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Edward
April 17th, 2006, 05:59 PM
http://www.nysun.com/article/30918
The Battle of Red Hook

By JULIA VITULLO-MARTIN - Special to the Sun
April 17, 2006

When the Queen Mary 2, said by the Cunard Line to be the grandest cruise ship ever built, enters New York Harbor on Saturday, she will have sailed by some of the most contentiously disputed real estate in the world - the South Brooklyn waterfront.

Entering through the Narrows, gliding beneath the Verrazano Bridge into Upper New York Bay, she will pass the piers of Sunset Park, dominated by the huge Brooklyn Army Terminal; Erie Basin, which houses the barges that deliver everything from grain to concrete and soon to host New York's first Ikea; and restored Civil War warehouses that provide space to artists and manufacturers - and whose owner is building a new Fairway supermarket and 45 units of luxury housing next door. In early morning she will slip into the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, marking the port's official opening and the ship's first of 11 visits scheduled for this year. The $52 million terminal was built by the city in Buttermilk Channel to berth the QM2 and 40 or so other ships expected to call each year.

And when the first of the 2,600 passengers disembark from the world's biggest passenger ship, they will walk past a few freshly painted, nondescript white buildings before confronting the neighborhood's most conspicuous landmarks: two immense, vacant, six-story warehouses, with the name of the original owner - New York Dock Company - chiseled high into the pale concrete. Today they are the target of a dispute between Douglas Durst, scion of one of New York's best-known real estate families, and Bruce Batkin, a principal in the partnership that bought the buildings in 2000. Mr. Durst, who has made an offer to buy one building, believes both buildings should house light manufacturing. Mr. Batkin, who owns them, wants to convert one building to residential on the upper floors, with mixed retail and commercial below, and use the second building as a hotel and restaurant.

The building closest to the terminal, at 160 Imlay St., shrouded in black construction netting, looks "like a building in mourning," says Mr. Batkin, who began rehabilitation work in June 2004, having received a zoning variance to permit residential construction in December 2003. But it was the zoning variance that brought him all the trouble, triggering a lawsuit by a group of businesses organized as the Red Hook-Gowanus Chamber of Commerce - unlisted in the phone book - that argued that the variance by the Board of Standards and Appeals was "arbitrary and capricious." A Brooklyn judge, Yvonne Lewis, halted construction in December 2004.

Two years of litigation followed, as the building stood empty and open to the elements until, after various appeals, the decision got kicked back down to Judge Lewis. A zoning lawyer, Howard Goldman, says the suit is purely procedural, yet "these shenanigans have taken a couple of years, even though substantively no challenge to the variance has been sustained."

Meanwhile, Mr. Batkin says, since his building was bleeding money, he looked at various ostensible opponents in the community, and concluded that much of the opposition made little economic sense. A new ferry service, for example, called New York Water Taxi, which was headquartered in Red Hook, sent its little yellow boats empty into Manhattan every morning. They needed customers, and Mr. Batkin's building would help supply them - or so he thought. New York Water Taxi, owned by Mr. Durst, was one of the 85 businesses fighting the conversion of 160 Imlay St. "I called Douglas up, and said that it made no sense that his company, New York Water Taxi, was fighting the project. But I never got a straight answer, just the party line: We think your buildings should be industrial. But since when is Douglas Durst interested in preserving industrial jobs in Brooklyn?"

Mr. Durst says that Mr. Batkin proposed selling the second building to him if he withdrew the suit. Mr. Batkin adamantly denies this, saying he never contemplated for one minute selling either building, much less at the price offered by Mr. Durst, which he says is well below his mortgage, and "a fraction of even what industrial properties are worth." A longtime community activist, John McGettrick, who wants to see more residential development in Red Hook, calls the Durst offer a "holdup." Mr. Batkin says, "I'm the David; he's the Goliath."

The real Goliath in Red Hook may be someone else - Mr. Durst's partner, Greg O'Connell, who's often said to be the largest property owner in the neighborhood. (Mr. O'Connell declined to comment.) Certainly as the owner of the Beard Street warehouses, Pier 41, and the developer of the mixed-use Fairway project - as well as being the chairman of Community Board 6's waterfront committee - he is the most conspicuous. "Let's count it up," Mr. McGettrick says. "O'Connell owns the 6-7 acres on Pier 41 as well as 28 acres he got for $500,000 from the Port Authority, about half upland, and half under water. He bought his Fairway site from the city, and paid about $7 a square foot for some 240,000 square feet of what's a Civil War-era warehouse. He also owns dozens of addition al buildings scattered throughout Red Hook and a number of large vacant lots. We have vacant lots all over the neighborhood in part because O'Connell and his partners are land-banking big-time out here."

Mr. O'Connell also opposes a new residential development proposed by Thor Equities in Erie Basin, the inlet of water protected by the boomerang shaped spit of land that is the outermost section of Red Hook. Erie Basin is the epicenter of the real estate storms both because of the extraordi nary views it affords of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and downtown Manhattan, and because since 1992 it has been home to the Erie Basin Bargeport, the city's most important barge operation, owed jointly by the Hughes and Reinhauer families. Robert J. Hughes, for one, is opposed to residential development, saying that the first thing luxury condo owners will do is "sue us." The Bargeport is a noisy, dirty, 24-hour-a-day operation that Mr. Hughes feels is compatible with commercial and retail development - the Ikea being built on old piers in Erie Basin is fine with him - but incompatible with residential. And indeed, the sole, narrow entrance for barges into Erie Basin from Upper New York Bay is not only treacherous in bad weather, mandating loud warning horns, but directly opposite Thor's property, the old Revere Sugar plant.

Mr. McGettrick scoffs at Mr. Hughes's concerns. "Go to Baltimore," Mr. McGettrick says, "and you will see exactly this situation - ships and barges unloading within close proximity of high-end office and residential space."

This is the crux of the matter: Can maritime industrial uses live side by side with residential? Mr. Goldman, the zoning lawyer, argues that "the art of locating housing adjacent to working ports like they do all over Europe is something that we haven't grappled with yet, but that we should. This is New York. It's limited in area. Plus, we're accustomed to noise and crowded conditions. When you build residential next to a highway, you're required to put in double-glazed windows. So put in triple-glazed windows in Red Hook."

But the other issue is that the residential market can pay far more than industrial users can afford. Mr. Hughes tried to buy the old New York Shipyard property where the Ikea will be built, but "it was just far more than we could pay." Partly in response to this issue, the Bloomberg administration has set up industrial business zones around the city, but particularly on the waterfront, to try to maintain manufacturing. The city's Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Area boundaries show the waterfront entirely colored in yellow - restricted to industrial except for two parcels, Mr. O'Connell's Fairway site and Thor Equities's Revere Sugar refinery site in Erie Basin.

Mr. McGettrick argues these boundaries excluding residential and commercial development violate Red Hook's heritage. "For several hundred years, Red Hook was a vibrant, mixed-use community," he says. "You look at the Census, you go back 50 years, and you see that Red Hook had twice as many people and thousands more jobs. Jobs and housing are not in conflict. They're complementary. The record proves this."

GowanusGuy
May 21st, 2006, 03:06 PM
http://www.carrollgardenscourier.com/site/tab9.cfm?newsid=16664193&BRD=2384&PAG=461&dept_id=552855&rfi=6

Imlay Street Properties Put Back On the Market: Developer Expects to More Than Triple Return On Proposed Sale of Sites
By Gary Buiso
05/19/2006

A string of costly legal setbacks compelled a developer to put two massive Red Hook buildings up for sale, an attorney for those seeking to halt luxury housing in one said this week.

“They see the case going south,” said Michael Hiller, the attorney for the Red Hook-Gowanus Chamber of Commerce, a collective of 85 local businesses that filed a lawsuit in 2004 to stop the project.

This week, Eastern Consolidated, a Manhattan-based real estate investment firm, announced that it would be handling the marketing of 160 and 162 Imlay Street, two six-story buildings located near the new cruise ship terminal. The company stated that “based on interest received to date,” it expects the property to sell for over $70 million.

In 2003 — despite previous, publicly stated reservations — the Board of Standards and Appeals granted a variance request to developer Bruce Batkin and his partners, allowing them to proceed with residential construction at 160 Imlay, a building that sits in an area zoned for manufacturing use.

The lawsuit, filed in 2004, argued that industrial uses along Red Hook’s waterfront still remain viable, and that a proposal to convert 160 Imlay into 145 loft-style condominiums would forever change the neighborhood.

Hiller’s goal is to get the BSA to re-examine the variance request.

“They lost before the trial court in 2004 on the restraining order. They lost before the Court of Appeals in 2005 on their motion to dismiss. They lost before the trial court on their second motion to dismiss in 2006,” Hiller continued.

Last month, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Yvonne Lewis ruled that a full review of a city decision that approved the $90-million project may proceed, despite a technical error by the plaintiff’s former counsel, who did not name the developer in initial court documents.

“The next and last step is a decision on the merits of the developers’ illegal variance,” Hiller said.

Batkin would not discuss Hiller’s comments.

“I don’t think his words need to be dignified with a response,” he told this paper.

Batkin said the result of the lawsuit has been, “that there have been no new people moving into these buildings, there have been no new residents shopping at local stores, and there have been no new service jobs.”

“People arriving on the cruise ship have to be immediately shuttled out of the neighborhood because there is nothing to keep them here,” he continued.

Batkin said he has been approached “repeatedly” by unsolicited investors, interested in the property.

“We’re not going to turn people down forever,” he said.

“We are looking to do retail, a hotel, and residential—all the things that work with a passenger cruise terminal,” he added.

If Batkin sells, the deal could yield a handsome return. He reportedly paid $20 million for both properties in 2000. The buildings contain approximately 500,000 square feet and were constructed in 1911 for the New York Dock Company.

In 2005, Batkin told this paper it was a shame “when private interests hijack a public process.”

At the time, he said he “deduced” that Red Hook developer Greg O’Connell and Douglas Durst, a Manhattan real estate scion who is the chairman of New York Water Taxi, were the driving force behind the lawsuit, which he said has already cost him millions in construction delays.

He said their game plan is to “drive us to bankruptcy and then buy the building more cheaply.”

O’Connell, the largest single landowner in Red Hook and a member of the Red Hook-Gowanus Chamber of Commerce, said he was not interested in purchasing the property.

“I’m not buying anything for $70 million,” he said.

He said the property’s best use would be industrial or commercial uses—but with an asking price of $70 million, “it would be very difficult to make that affordable to small businesses.”

Residential housing at this site, O’Connell said, is wholly inappropriate.

“It’s so important that we do something that’s a balance,” he said. “Look at that location — you see industrial uses.”

Phaedra Thomas, the executive director of the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation, a business advocacy group, said the site holds a great deal of promise — just not for residential development.

A hotel, marketplace, or mix of office space and light manufacturing uses would make more sense here, she said.

Thomas said she is hoping to meet with prospective developers to discuss, and perhaps help guide future development here.

“I look forward to working with a new developer,” she said

nyinvestordude
June 12th, 2006, 07:49 PM
Hello all:

I took a walking tour of the area in and around the Cruise Ship Terminal in Red Hook, Brooklyn and found some very interesting things. (I have attached some pictures). The picture with the building in the covering is 160 Imlay St and the beige building in the picture immediately following is of 162 Imlay St. Both properties are up for sale and I believe they have been sold (in the area of $70million).

Both buildings are going to be renovated to have shops in a mall-like setting, which would be set up for passengers, who disembark from the cruise ships, to go and shop. Also, there are plans now to add another berth for another super-cruise ship. These plans are great but I noticed some very simple things are missing in all these plans: there are no simple support mechanisms in place: no transportation to and from the local transit hub (yikes: Smith/9th on the G/F line), there are few if any tour buses to deposit passengers to where they all want to go (Manhattan) and there are absolutely NO local banks. (I noticed a check cashing place on Van Brunt). This area has much to offer in development and I'm thinking of going to the Boro Presidents office and the Red Hook/Gowanus Business council to put on a commercial/retail business expo. Let me know your thoughts.

infoshare
June 12th, 2006, 09:15 PM
Hello all:
I'm thinking of going to the Boro Presidents office and the Red Hook/Gowanus Business council to put on a commercial/retail business expo. Let me know your thoughts.

Nice photos,,,Dude:D I would imagine that the requisite transportation alternatives will eventually follow the new developments in the area. And, doing a business expo sounds like a good idea: good luck.:cool:

antinimby
June 12th, 2006, 09:57 PM
That's a pretty ship.

ablarc
June 13th, 2006, 09:07 PM
Guy wanted to run a streetcar line through Red Hook; he even acquired some streetcars. Perfect place for a historic trolley line, like San Francisco's F Line.

antinimby
June 14th, 2006, 01:19 PM
OMG. That's a great idea. Who's the "guy?"

ablarc
June 14th, 2006, 09:19 PM
OMG. That's a great idea. Who's the "guy?"
Several articles. Scroll to bottom:

http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=2938&highlight=pcc+red+hook+streetcar

.

lofter1
June 15th, 2006, 12:22 AM
Oh, that GUY ;)

Edward
June 16th, 2006, 10:52 AM
New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
2 yrs. later, judge halts condo plan
BY ELIZABETH HAYS
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Thursday, June 15th, 2006

More than two years after it was approved by the city, a controversial plan to turn a high-profile Red Hook warehouse into luxury condos is back to square one.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Yvonne Lewis ruled this week that plans to convert the old warehouse at 160Imlay St. must go back before the Board of Standards and Appeals for reconsideration.

Lewis wrote that the board's December 2003 decision was "irrational, arbitrary and capricious, and not based upon substantial evidence" because the application lacked sufficient economic analysis of the project.

"This is a victory for the small businesses of Red Hook," said Tom Russo, founder of the Red Hook Gowanus Chamber of Commerce, which sued the city over the decision in January 2004.

The decision is the latest step in a legal battle over the property that went up to the state's highest court. The six-story warehouse is next to the new $56 million cruise ship terminal.

At issue is whether developer Bruce Batkin will obtain a variance to convert the 90-year-old warehouse, which is zoned for manufacturing, into 150 luxury apartments.

Batkin has argued the warehouse is no longer economically viable for manufacturing, but local opponents charge that turning it into housing will end manufacturing in Red Hook.

Both sides said they will keep fighting.

"We continue to be confident the [Board of Standards and Appeals] acted properly, and we will pursue all remedies available to us," said Batkin spokesman Bob Liff.

The opponent's attorney, Michael Hiller, said: "Should the developers seek to revive the project, we have every confidence that we will, once again, be successful in defeating it."

The board's executive director, Jeff Mulligan, said the agency has "taken a look at the decision, and we're considering our next steps."