DUMBO protesters meet poets on bridge

The Brooklyn Paper
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Call it poetic justice.

A group of Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO residents marched onto the Brooklyn Bridge walkway Monday night armed with placards, fliers and a message to deliver to a group of about 200 poets marching across the bridge from Manhattan to a DUMBO function.

Unfortunately, the person for whom they intended the message, Borough President Marty Markowitz — who was scheduled to join comic actor Bill Murray in the Poets House march to St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO — was a no-show.

Fanning out along the overpass, residents held up five signs spelling out their message: “We hope that you enjoy the view. This time next year it won’t be here. Shave the building down to size.”

While Markowitz would have known they were referring to DUMBO developer David Walentas’ plan to build a 17-story residential and commercial building at 38 Water St. — home to St. Ann’s Warehouse — which has drawn sharp criticism because it would block views of the Brooklyn Bridge, most of the poets were left scratching their heads.

One Manhattan-bound commuter, not part of either group, paused to admire the signs and then asked if the protesters were a religious organization predicting doom and destruction.

The group planned their protest in tandem with a fundraiser for the Manhattan-based Poets House, which was making its ninth annual walk across the bridge.

So as the couple-hundred bards and their patrons crossed the 126-year-old icon on June 14, stopping midway to pay homage to Walt Whitman and recite an “Audre Lorde” poem, opponents lined up with some verse of their own.

“It’s based on the old Burma Shave ads,” explained Brooklyn Heights Association member Martin Schneider, who helped organize the protest along with representatives from the DUMBO and Fulton Ferry Landing neighborhood organizations.

Starting in the 1920s, Burma Shave became known for their roadside poetry advertisements made up of six signs posted along the country’s highways on wooden sticks.

Schneider said he had a moment of inspiration when he heard about the poets coming and whipped up the signs.

Murray, sporting a white seersucker jacket, led the march with poet Billy Collins. He stopped to chat with one of the protesters, but quickly sped off when a photographer zoomed in.

“I think it’s wonderful that they care about it and I’d like to think they would make a difference,” said Ann Riglow, who was walking with the poets group.

Because the area is currently zoned for manufacturing, Walentas needs a variance from the city, which requires that it pass the city’s rigorous Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

Community Board 2 disapproved of the proposal and Markowitz must make a recommendation by July 1. The application will then be sent to the City Planning Commission and then to the City Council.

Brooklyn Heights resident Suzanne Tokarsky who was holding one of the placards said she thought the protest helped educate people about the issue, but she remained a bit pessimistic.

“People will care once they see it being built. But then it will be too late,” she said.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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