyn waterfront across the next decade.  While it’s unclear what, if any, new information was conveyed to the public at the meeting, the response from the audience was clear: Greenpoint already has a neighborhood, thank you very much.

The details of the developments remained vague on many points, but the general outlines of their deal with the city are coming into focus. In exchange for development rights (purchased for what Ms. Meyers estimated for Greenpoint Landing at $8 million for 295,000 square feet, or about $27 per square foot) Greenpoint will be tossed the proverbial bone in the form of 631 units of affordable housing, 4.5 acres of city-owned park, about 2,000 square feet of publicly-accessible waterfront,  and a 640 seat school. Part of this deal involves acquiring air rights from the MTA property at 65 commercial street; in order to use these air rights to build a 30-40 story tower instead of a 15 story tower, 77 Commercial still needs to secure an exception to allow for the soaring heights of R-8 zoning instead of its current R-6.

Aside from clarifications to these numbers, representatives of the developers did not meaningfully answer any questions or address any neighborhood concerns.  Chief among those raised was the impending specter of a socioeconomically divided Greenpoint, with the waterfront belonging to the wealthy in towers whose business would be conducted in Manhattan and the rest relegated to their shadows cast on Manhattan Avenue. Transportation, which weighs heavily on the mind of any rush-hour G train commuter, was mentioned but met with a familiar response:  we’ll do the studies when required by the development process.  All of these non-answers served only to reinforce the main sentiment that this development is incongruous with the neighborhood and is not part of a comprehensive plan but rather is a short-sighted capitalization on valuable, newly-available waterfront.


People seemed dismayed by the lack of clear intentions coming from the developers coupled with a lack of clear leadership from representatives.  Stephen Levin, District 33 representative, offered vague advice to ‘organize, organize, organize’ but appeared primarily interested in making it clear to voters that he was not in office when the 2005 rezoning was pushed forward.  Similarly, Christopher Olechowski, representing community board 1, made it repeatedly clear that they had rejected in its entirety the development plans for the waterfront only to have them pushed through by the city regardless.  If we wish to have a say in anything more meaningful than the placement of a park bench or two, it is clear that we will need to align the powerful undercurrents of resistance felt at this meeting, and do it quickly.

I have done my best to record all numbers accurately as I heard them, but please correct me on any mistaken details.

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  1. I wish there was some information on neighborhood community groups that are organizing against this — there must be some. I know GP has a powerful history of organizing and fighting for their neighborhood. A website or contact would be helpful for people who read this and want to get involved (like me!).

  2. I live right up the top of Gpt and there’s not a lot going on up there in terms of neighborhood. I think it could use a little gentrification personally.

    Inevitably it will end up like those faceless abominations in Williamsburg but I think for a few years it would be nice not to dodge dogshit outside my front door or walk 3 blocks not to be charged a dollar extra for luxuries like milk and beer.

    Unfortunately though, the process of ‘sprucing the place up a bit’ never really ends until all the old residents are either priced-out or end up feeling like they’re now living in someone else’s hood but hey, that’s cities for ya.

  3. Very good write up – I was not at the meeting and feel that I am getting a fairly full picture. I am also a new owner in the neighborhood.

    If anyone is ‘organize’ it will have to have a very specific agenda, and just not a “we hate this” tone. This is the kind of project that is allowed and is legal, as awful as the density and scale is.

    I think we would have to start with the idea that a crush of people is imminent. What do we need in this neighborhood so that our quality of life isn’t severely impacted? Transportation improvements? A new dog run? Park Space in the interior of the neighborhood? Slow traffic down around the neighborhood with a median on Manhattan Avenue?

    I have been interested in creating a new model of citizen engagement that involves community mapping and social media and this might be the test case. please email me at cp244 at cornell dot edu if you are interested in helping out.

    1. Right, I think the thing to do now is carefully examine legal avenues that might be used to help limit the scale of these developments. I think most people aren’t against waterfront development as a whole, we’d just like to see reasonably-sized buildings instead of 40-story towers.

      1. I would also like to see reasonably sized buildings, but limiting the scale of the developments would require another rezoning. It is possible? Yes. Probable? No — at least not in the current climate. (IMHO.) Following the 2005 rezoning, I watched community cohesiveness fall apart. People felt betrayed by the city, and deeply burned out. Subsequent rezonings (Domino, Broadway Triangle) turned community organizations and residents against each other and there’s a lot of bitterness there. I haven’t seen true unity for a long time. We’ve factionalized. I haven’t seen an effort to include newer people either, though we share many quality of life ideals: more open space and green space, walkable streets, supporting local businesses, improving transportation, supporting sensible development.

        1. Hi Teresa –

          I agree that it won’t be possible – and its frankly not something extending a lot of effort for.

          I think it would be best to focus on extracting benefits and make sure they abide by promises now, with clear plans and a way to get there, rather than shooting for the stars.

  4. That area where the new development is planned is a dump — it gives the community nothing but smells of sludge tank, rats and abandoned dogs. No one has had access to the water there. The rezoning from 2005 is done, so just accept this. There was a lot of community input back then. The original rezoning plans did not mandate affordable housing or water front access or open space — those “give-backs” were acheived through the hard work of local advocates, over many years. So a lot of new people? Sure, but it’s not all bad.

  5. I think that GWAPP (gwapp.org) could be a valuable resource in the organizing the fight against this construction. GWAPP established their new website nearly a year ago to bring just these kind of concerns to light and to help various park/community groups unite to gain strength in their struggles to improve our neighborhoods. Here is their mission statement. “GWAPP is a community based not-for-profit 501(c)(3) group comprised of community organizations, religious institutions and concerned citizens from the Greenpoint/Williamsburg communities dedicated to the development of parks and public access on the Greenpoint waterfront. Building upon its successful defeat of two power plants on the East River, GWAPP is dedicated to assisting the community in promoting and monitoring any development that impacts the Greenpoint waterfront.”

    1. The organization currently known as GWAPP did not defeat the power plants. The community coalition formed to fight the power plants was diverse and many people & groups were motivated to keep our waterfront for open space and recreational park space. What is now known as GWAPP is a result of some groups & people continuing on after the second power plant was defeated. While we fought the power plants, our coalition’s name was Greenpoint Williamsburg Against Power Plants. After the power plant fights, wanting to put the organization and network to further use, the smaller continuing group morphed into the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning. Many people associated with the current GWAPP were leaders in the fight against the power plants though there were others, in the original GWAPP. I’m explaining all of this just to caution you not to approach the current GWAPP with false expectations. It’s not exactly the same group and the mission is not the same as it was when it started with the original name.

  6. just reading an article this morning about how the hudson yards developers promise to produce affordable housing has not materialized fully. not shocking as this has been the modus operandi for a lot of these projects under the bloomberg administration. projects get the green light and then the important community benefits that the developers/city think will keep the residents’ mouths shut slowly fade away. as folks in this discussion has pointed out, unless there is some serious investments in the current infrastructure of greenpoint, this place is going to be unlivable.

    who and how will we hold the developers to their promises? how transparent will the city be? how will we make sure the developers complete AND SHARE WITH THE COMMUNITY some of the impacts studies that need to get done?

    the dialogue with the developers and the city will be about what the existing community will get out this development. given that it’s a city election year, there are opportunities for the candidates to put some pressure on them to align with the community.

    chris: i sent you an email yesterday. i’m curious to hear of your organizing model.

  7. Just to clarify: the article says that current plans call for 2,000 sq ft of publicly accessible waterfront.

    That’s about the size of a large deli. Is that a typ0?

    Perhaps it was actually 20,000 or 200,000? Waterfront access is the most important issue to me. If the planned accesible waterfront is really so derisably small, that’s good ground to fight on.

    1. Hmm, I have in my notes 2,000 but that does sound really small. However, do keep in mind that that number only refers to the waterfront open space aside from the parks, so essentially the waterfront promenades between the developments and the river. Most of the acreage of open space is encompassed by parks and other projects not covered by that number.

  8. Ever since the construction of the Pulaski Bridge , Greenpoint has been in limbo. The former bridge ran from Vernon Blvd. in LIC to Manhattan Ave, now both roads are dead ends. The rebirth of Greenpoin and LIC is a welcome site. All new building means better schools, better shoppingand far better security for our community.

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