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A year in our neighborhoods

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Though not everything we cover makes international headlines, each of the neighborhoods we cover had some great stories that defined 2008 for its residents. Here are our favorite stories from the grassroots level:

Carroll Gardens, Red Hook, Cobble Hill

Ambulance blues: The New Year plunged the venerable Long Island College Hospital into a controversy when disgruntled medical staff called for independence from the 150-year-old hospital’s managing company because of alleged malfeasance and mismanagement. The fight lasted the entire year, with some heads rolling and the top brass deciding that vital services like the maternity and pediatrics wards had to go. At the last minute, state officials blocked the closure, but this story will no doubt be in our 2009 Year in Review, too.

Bar fight: Just the thought of a raw bar on Hoyt Street was enough to make some residents sick. Noted restaurateur Jim Mamary planned an oyster bar with a liquor license near his popular Black Mountain Wine House on Union Street, but neighbors threw ice on the plan — and won. As we say in the oyster business, shucks.

PO’d at PO: Missing letters, long lines, mean machines and general ugliness led Boerum Hill residents to rail about the Atlantic Avenue post office.

Sewerfront housing: If we had such a thing, the award for cajones of the year could easily go to Toll Brothers. A developer best known for suburban McMansions, the company is moving forward with a plan to build posh housing along the fetid Gowanus Canal. Area residents say the proposal is too big and too risky so close to the canal. They don’t have to live there!

Cabana boy: DUMBO moguls David and Jed Walentas tried to outwit city agencies in their bid to put penthouse cabanas on the top floor of their new building on Atlantic Avenue, but failed. Does that mean we can’t get a mojito?

Red Hook Red: Bordeaux. Napa. Chianti. And now … Red Hook. The seminal wine blogger Dr. Vino uncorked the news of a winery near the Fairway. The better news? The grapes are not locally grown.

Gowanorrhea: That unidentifiable nastiness floating in the Gowanus Canal may actually be medicine, according to the Haque sisters at City Tech, who have studied the canal for years. They found gonorrhea living in it in 2007 and concluded that the canal is so bad that it’s good. Their hypothesis is that for organisms to survive in the toxic waterway they may have evolved in ways that could teach us how to fight heart disease and cancer.

Nighthawks: Edward Hopper must have smiled on the doomed retro Cheyenne Diner of Midtown (where nothing is sacred), because the greasy spoon was saved from the wrecking ball and is en route to a new life in Red Hook.

Pynchon snub!: Literary lion Thomas Pynchon was a no-show at a backyard barbecue in his honor at wacky Freebird Books on Columbia Street. But even if the author had shown up would anyone have recognized the famously secretive writer? Hmmm …

— Mike McLaughlin

Park Slope, Prospect Heights

Seventh Heaven: It was quite a year for Seventh Avenue — at least six new restaurants moved in, and as many long-loved (but not as long-trafficked) establishments shut down. The beloved café Tea Lounge closed at 10th Street in July, to be replaced with the Vietnamese sandwich shop, Hanco’s, next year. The Second Street Café closed in February, and was replaced by a kid-friendly pharmacy. Café Eleven closed in March, but will soon reopen as a wine bar run by the owner of Big Nose Full Body. And Spencer Rothschild created a restaurant triumvirate with Barrio at Third Street in July, Cabana Bar on President Street in October, Playa at President Street in November.

Clean planning: Orthodox Jews in Park Slope finally broke ground on their long-planned ritual bathhouse on 15th Street, but it took all of six weeks for some neighbors to oppose the project. Oy!

Up in Armory!: The city finally announced that the Park Slope Armory would have an operator, but then, last month, that operator — the Prospect Park YMCA — admitted that the $16-million renovated beauty wouldn’t actually open until spring 2009. The news isn’t all that new — in 2004, the city first announced it would rehabilitate the run-down Eighth Avenue building, and it would open in 2006. The whole place is turning out to be quite the “wreck” center.

J.J. Byrne’d: The community board changed the name of the J.J. Byrne Park to Washington Park. The obscure Depression-era borough president still has the park’s playground bearing his name. Big whoop.

Stoop-id: Enjoying a cold one on a warm day could land you in the cooler, as one Prospect Heights man discovered this August when cops ticketed him for drinking a beer on his front steps. The summons for public consumption of alcohol sparked outrage across Brownstone Brooklyn, where a stoop is as much a source of pride as a well-worn Dodgers cap. He’s still fighting the case, so there’s hope for all us stoop-boozers yet.

Suspended!: Residents in a wide swath from Park Slope to Carroll Gardens to Red Hook got a parking vacation this summer and fall when the city suspended alternate-side-of-the-street parking regulations so it could change signs. But rather than enjoy the holiday, residents complained of the Summer of Stink, though drivers rejoiced in the small victories of finding — and keeping — that perfect parking spot.

‘Union’ hall: Community Board 6’s land-use committee was so outraged by disorderly drinkers at Union Hall that it voted against an extension of the bar’s liquor license — but the book-lined gin joint was saved a week later when the full board overwhelmingly supported the watering hole.

— Sarah Portlock

Fort Greene, Clinton Hill

Co-opt the Co-op: A cabal of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill residents who felt cooped up in the Park Slope Co-op, embarked on a quest to create a members-run grocery in their neck of the woods. Yeah, great, but will the “Greene-Hill Food Co-op” have the GUTS to ban plastic water bottles and plastic shopping bags like its counterpart in the Slope?

Coke-d up: We did a lot of important stories this year, but one of the most-talked about pieces centered on the Five Spot Supper Club and its $5 sodas — the same price as a gallon and a half of gas or two shares of Bear Stearns stock, at the time.

Arrest-aurant row: A burglar tormented restaurants and other businesses, mainly on DeKalb Avenue, for months this year with a string of break-ins and vandalism. Over the fall, the cops foiled the spree and finally caught their suspect.

Admiral-able row: Preservationists and supporters of development clashed over the future of the dilapidated beauties known as Admirals Row in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The city wants to knock down the crumbling former officers’ homes, but opponents want the brokedown palaces restored. We don’t care as long as the fleet comes in someday.

Flea circus: The flea market held on Sundays in Bishop Loughlin HS on Lafayette Avenue was just plain too wild for some neighbors, especially the churchgoers across the street in Queen of All Saints. It was a classic tale of gentrifying forces butting heads with the old way of life. Oddly, both sides love waffles.

Anti-sign-metic: Hasidic Jews hurtling home to Williamsburg on the BQE kvetched, to no avail, about a billboard visible from the highway that pictured scantily clad nubile women in a pool with men. Hey, where can we get in on that kind of action?

— Mike McLaughlin

Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst

The stench: Bad smells wafted through Bay Ridge all year, leaving neighbors pointing their fingers — when they weren’t covering their noses. In July, the city promised a less-stinky summer near the Owls Head Wastewater Treatment Plant, but neighbors said that not only did the septic center reek, its noisy PA system kept them awake.

crookLYN: Crime was the talk of the Bay Ridge in 2008, and it’s not hard to see why. The typically bucolic neighborhood saw a handful of high profile crime offenses — including the theft of a fence at a Bensonhurst synagogue, the bizarre burglary of a cornerstone from the now-demolished “Green Church,” and a bank holdup committed by a cross-dressing crook. Crime was so out of control in Bay Ridge that “Law and Order” filled the corner of 98th Street and Marine Avenue with actors dressed as cops — and no one blinked!

Cells out: Ridgites rallied against cellular towers in 2008, with mixed results. PS 185 parents paraded their kids in front of the Verizon shop on 86th Street in protest, so Verizon relocated them to the roof of a Shore Road co-op — much to the dismay of residents there. Then again, no one stopped using his cellphone.

The end of Victory: Dyker Heights’ beleaguered Victory Memorial Hospital ended its prolonged tailspin in July, when the indebted medical center was taken over by SUNY Downstate.

Food fights: No neighborhood gets more crazy about its supermarkets than Bay Ridge, so the June closure of the beloved Key Food on Third Avenue and 95th Street threw the area into chaos, prompting protests and petitions. Walgreens took over the site, but Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) made lemons in organic lemonade when he turned the vacant parking lot into the site of a temporary greenmarket.

— Ben Muessig

Brooklyn Heights,

Downtown, DUMBO

Smash and trash: The streets in DUMBO were littered with glass this summer when window-smashing thugs terrorized cars down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass, breaking in and making off with anything they could grab. In August, cops collared one perpetrator for an incident in April.

Lobster shift: The flashy lobster that once adorned the neon sign at the popular 72-year-old Armando’s Restaurant on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights was turned off in March — only to return in August as a pickle.

Soap opera: The underground Soapbox Derby on Columbia Heights was scrubbed in August amid complaints from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Fred Flintstone wannabes cried the borough over.

Bad car, ma: Judges and other workers at the state Supreme Court on Cadman Plaza commandeered a new part of Columbus Park for their cars — virtually all of them foreign, by the way — during repairs to another portion of the park that they had seized earlier. The occupation is expected to be over early next year, once the judge’s original parking lot is repaved.

Tore down that wall!: East and West DUMBO was reunited in September when elected officials and a neighborhood group reopened the Manhattan Bridge archway. The city said it would expand the area to a full-fledged venue with $500,000 in benches, elaborate lighting, and landscaping. But by the winter, the archway was re-sealed due to the budget crunch.

Docking station: DUMBO Developer Jed Walentas released his designs for the 18-story building on almost the same site as his father’s famously failed project from four years earlier. This time, the Walentases sweetened the deal with a less-bulky building, affordable housing and the ultimate carrot: a public middle school. The Brooklyn Heights Association and Councilman David Yassky still aren’t pleased, but as we went to press, the local community board was poised to give its approval.

— Sarah Portlock

Williamsburg, Greenpoint

Con Ed con game: In March, Con Edison promised The Brooklyn Paper that it was just “cleaning” a 102-year-old Williamsburg power plant — not preparing the building for demolition. A month later, Con Ed started tearing down the brick powerhouse at the corner of Kent and Division avenues. Should Brooklynites trust Con Ed’s promise it hasn’t decided whether or not to sell the waterfront property?

Park lark: It’s hard to hate a park, but the state made it easy for Williamsburgers to do just that. This summer, park employees booted visitors from East River State Park before dark, robbing them of the chance to see the sun set over the Manhattan skyline. And amidst sweeping budget cuts, the state announced in November that it will close the barren space, which is between North Seventh and Ninth streets, for the winter. Apparently maintaining the empty park — which consists of little more than grass, a patch of cement and a few picnic tables — actually costs money.

Crackhouse: Squatters, druggies and prostitutes turned the decaying Orient Avenue mansion that starred in Michel Gondry’s 2004 film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” into a crackhouse. Gondry himself moved to the block in February and claimed to be unaware of the building’s decay. Goes to show what happens when you let a critically acclaimed artistic genius move to your street.

Indie rock the vote: Williamsburg residents turned political in 2008, hanging a 100-foot tall poster mocking Sarah Palin from the Edge condos and illuminating a Wythe Street building with the message “Vote Obama.”

End of an era: The McCarren Park Pool Parties came to an end this year due to expected renovations that will restore the swimming hole, but organizers hope the rock concerts will continue next year in the long-promised, but still unstarted, Bushwick Inlet Park. Here’s to hoping.

Bedford Avenue party: Williamsburg’s Main Street was the place for partying — and for earning the ire of the Man. When a gang of revelers dressed like pandas took over Bedford Avenue for an impromptu street party, cops arrested four. And later, on Election Night, a mass of happy North Brooklynites swarmed Bedford, and cops arrested three. The lesson: parties always get lame once the cops show up.

— Ben Muessig

Updated 5:10 pm, July 9, 2018
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