This is their Hill to die on.
A developer’s plan to erect a glassy nine-story apartment building in Vinegar Hill will ruin the neighborhood’s old-timey charm and pave the way for other real estate tycoons to turn Brooklyn’s last unsullied historic waterfront burg into just another Dumbo, claimed locals who turned out in force to oppose the proposal at a community board meeting on Wednesday night.
“Dumbo has gone down the drain and this is only enclave left that gives a historic character to the waterfront other than Red Hook — and they’re moving on Red Hook right now,” said resident Bashar Azzouz to Community Board 2’s land-use committee.
The Vinegar Hillians’ passionate objections ultimately convinced the committee to reject developer Paul Tocci’s application to upzone a truck parking lot at Front and Gold streets with an 11–1 vote.
Tocci, who heads the Constellation Group, wants to build a tiered, 93-unit structure starting at four stories on Front Street — which abuts the neighborhood’s historic district — and gradually building up to nine stories farther back.
In exchange for the rezoning, he says he’ll make 23 of the apartments below-market-rate.
But residents weren’t won over, arguing the building’s look and altitude will stick out like a sore thumb amongst the nabe’s charming three-story row houses, while all the new residents will overwhelm the area’s schools, streets, and sewers.
“The neighborhood will be irreversibly damaged and its historic character would be lost forever,” said Aldona Vaiciunas, the president of local civic group the Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association.
Locals urged Tocci to instead erect quaint townhouses harkening back to Vinegar Hill’s earlier days, which they insisted would ultimately be more valuable than a modern apartment building.
“The uber-rich don’t want to live in a hugely ugly glass-and-concrete box — they want to live in our houses, which are by the way, never for sale,” said Linda McAllister. “If they could find a replica maybe they might buy it and you could make more money than you could imagine.”
But Tocci said his heart is set on constructing a rental building so he can pass it onto his children. If the city ultimately rejects his upzoning application, he warned that he won’t build anything on the truck-filled lot.
“My intention is to hold it, stay in the community and pass it along to my children,” he said.
Just one attendee spoke out in favor of the project, telling the room that Tocci’s other building on Hudson Avenue fits in just fine with the neighborhood and people should be grateful that he wants to clean up the truck parking lot and turn it into housing.
“Now that somebody wants to do something good for the area you get all this baloney,” said the lone committee member who voted in favor of the plan.
But in the end, all the other panel members bowed to the locals’ demands, and said they could not approve the application after hearing that nearly the entire community opposed it.
The committee’s decision is just advisory, however — a vote by the Council will ultimately decide the proposal’s fate, and that will likely be guided by however local Councilman Steve Levin (D–Vinegar Hill) votes.
Levin hasn’t taken a stance on the plan yet, a spokesman at the meeting said.