“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.