Mud is tossed over Williamsburg landmarking

The Brooklyn Paper
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Who knew that protecting beautiful buildings was such an ugly business?

The effort to protect an 80-year-old Cass Gilbert-designed warehouse on the Williamsburg waterfront broke down this week into a round of schoolyard name-calling and bitter accusations that the neighborhood’s councilman sold his vote for campaign contributions.

The battle started in September, when the city Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Austin, Nichols Co. warehouse a landmark.

In a rare move, the City Council, led by David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights), voted down the designation this week so that the building could be converted into high-end apartments on the waterfront.

The mayor vetoed the Council “de-landmarking” only to have the Council rush to over-ride that veto the next day.

Yes, sports fans, the fur was flying!

Supporters of landmarking the warehouse began a fairly loud whisper campaign detailing $2,000 in campaign contributions that Yassky has received from two members of the developer’s family, Joel and Margaret Kestenbaum.

But Yassky said the campaign cash had nothing to do with his vote.

“My vote [to de-landmark the building] was entirely on the merits about what is best for the Williamsburg waterfront,” Yassky told The Brooklyn Papers.

“The city spent three years banging out a terrific revitalization plan for the Greenpoint and Williamsburg waterfront and I am unwilling to undermine it for a completely undistinguished building,” he said.

“There are far more buildings in that neighborhood worthy of preservati­on.”

But after Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the Council bill and championed the Egyptian Revival building’s “historical importance,” Yassky hurled some mud of his own.

“The only reason they [city officials] pursued this landmark in the first place was to curry favor with preservationists after refusing to landmark 2 Columbus Circle,” Yassky told the New York Times, referring to a quirky 1960s-era building in Manhattan that many want to see protected.

“Now they’ll milk [the veto] and really try to get political credit,” Yassky added.

The comment earned a spitball from mayoral spokesman Jordan Barowitz.

“That’s absolutely moronic,” Barowitz said. “Is he saying we’re pandering to the preservationists? As in, ‘There goes that mayor again — protecting landmarks!’ The two buildings have nothing to do with each other.”

The Kestenbaum family, represented by former City Councilman — now lobbyist — Ken Fisher, refused to comment.. .

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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