By The City

Brooklyn Community Board Considers Suspending Its 2020 Election Over Pandemic Disruptions, Sparking Backlash

` Brooklyn’s Community Board 1, with notorious SUV outside. Claudia Irizarry Aponte/THE CITY

A Brooklyn community board that approved spending $26,000 in public funds to buy an SUV is considering skipping a required election, allowing its leaders to hold on to power for another year.

Brooklyn Community Board 1, which represents Williamsburg and Greenpoint, was slated under its bylaws to hold internal elections this month for its executive committee, including its chairperson and financial secretary.

But a board member has introduced a measure to cancel the vote, pushing it off until June 2021 — arguing that conducting a virtual election during the coronavirus shutdown would be too complicated.

Last month’s general board meeting, where nominations would have normally taken place, was cancelled.

“If there’s a group that wants to run they should say, ‘We have a group that wants to run and we want to have an election,’” said board member Jan Peterson, who is a member of CB1’s Bylaws Committee and introduced the proposal that would cancel this year’s election. “And that’s it. But they won’t say it out loud if there is one.” Continue reading

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Cuomo Calls Off ‘Non-Essential’ Construction Statewide

Construction waste recycling worker Sean Ragiel takes a break in Times Square after working at a job site, March 24, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will freeze most construction statewide in response to the pandemic virus sweeping New York, after outcry from workers and word of COVID-19 cases on job sites around the city.

On Friday the governor will decree most residential and commercial building temporarily off limits, according to a spokesperson for Cuomo’s office. Infrastructure and transportation projects will be allowed to continue, as well as emergency repairs, hospital building and work on affordable housing.

Until now, construction work has been classified as essential, exempt from a state “pause” that ordered the shutdown of a wide swath of workplaces.

Cuomo’s shift followed a rush of protest from construction workers and their family members. Significant numbers had begun refusing to show up for work, sources said. Word traveled on Facebook among workers about positive cases on job sites and an electrician’s death.

Stephen Jozef, 57, who had been working on Google’s offices at 111 8th Ave., died from the coronavirus Monday, his daughter said. The electrician was last on the site on March 6, leaving because he grew ill.

The carpenters’ union local released a statement Thursday asking elected officials to limit jobs to “truly essential” construction. “Our members’ lives are at stake,” it said.

Cuomo’s move came as some construction sites around the city temporarily closed for cleaning after workers tested positive for COVID-19 — including prized Cuomo public works projects at Moynihan Station and LaGuardia Airport. Both projects will continue under the new guidance.

Some in the industry feared that their coworkers have not yet fully appreciated the threat of the virus as work was allowed to continue.

“They’re being led to believe it’s no big deal,” one steamfitter said. Continue reading

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Greenpointers Fire Back At Fracked Natural Gas Pipeline

National Grid installs a natural gas pipeline along Manhattan Avenue in Brooklyn, Feb. 13, 2020Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on 2/14/20 by THE CITY. (By: Claudia Irizarry Aponte)

Construction of a 6.8-mile natural gas pipeline stretching from Brownsville to North Brooklyn has hit a wall in Greenpoint, where community leaders and elected officials are vying to halt the project as it reaches its final stage.

The National Grid gas main — which has been in the works since 2017 — would supply fracked gas from Pennsylvania, where the extraction is legal. The controversial practice was banned in New York state in 2014.

On Saturday, a community coalition of environmental advocacy groups, schools, and social justice groups will host a rally at the pipeline’s latest construction site, the intersection of Moore Street and Manhattan Avenue.

“I am familiar with the history of environmental devastation in my neighborhood,” said Kevin LaCherra, a third-generation Greenpointer who is helping organize the rally. “We need our elected officials to be taking bold steps to bring renewables on now.”

The pipeline opponents are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop the project on the grounds that it goes against both the state and the city’s clean energy goals.

“This is not the kind of system we want any more,” Kim Fraczek, director of the Sane Energy Project, an environmental advocacy group, told THE CITY. “This industry doesn’t have the interests of the community at heart.”

Their claims are quickly gaining momentum: On Tuesday, Brooklyn’s Community Board 1, which includes Greenpoint, voted unanimously to stop any construction of the pipeline.

Advocates say they have the support of every single elected official who represents North Brooklyn at the state and city level, from City Councilmembers Stephen Levin and Antonio Reynoso, to State Sen. Julia Salazar and veteran Assemblymember Joe Lentol.

Levin, Reynoso and Lentol all confirmed to THE CITY they oppose the pipeline’s construction, Salazar did not return requests for comment. Continue reading

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Greenpoint Activist Vies to Unseat 47-Year Incumbent Lentol

Greenpoint resident Emily Gallagher is running for state Assembly. (Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY)

This story was originally published on 12/23/19 by THE CITY. (By: Claudia Irizarry Aponte)

Emily Gallagher is no stranger to being a squeaky wheel.

The 35-year-old Greenpoint activist has tackled hyper-local issues like bike safety and the 94th Precinct’s response to sexual violence. She ran for district leader in 2016, losing by 344 votes.

Earlier this year Gallagher, a member of Brooklyn Community Board 1, suggested that the board use special City Council funds for a service that tracks constituent issues. The board revealed it bought an SUV instead.

“I try to choose battles that are activist battles,” she said.

Now, she’s taking on a longshot primary campaign to unseat Democratic Assemblymember Joe Lentol, a third-generation lawmaker who has represented Greenpoint and nearby areas for the last 47 years.

Gallagher is only the second person to challenge Lentol in a primary — and the first since 2010.

Lentol handily won that primary with 81% of the vote. Continue reading

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LIC Community Board Changes Colors on ‘5Pointz’ Towers After Library Added

The 5Pointz complex in Long Island City in 2013 before it was painted over and demolished. Photo: Jeanmarie Evelly/DNAinfo

A Queens community board reversed its opposition to a new proposal for 5Pointz Towers — a luxury complex planned at the site of a famed former Long Island City street art mecca — thanks, in part, to a library. Continue reading

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Board of Elections Running Late on Early Voting Rollout

Voters faced long lines at a Bedford-Stuyvesant polling place during the 2018 midterm election. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on 9/25/19 by THE CITY. (By: Reuven Blau)

The city Board of Elections is scrambling to launch early voting for the first time in New York’s history — with voters still in the dark on where they’re supposed to cast ballots.

The elections board has designated 61 sites for early voting, which is set to begin on Oct. 26. Under the BOE’s plan, voters must go to a specific location and can’t simply use any polling site in their borough. Continue reading

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State Fines Developers for Their “Gifts” to Mayor Mayor De Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on 9/20/19 by THE CITY. (By: Greg B. Smith)

On the same day would-be President Bill de Blasio unveiled a campaign finance reform plan he hopes to take national, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own fundraising tactics shadowed him at home.

A state watchdog agency on Thursday revealed three deep-pocket developers seeking favors from City Hall settled charges that they had made illegal gifts to de Blasio by writing five-figure checks to his now-defunct charity, the Campaign for One New York (CONY). Continue reading

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Group Floats Separate Swimming for Men and Women at Williamsburg Pool

The Metropolitan Recreation Center pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Photo: Mathew Katz/DNAinfo

This story was originally published on 9/18/19 by THE CITY. (By: Claudia Irizarry Aponte)

Some Williamsburg residents are asking for more women’s-only hours at a local public pool, but with a compromise: Give men some alone time, too.

A group of local women — of various ethnicities and religions — got unanimous approval last Tuesday from Brooklyn Community Board 1  for three additional hours of women-only swimming at the Metropolitan Pool on Bedford Avenue. Also okayed: creating men-only hours.

The Parks Department, which did not respond to a request for comment, will have the final say.

“It’s not a contentious issue in our neighborhood,” said Jan Peterson, the chair of CB1’s Women’s Issues committee. “White, black, Hispanic, Polish — all the community leaders support this issue.”

Still, the vote threatened to reignite the controversy over the decades-old, single-sex swimming sessions that surfaced in 2016 after an anonymous tipster alerted the City Commission on Human Rights.

That triggered a review and spurred the Parks Department to shut down the women’s-only sessions, which were eight hours a week at the time.

The Commission reversed course a few months later, however, and the no-men-allowed swim times were reinstated, on a limited four-hour schedule that remains today.

The practice, which notched national attention, was widely criticized by everyone from The New York Times Editorial Board to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which argued the decision to keep any restricted hours violated the Constitution.

The Parks Department shut down a request in March 2017 for the return of the full eight-hour schedule. The Williamsburg women believe now is the chance to reclaim their time — with a nod to offering men some privacy as well.

“We polled women of all ethnicities of women of all religions, of all ethnicities, ages: Jewish women, Muslim women, Hispanic women, Italian women, pregnant women, who just don’t want to swim with men,” said Maria Aragona, a lawyer who is behind the proposal.

“If I had a young daughter, I wouldn’t want to bring her to a pool where there might be a child molester,” added Aragona, a Williamsburg resident for 23 years.

Aragona, other members of CB1’s Women’s Issues Committee, non-board members of the committee, and representatives of at least two local elected officials will meet next week to draft a letter to the Mayor’s Office and the Parks Department with their revised proposal.

‘It’s a Disgrace’

The women’s-only sessions, also available at the St. Johns Recreation Center in Crown Heights, are open to all women. They largely serve the neighborhoods’ Hasidic population, whose beliefs forbid women from swimming with men.

Bella Sabel, a Hasidic woman in her mid 70s who has lived in Williamsburg since the early 1960s, said the women-only pool hours should never have been reduced.

“It’s a disgrace,” she said. “Something in the city functioning for so many years for the health of the women, and it’s just taken away from them for no good reason whatsoever.”

The women want three additional hours a week: one more hour each on Mondays and Wednesdays, and an additional hour for women and children on Sundays, for a total of seven. They are proposing the same amount of time for men, according to Aragona.

Aragona balked at the notion that the taxpayer-funded pool shouldn’t allow separate schedules for men and women on Constitutional grounds. “There are charter schools that are just for boys — those receive public funding,” she said.

Victoria Cambranes, a local activist who is running for City Council in the 33rd District, says the partitioned hours would benefit everyone from religious practitioners to survivors of sexual assault.

“Because it’s a city-funded pool, it should be open to all New Yorkers,” she told THE CITY. “We’re not trying to glorify women or put them on any kind of pedestal. We want to make sure everyone who wants to use the pool is comfortable doing so, and that includes men as well.”

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City Council Puts Brakes on Community Board Spending

Brooklyn Community Board 1’s SUV parked in front of the office, May 29, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on 9/17/19 by THE CITY. (By: Gabriel Sandoval and Claudia Irizarry Aponte)

Community boards now have to vote before making pricey purchases with a budget-boosting grant from the City Council, which recently placed sharp limits on how boards can spend the funds.

The new rules followed the THE CITY’s May report that leaders of one Brooklyn board bought a $26,000 SUV using taxpayer money allocated by the Council. Continue reading

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Williamsburg Loft Building’s Tenants See Hopes to Stay Fade

240 Broadway in South Williamsburg, on Sept. 12, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on 9/16/19 by THE CITY. (By: Claudia Irizarry Aponte)

In May, residents of Williamsburg’s 240 Broadway thought they’d won a fighting chance to stay in their homes, with the launch of an audit into their landlord’s long-ago transformation of their once-industrial building into apartments.

Tenants had pinned their hopes on the Department of Buildings revoking the structure’s certificate of occupancy, which they contended had been invalidly issued based on sub-par construction. That would allow the tenants to claim protection against eviction under New York’s Loft Law, which shields residents during and after conversions of the industrial spaces they call home.

But since then, tenants say, they’ve faced intensifying pressure to leave now that the Brooklyn building has been sold.

Soon after buying the building for $16.5 million, the new landlord, 240 Broadway Properties LLC, started issuing notices to tenants in the 24 apartments, demanding they vacate within 30 days.

So far, nine households have departed or are fighting eviction proceedings, while the remaining 15 wait anxiously as expiration dates on their leases approach. Construction has begun, according to holdouts, who say their gas has been shut off.

Tailor Arthur Arbit has worked in his 240 Broadway loft for more than 10 years, Sept. 12, 2019.
Tailor Arthur Arbit has worked in his 240 Broadway loft for more than 10 years. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A representative for the building’s operator, Livingston Management, did not respond to THE CITY’s request for comment.

Last month, the Department of Buildings informed tenants it could not find sufficient evidence to scrap 240 Broadway’s certificate of occupancy — undermining the residents’ claim on staying put in the increasingly upscale neighborhood.

“We don’t know what’s going on,” Arthur Arbit, a tailor who has lived in the building for 11 years and keeps his studio there, told THE CITY. “We’re just waiting for answers.”

‘I Feel Cheated’

The Department of Buildings began its audit into the century-old building’s certificate of occupancy in the spring, following inquiries from THE CITY.

In an Aug. 15 email to tenants, department representative Benjamin Colombo noted the examination uncovered “several deficiencies that were inconsistent with the approved plans and subsequent inspection” that led to the department’s 2003 green-light for the certificate of occupancy. Among the problems: non-compliant space heaters and lack of fire-rated construction.

But, he wrote, “There is insufficient proof to demonstrate that the deficiencies existed at the time of the issuance of the certificate of occupancy.”

Britta Riley is unsure if her family will able to stay in their loft home at 240 Broadway.
Britta Riley is unsure if her family will able to stay in their loft home at 240 Broadway. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Colombo added that the department had written up the new owners for code violations, giving them until Sept. 12 to fix the problems.

Tenants argued that the certificate of occupancy had been erroneously secured in 2003 by Henry Radusky, an architect investigated and sanctioned for filing questionable paperwork on past projects.

They sought to follow the success of loft tenants in another Brooklyn Radusky building, whose certificate of occupancy was revoked as “unlawfully issued.” Those residents were able to apply for Loft Law protection, which includes rent stabilization.

“I can’t vocalize my frustration about the hard earned money — I have paid over $300,000 in rent — I spent for a city-certified property that turned out not to merit that certification,” Britta Riley, a resident of 240 Broadway, wrote in a June 24 email to the Department of Buildings.

Riley has lived in the building for the last 11 years and has two infant daughters. “I feel cheated learning that this supposedly city-certified building is so gravely out of code,” she added.

A spokesperson for the Department of Buildings, Andrew Rudansky, told THE CITY that the new owners are playing by the book.

“So far, the owners have been complying with DOB orders,” he said. “However, if they fail to continue this progress bringing the building into code compliance, we will take further enforcement actions, including additional violations and associated civil penalties.”

Facial Recognition Entry

Many long-term residents describe an increasingly difficult environment in the building.

While a partial stop-work order halted roof repairs, construction is still underway in the hallways. On a recent visit by THE CITY, dropped ceilings had been torn down in the hallways on the second and third floor of the six-story building, exposing decrepit tin ceilings, pipes, mold and dust.

A Health Department notice was put up on Thursday, Sept. 12. Photo: 240 Broadway Tenants Association

An inspection by the city Department of Health on Thursday found dust “caused by unsafe work.” A notice posted in the building that same day says the dust samples are being tested for lead.

The management company, meanwhile, is proceeding with a facial recognition security system, and demanding residents turn in their metal keys by Sept. 20, according to notices sent to tenants.

Asa Pingree, who lives in the building with his wife, teenage son and 2-month-old baby, received an eviction notice last month after his lease expired. Now he’s fighting the landlord in Housing Court. The 38-year-old furniture designer moved to the building in 2015 after losing a similar conversion battle at a nearby loft on Hope Street.

While Pingree hopes 240 Broadway will eventually achieve Loft Law status, he’s most worried about his newborn’s wellbeing.

“My main concern is they’re risking our health without actually improving our living situation,” he said.

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