Archive for the tag 'waterfront'

loehmanns-rendering

Rendering of the proposed expansion. Provided by architect Robert Palermo.

Community and civic leaders met with representatives for the owners of Loehmann’s Seaport Plaza to discuss a plan to add a new floor to the development. The heated discussion boiled down to whether or not the plan was an investment in the community’s viability post-Sandy, or a bailout for a landlord who made a bad buy.

The invite-only meeting, organized by Councilman Chaim Deutsch, was attended by the owner’s attorney, architect and traffic engineer to explain the project and its impact. Members of Community Board 15′s zoning committee were in attendance, as well as members of the Bay Improvement Group, Manhattan Beach Community Group, and the Sheepshead Bay Plumb Beach Civic Association – all of which have expressed concerns about the project.

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What’s the plan?

The property’s owner, Alex Levin, filed plans in March to add a new story of commercial offices to the building, totaling 10,000 square feet, as Sheepshead Bites was the first to report.

The news reignited a contentious fight with roots back to the early 1990s when the building was first proposed. Far outside the size limitations for the area’s zoning, and with proposed uses that didn’t match the Sheepshead Bay special zoning district, community groups fought to limit the scale of the project – largely without success.

The new plan to go even larger requires a recommendation from Community Board 15 and approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals. Originally set for a hearing in June, the developer agreed to two postponements to meet with concerned community members.

“We are sympathetic to your neighborhood; we’re part of your neighborhood.”

 

–Robert Palermo, architect.

The proposal asks not just for additional office space, which will fit four to five tenants, but also a waiver on the number of required parking spots. Zoning requires a minimum of 215 parking spaces with the additional office. There’s currently parking for about 183 cars, and they plan on increasing that to 198 spaces.

Although locals who live off Emmons Avenue said parking remains a top concern, the reps said this would have no significant impact on the surrounding area, since the offices would be used during the day when the building’s garage is nearly empty. According to their studies, parking peaks in the evenings and on weekends, when visitors come to patronize local restaurants and cruise boats.

The design includes 15-foot setbacks for the new floor making it invisible from the street, and is done with gabled roofs to keep it in line with a fishing village theme, said architect Robert Palermo. He shared a rendering of the proposed addition, seen at the top of this story.

“It’s impact visually on the neighborhood is minimal,” Palermo said. “We are sympathetic to your neighborhood; we’re part of your neighborhood.”

Construction would take a year or two to complete after approval, the representatives said.

Councilman Deutsch led a tour of the vacant Loehmann's space, where the meeting was held.

Councilman Deutsch led a tour of the vacant Loehmann’s space, where the meeting was held.

“This building is on the verge of failure.”

The purpose of the plan, the developer’s representatives said last night, is to make up for income that will never be regained after Superstorm Sandy devalued the sub-level storefronts.

“If this building fails … it’s not going to help a soul.”

 

–Eric Palatnik, attorney.

The 14,000-square-foot basement level of Loehmann’s Seaport Plaza, which houses the Seaport Buffet and New Cats Cafe, among others, turned into an eight-foot-deep pool following the storm. Since then, the landlord has had to slash rents by 40 percent in order to attract businesses back to the area.

The bottom line, said attorney Eric Palatnik, is that the building is no longer commercially viable.

“We’re having a hard time of it,” said the owner’s attorney, Eric Palatnik. “We’re here to tell you that we lost income as a result of downstairs. And in order for us to make up that income, we need space upstairs.”

The 10,000-square-foot space will bring in about 60 percent of the rent the basement commanded prior to Sandy, while the basement will continue to draw about 40 percent.

“It’ll never get market rent again,” said architect Palermo.

In sum, they said, the expansion plan is necessary because if the project goes belly-up the entire community will suffer.

“If this building fails, which it’s on the verge of failing, it’s not going to do anything for this community. It’s not going to help a soul,” said Palatnik.

The landlord has been unable to find a new tenant for Loehmann's since they went bankrupt nine months ago.

The landlord has been unable to find a new tenant for Loehmann’s since they went bankrupt nine months ago.

“Why should we bail you out?”

The argument that the exception ought to be granted for the building’s viability has historical roots, Palatnik noted. The basement level was opposed by community advocates like the Bay Improvement Group as well as by City Planning, all of which warned that a flood posed a significant risk. But the Board of Standards and Appeals agreed with the developer in 1995 that it needed commercial space in the basement in order to make the project viable.

“[Loehmann's] was a failure. We now know, the experiment is over.”

 

–Steve Barrison, Bay Improvement Group.

To the project’s opponents, this is a case of buyer’s remorse and they shouldn’t be rewarded for a bad investment. Levin and his partners bought the property from the original owners in 2008 for $24 million, a local real estate record at the time.

“We’re not saying it after the fact. We’re not Monday morning quarterbacks,” said Bay Improvement Group President Steve Barrison. “[The owners] bought it with their eyes wide open, and now they’re saying, ‘Oh we bought it. Look what happened. I’m a schmuck, I got stuck.’ And the community is saying ‘Why should we bail you out?’… Nobody is bailing any of us out.”

Some expressed skepticism that there was demand for office space in the area, but both Palatnik and Palermo said that the increasingly white-collar, Eastern European demographics are looking for professional spaces near their homes – and other projects prove it.

“Offices will rent. The B’ay Tower that I did two years ago proves it. You give a quality office environment in a good location in Sheepshead Bay, there’s a need for office space,” said Palermo, referencing the new tower at 1733 Sheepshead Bay Road that he designed and is now fully leased.

Palermo and Palatnik argued that the community must grant the waiver because it will help stabilize commercial property values. As a bonus, area businesses stand to gain from the expansion, since office workers will provide a new lunchtime client base for restaurants and other small shops.

But Barrison said that’s the same argument used to allow Loehmann’s department store into the space contrary to zoning, and it no longer holds water.

“It was a failure. We now know, the experiment is over. Loehmann’s came in, people shopped, and they left,” said Barrison.

Loehmann’s went bankrupt nationally  and vacated the property in February. A new tenant has not been found, though Palermo said it will remain a department store use.

Councilman Deutsch said he’s yet to take a stance on the project.

“I think it’s important for the members of [Community Board 15's] zoning committee and the community groups to know what they’re voting on, and that why went to take the tour,” said Deutsch. “I still have to discuss it with everyone, see what their position is, and their feeling is, and then I’ll take my position if need be. Or maybe I’ll just let the Community Board zoning committee vote on it, because that’s what they’re there for.”

Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo said much the same.

“I see a difference on Emmons Avenue [after Sandy,] and there isn’t really the life that used to be two years ago,” she said. “So I understand it probably is a heartache [for the landlord]. Down the road, let’s see what happens. I want to hear from the general population of Sheepshead Bay.”

The project is not yet scheduled to come before Community Board 15, but Scavo said it’s likely to come up in January.

loehmanns

A special public hearing originally slated for tonight on the proposed expansion of Loehmann’s Seaport Plaza, whose owners seek to add a new floor of office space, has been postponed to allow further scrutiny of the plans. However, the zoning committee of Community Board 15 is still moving forward with a special meeting to consider nine other projects in the community.

The meeting will kick off at 6pm in the faculty dining room (U112) of Kingsborough Community College (2001 Oriental Boulevard).

The plans for Loehmann’s Seaport Plaza (2027 Emmons Avenue), as first reported by Sheepshead Bites, call for an additional 10,000 square feet of commercial offices on an entirely new floor of the building. The owner said he needs the additional revenue it would create to offset losses from Superstorm Sandy.

Already built far outside of zoning allowances, the building’s developer needs to obtain approval from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, which asks for a recommendation from the Community Board before deciding for itself.

A hearing was added at the last minute to Community Board 15′s agenda for its final meeting before summer recess. With cooperation from the developer, the Board voted to table the matter so it could gather more public input.

With many boardmembers and local community group leaders on vacation, the Board struggled to coordinate an on-site visit with stakeholders.

“[Councilman Chaim Deutsch] and the Community Board want to have the opportunity to really examine this. Over the summer, it was difficult to get the zoning people together and set up meetings,” explained CB15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo. “We want to get all the community groups together and on-site before any decisions are made … and determine any possible downside.”

The developer agreed to postpone his plans again.

Still, the Board is moving forward with a long list of hearings on other projects tonight to make next week’s regularly scheduled meeting more manageable.

Tonight’s agenda will review the following projects:

  • 1601 Gravesend Neck Road – An application to legalize an existing physical culture establishment. This project, for FG Fitness Gallery, was previously denied by the Board after owners failed to send representation in June 2013. The Board at that time also voted to refuse to consider the matter again in the future.
  • 2442 East 14th Street – An application for a special permit to allow the enlargement of a single family dwelling.
  • 2137 East 12th Street - An application for a special permit to allow the enlargement of a single family dwelling.
  • 4167 Ocean Avenue - An application for a special permit to allow the enlargement of a single family dwelling.
  • 325 Avenue Y – An application for a special permit to allow a school within a M1-1 Zoning District
  • 1937 East 14th Street - An application for a special permit to allow the conversion of a two family dwelling into a single family dwelling.
  • 1981 East 9th Street - An application for a special permit to allow the enlargement of a single family dwelling.
  • 1977 Homecrest Avenue - An application for a special permit to allow the enlargement of a single family dwelling.
  • 2268 West 1st Street – An application for a special permit to allow the enlargement and conversion of an existing two family residence to a single family residence.

crapwater
Coney Island Creek by Cropsey Avenue is the city’s most fecal-filled waterway, according to one number-crunching analyst.

Ben Wellington, a statistics professor at Pratt Institute who runs the I Quant NY blog, pulled Department of Environmental Protection water sampling data on fecal coliform around New York City. The results? The beaches along the Coney Island peninsula are clean, at least compared to the city’s crappiest waterway – the Coney Island Creek.

Fecal coliform is bacteria that forms in mammalian intestines, and is an indicator of raw sewage in the water. It gets there when storms push so much water into the sewer drains and overwhelms the sewage system, causing the DEP to release it untreated into the rivers, oceans, bays and creeks through Combined Sewer Outflows. When the beach is closed during the summer, it’s usually because there’s an unsafe amount of sewage in the water – an amount of more than 1,000 coliform per 100ml of water.

Wellington dumped all that data into a spreadsheet and began calculating the mean, minimum, median and max levels of fecal coliform at all testing sites around the city, going back to 2008. The indicator he used to determine his top 10 dirtiest locations is the percent of days sampled that were too dirty to swim.

On that top 10 list are four Southern Brooklyn locations: Coney Island Creek at Cropsey Avenue, Coney Island Creek at its entrance, the head of Bergen Basin, near JFK airport, and the mouth of Bergen Basin.

The average amount of fecal coliform in the water at the creek when tested? It was more than 37 times the amount deemed unsafe for swimming, and it was found to be unsafe 94 percent of the times it was tested. Ugh.

Wellington mapped out his results to show us the ring of shit that encircles New York City:

 I mapped the percentage of time that water levels were unsafe for swimming.  Larger circles indicate a higher percentage of unsafe days, and thus dirtier water.  Clicking on a circle gives you fuller details for that site. 

Note that the larger circles appear more inland. The conclusion?  If you are going to swim in NYC, i guess the rule of thumb is to stay away from anything with the word “creek” in its name (and of course “canal”) and head toward the rivers. 

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by Diana Bruk

White Island, Marine Park inlet (Source: Google Maps)

White Island (Source: Google Maps)

A group of New Yorkers hailing from all five boroughs gathered early Saturday morning at the Marine Park salt marsh for a rare canoeing adventure to White Island. The three-hour, complimentary guided tour was the second and last trip of the season, and the island (which is wrapping up construction), is only accessible by water and currently closed to those unaccompanied by an Urban Park Ranger.

Our visit was one of the first opportunities to see the island in the final phases of a $15 million restoration that began in 2011. After years of erosion and naturally shifting wetland topography, White Island – also known as Mau Mau Island – was re-shored, cleaned up, purged of invasive phragmites, and replanted with native grasses to serve as a habitat for migratory birds.

Read about our trip to the wilds of White Island, and see the pretty photos.

women-race

Twitter user @RealTimeWWI alerted us to the photo above this morning, showing the “Start of women’s race” here in Sheepshead Bay exactly one hundred years ago today.

The photo itself comes from the Library of Congress Bain Collection, an enormous set of photographs from “one of America’s earliest news picture agencies.” Although it was a global agency, they emphasized capturing life in New York City from the 1860s to 1930s.

The collection has a number of other photos from the event, like this one, showing the crowd greeting the winner:

women-race2

Unfortunately, we couldn’t dig up much about the Sheepshead Bay women’s race, so we can’t identify the winner or give much context. But this abstract from a New York Times report on it gives some detail:

Forty girl swimmers competed for aquatic honors yesterday afternon at Thall’s Pier, Sheepshead Bay, in a special carnival under the auspices of the Women’s National Life Saving Society. Close finishes featured a majority of the events, and unusually skilful work was shown in the fancy diving contest, the feature event of the programme.

We’ll have to do more digging into Thall’s in the future, but for now Brooklyn Eagle gives us this nugget:

Even Sheepshead Bay had a beach in the 19th century before it was dredged for yachts. Thall’s Bathing Pavilion on the west side of the bay provided a private pool and diving platform for swimmers. On the shore stood Dominick’s Hotel for longer staying guests.

That’s probably the structure in the background of the photo above.

The most information regarding the actual contestants comes from the data for the photo below, of Mrs. Lillian Howard, who appears to be one of the organizers of the event:

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Here’s what the collection’s notes had to say about her: “Photograph shows Mrs. Lillian Howard, an officer in the Women’s National Life Saving Society/League from 1913-1914 at a women’s swimming contest at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York City, July 16, 1914. “

She’s in this shot, too:

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Anybody recognize the names? I’m sure there are some descendants of these folks living in Sheepshead Bay, and we’d love to know more.

Here are some more names for you:

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Can we presume these three were the winners?

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Action shot!

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bagels

The above photo was taken yesterday on the Emmons Avenue side of the Ocean Avenue footbridge. Captured by reader Andrey G., “Someone dumps bagels and bread into the Bay on industrial scale.”

It’s true, and it’s not the first time we’ve seen this. While many come to the waterfront with fistfuls of crumbs to feed the swans, others have taken it to some pretty severe extremes. It even looks like some businesses may be purposely chucking their end-of-day leftovers into the water, presumably to avoid paying the carting fees to have it properly tossed.

And it’s not just bread and bagels. A few weeks ago we were tipped off to the fact that someone decided to chuck three whole large pizzas in the Bay. It made for quite a sight as they surfed the waves (and unfortunately wasn’t captured on camera).

As you can see, the swans aren’t interested. They get their fill both naturally and from those who toss in crumbs. This is just overkill, and actually incredibly bad for the health of the birds and other wildlife.

In the midst of the fight to protect Sheepshead Bay’s swans, actions like these sure lend an argument to those who’d prefer to see them exterminated. So knock it off, or this will become yet another reason of why we can’t have nice things.

contaminent

The sediment-filled waste coming out of a covered sewer overflow pipe. (Source: Pete Castro)

The city’s long-awaited solution to street flooding along the Coney Island peninsula has some locals wondering if the remedy isn’t worse than the disease.

West 33rd Street and Bayview Avenue (Source: Google Maps)

West 33rd Street and Bayview Avenue (Source: Google Maps) Click to enlarge.

The Department of Environmental Protection is in the midst of a massive clearing operation in western Coney Island, pumping years of sand, debris and residue out of long-jammed sewer lines, which neighbors say caused the streets to flood in even the slightest rain. But now the city is fielding a new set of complaints from residents who say the toxin-filled water is flowing into Coney Island Creek through a combined sewer overflow pipe at West 33rd Street and Bayview Avenue, adjacent to Kaiser Park beach.

“Yes, you’ve got to clean out the drain. But my logic, my god-given common sense, is that you don’t foul it up, you don’t create another foul condition when you solve that problem,” said Pete Castro, a resident of West 35th Street.

Castro has been on the beach almost daily for the past week and a half, filming and taking photos of the Department of Environmental Protection’s private contractor, National Water Main Cleaning Co., as they pump water into the sewer and it flows out of a nearby outfall pipe, onto the beach. The 30-year resident said the water is thick and black with sludge, oil and other contaminants, mucking up a habitat in the midst of a revival.

“I’ve been seeing wildlife come back to the beach, egrets, the occasional swan, ducks go over there. And they’re dumping that oil there and apparently DEP is okay with it,” he said.

The DEP confirmed that they’re clearing out the sewer lines, and that some debris was simply destined to enter the environment.

“We are working to clear out the sand-impacted storm sewers. This is in response to flooding complaints in the area. We have been cleaning out the sewers for weeks and we understand there have been complaints about pumping stuff into the sewer, but in reality this is what we have to do to clean the sewers,” a spokesperson told this outlet.

Despite years of flooding complaints on the Coney Island peninsula, the latest round of work began after a site visit by Superstorm Sandy recovery honchos Bill Goldstein and Amy Peterson. Led by Councilman Mark Treyger, the team visited P.S. 188, where the students and faculty shared the following video showing the extent of flooding outside of the school in even modest rain.

“This is not Sandy, it’s just an average rainstorm,” Treyger told this outlet about the video. “It is a eye-opening video that shows severe flooding that is so bad that a car floated from the street and crashed into the front of the school, that’s how bad the flooding is. We showed the video to Amy Peterson and Bill Goldstein and they were very alarmed by it.”

“It is a damning video that just absolutely validates and confirms portions of Southern Brooklyn had been neglected by the [Bloomberg] administration.”
- Treyger

The Sandy team put pressure on the Department of Environmental Protection to address the flooding immediately. After inspection, the DEP determined that the sewers were clogged near the outfall pipes that go into Coney Island Creek, and dispatched contractors to clear it out.

Treyger admitted that solving one problem for residents caused concern for others. Castro and neighbors made complaints to his office, and he forwarded the video and photos to the DEP for a response.

As a result, Treyger said, the DEP conducted a review, meeting with the contractor and also bringing in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which has jurisdiction over area waterways.

“My sense was that they’re going to review and basically provide greater oversight of the work being done,” said Treyger. “For many years the infrastructure has been an issue here and as we move forward to fix it, we’re not looking to create more environmental disasters. This type of work has to be done in accordance with all environmental regulations and we’re going to make sure that that happens.”

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The vactor truck at work on West 33rd Street and Bayview Avenue. (Source: Pete Castro)

But Castro fears the agencies are being less than thorough in their review. Shortly after Treyger met with the DEP, officials from both the DEP and the DEC spoke directly to Castro about his concerns, assuring him they would investigate the spillage and make sure it was in compliance. But instead of investigation, Castro said he received a call from the DEC rep several hours later saying that they had reviewed the operation and concluded it was safe.

“According to his dubious investigation, some guy [from the DEC] just miraculously put his finger in the air and said it’s okay to put that foul oil onto the beach,” said Castro, adding that there was about six hours between the phone calls – four of which was during hours when the trucks were not pumping. “You can get chemical results like that, with a snap of the finger?”

The DEP spokesperson said she did not know of any specific involvement of the DEC in this matter, but said, “I’m sure we’ve been in touch with DEC at some point.” Asked over the course of multiple phone calls if there was knowledge of the contaminants flowing from the pipe, she said, “I have to double check, but don’t forget it’s the sewer system and it has to get out of the sewers. It can be anything.”

She did not have an answer about contamination when we followed up, instead pointing out that the city uses vactor trucks – essentially giant vacuum cleaners that suck out debris, suggesting that there should be no spillage into the waterway. When we noted that there was spillage, as evidenced by video, she reiterated, “We’re doing work out there.” She did not respond to further questions.

Treyger said he requested the DEP hold a meeting in the community in the upcoming weeks to discuss their operations and respond to potential concerns. He said it will be announced soon.

Until then, Castro said he’ll continue to document the filth and hopes to find someone’s help analyzing water samples. In addition to the wildlife and habitat, he’s also concerned about the numerous indigent locals who turn to Coney Island creek to fish for their meals.

“I can’t see it getting much worse. I’m just waiting for the dead fish to pile up,” he said.

rocca-1

It’s been a long journey, but Rocca Cafe & Lounge is finally open to the public at 2712 Emmons Avenue, the former site of Dunkin’ Donuts, which closed in 2009.

The revamped building is not only the latest restaurant to open on Emmons Avenue, but one of the few to take advantage of its waterfront location. With huge windows on the interior, and outdoor, waterside seating for fairer weather, it showcases the Bay with pride.

The restaurant has been in the works for years. We were the first to note, in 2010, that a new restaurant was coming here. At the time, it was to be a second location for Masal, currently in the Lundy’s building. Some squabbling led to changes in ownership – again and again – as well as a few different names. Superstorm Sandy hampered its opening further, but it’s finally here.

The restaurant is Turkish owned, but it looks like a number of Italian dishes are making its way onto the menu, and the owners have previously described it to us as pan-Mediterranean. Regardless, the location looks spiffy, and we’re looking forward to checking it out.

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Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

The following is a press release issued yesterday by the offices of Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz:

New York’s mute swans may at last have a voice in their future.

The Assembly today passed a bill introduced by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn) that would effectively save the state’s 2,200 mute swans from a state-mandated death sentence.

The legislation (A.8790A) establishes a moratorium on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan to declare the graceful bird – as iconic to Sheepshead Bay as the fishing boats and the Emmons Avenue promenade — a “prohibited invasive species” and eliminate the state’s entire population by 2025.

The bill requires DEC to hold at least two public hearings and to respond to all public comments before finalizing any management plan for mute swans. In addition, DEC would be required to prioritize non-lethal management techniques and include scientific evidence of projected and current environmental damage caused by the mute swan population.

In late January, Assemblyman Cymbrowitz launched a well-publicized outcry when DEC announced that it would kill the swans because of the damage they purportedly cause to the environment and other species such as ducks and geese. But experts remain conflicted about whether the birds inflict much damage at all, the lawmaker said, making it imperative to examine the issue further.

Other states including Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut currently use non-lethal methods to control their mute swan populations, “which demonstrates that the precedent is there for using a humane alternative,” he said.

Assemblyman Cymbrowitz’ pro-swan advocacy has attracted the attention of animal advocacy organizations like GooseWatch NYC and Save Our Swans. Locals from Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach, especially those well-versed in the daily struggles of non-native residents, also feel a kinship to the plight of the immigrant species.

“We know all too well the challenges that make acceptance difficult in a new and sometimes unforgiving land. For people, and for every living being, we need to extend a helping hand,” he said.

bayfest

Preparations are almost complete for Bay Improvement Group’s Bayfest 2014, the annual Emmons Avenue waterfront celebration now in its 23rd year.

The event this year will be anchored by two main stages, with Broadway Beatles tribute band Strawberry Fields headlining one, and indie vocalist Darnaa & Friends performing on the other. There will also be bands on the pier, and one on “The Dragon Boat” at Pier 10.

Aside from the music, there’ll be a kids’ zone with games, arts and crafts, inflatable amusements and more. Antique cars from the Antique Automobile Association of Brooklyn will keep the interest of grease monkeys and nostalgia fanatics, as well as a few other surprises for attendees.

Bayfest kicks off at noon, filling Emmons Avenue between East 27th Street and Ocean Avenue.

An hour before it begins, at 11 a.m., the Sheepshead Bay – Plumb Beach Civic Association will hold a service for Memorial Day at their veteran’s memorial site on the south side of Emmons Avenue at Brown Street.

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