A developer’s plan to build apartments on a gritty block in the Columbia Street Waterfront District has turned into a near-parody of the old saga of builders and their displaced tenants.
In this case, the displaced tenants are not the needy, the sick or the homeless, but pampered cats and dogs, fancy costumes, and lush foliage.
The city is now considering a request from developer LLJ Realty to rezone a manufacturing-only block of Summit Street between Van Brunt and Columbia streets, where the Woofs ’n Whiskers dog and cat retreat, Gowanus Nursery and a set design company called Composition Studio now thrive.
The developer plans to build a four-story building with 35 units — some of which would be eligible for tax breaks designed to create below-market-rate housing.
At a public hearing on the rezoning last week at Borough Hall, LLJ Realty argued that the zoning change would allow for appropriate residential growth in the newly desirable waterfront neighborhood. But opponents said the block had gone to the dogs years ago — and should stay that way.
Danielle Vidals, the owner of Woofs ’n Whiskers said she planned to buy the $20- to $45-a-night pet hotel’s brick building and backyard when her lease expires in 2010, but the rezoning would make that purchase impossible.
“We can’t compete against residential developers and their bottomless pockets,” she said.
Vidals said her company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing up the century-old-building — formerly an auto shop and before that, a diner for the longshoremen working across the street at the Red Hook Container Terminal — and equipping the backyard with a colorful doggie slide, a swimming pool and even a pee-ready, salvaged fire hydrant. It may be impossible for the family-owned business to survive if it is forced to move further from its Brownstone Brooklyn customer base, she said.
“This is where we live and where our customers live, but there is nowhere here for us to find another piece of affordable, open space,” Vidals said.
The owner of Gowanus Nursery, Michele Paladino, shares Vidals’s concerns. Her store moved to Summit Street this year, relocating from Third Street near the polluted canal for which it is named after an adjacent business bought the land.
“It is a significant expense to move,” said Paladino. “And we can’t afford to do it each time developers start prospecting.”
A spokesman for Borough President Markowitz said the beep that would take into account the displacement of the three local businesses when he makes his recommendation on the rezoning, which will be submitted to City Planning before a final decision is made.