Ikea review begins

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With tensions still mounting over the future of Red Hook and the neighborhood’s waterfront, Ikea moved one step closer to becoming a local reality this week.

The Swedish home furnishings giant certified with the city plans to construct a 346,000-square-foot store along the Erie Basin, kicking off review of those plans, which must pass the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP.

The proposal has been tearing at the seams of an already socially and economically divided community, splitting the neighborhood into two camps — those concerned about bringing jobs to the neighborhood and those who fear Ikea traffic will destroy their quality of life.
Ikea has been in contract to purchase the 22-acre former New York Shipyard site — roughly between Dwight and Columbia streets along the Erie Basin — for the past two years.

While the store would bring more cars and trucks to the area, it would also create 500 to 600 part-time and full-time jobs that pay “competitive wages,” according to Ikea real estate manager Patrick Smith.

The company has promised to open up the hiring process to residents in Red Hook’s 11231 ZIP code two weeks before any other applications are collected, although they say federal law prohibits them from promising that any percentage of those jobs would be held for Red Hook residents.

Ikea has also included a 6.2-acre waterfront esplanade and a “green” roof with solar energy panels in their plan. More than 70,000 square feet of additional retail and restaurant space would also be included along the waterfront.

While some residents see the coming of Ikea as the creation of a suburban-style strip mall, Ikea officials say the additional shopping will draw more people to the waterfront.

“This is one of the aspects that [the Department of] City Planning really liked,” Smith said.

“You’re not going to see Staples and Bed, Bath & Beyond,” said Smith, adding that the space would be used for more small-scale retail.

Because the area is zoned for heavy manufacturing, Ikea is seeking a variance from the city to allow the retail use.

This week’s certification kicked off a roughly seven-month ULURP process, which will include hearings before Community Board 6, Borough President Marty Markowitz, the City Planning Commission and the City Council.

[Community Board 6 will host the first formal public hearing of the process at the PAL Miccio Center, 110 West Ninth St., on Thursday, May 13 at 6 pm.]

Ikea plans to build 1,400 parking spaces and Ikea proposed running ferry service to the store from Lower Manhattan.

Red Hook activists opposed to the Ikea plan have been meeting with principals of the Baltimore-based Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse (SBER), a development company known for adaptive reuse projects. The company has put together a plan for a sprawling, 70-acre, retail, residential and commercial development with a marina on the shipyard site between Richards and Columbia streets.

Despite a published report last week indicating SBER was ready to give up, SBER principal Bill Steuver said the company still wants to develop the site.

“We’re not throwing in the towel,” Struever told The Brooklyn Papers, adding that the company would only axe its $2.5 billion proposal if Ikea is approved.

The lower-cost, assembly-required furniture retailer first tried to open a store in Brooklyn on a former U.S. Postal Service site along the Gowanus Canal at Second Avenue and 12th Street three years ago. Park Slope residents, fearing traffic congestion, protested the plan and Rep. Nydia Velazquez even threatened to sue to stop Ikea from coming to the site.

By June 2001, however, Ikea pulled out of negotiations with the site’s leaseholder, Forest City Ratner, saying they could not agree on who would pay for the necessary cleanup of the long-contaminated site. [A Lowe’s home improvement store opened there this week.]
Buddy Scotto, a longtime community activist and Carroll Gardens business owner, says he is against the Red Hook Ikea project because of traffic concerns.

“Our streets can’t handle it,” said Scotto, who is also the founder of Gowanus Expressway Community Coalition.

Scotto says the crumbling Gowanus Expressway — just this week chunks of the elevated roadway rained down on Hamilton Avenue, snarling morning rush hour traffic — will need to be replaced, sending even more traffic onto local streets.

“These box stores are going to be community suicide,” Scotto said.

Sunset Park Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez, whose district includes all of Red Hook, has not yet taken a stand on the Ikea plan, despite nearly two years of public debate about it.

Fanning the flames of an already contentious issue, Red Hook Civic Association co-chairman John McGettrick accused Ikea this week of dividing the community by reaching out to the tenants of the Red Hook Houses, a public housing complex that is home to 75 percent of the community’s residents.

“Ikea is purposely trying to polarize the community by pitting people in public housing against their neighbors in order to prevent a discussion of any of the huge problems,” McGettrick said.

“It’s a shame that opponents of the proposed Ikea store in Red Hook, Brooklyn, are irresponsibly trying to inject inflammatory issues such as race into the development process,” Ikea’s Smith responded.

Smith said Ikea had reached out to more than 50 organizations, including the Park Slope Civic Council which endorsed the project.

“It’s so offensive, what are they going to do next?” said Smith.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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