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Vinegar Hillians say DumbNO to proposed nine-story apartment building

No go: Locals rejected a developer’s proposal to build this mist-shrouded apartment building in Vinegar Hill.
Brooklyn Paper
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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.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 6:20 pm, January 25, 2017
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Reasonable discourse

Mike from Williamsburg says:
My god! It's rare to see NIMBYs so honest. Build housing for the "uber rich" not 23 below market rate units.
Jan. 19, 2017, 12:06 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
Maybe wealthy homeowners don't like renters, but there's no reason for the community, the city, or the region at large to respect selfish people like Linda McAllister.
Jan. 19, 2017, 12:10 pm
VLM from Brooklyn says:
A bunch of hypocrites who are going to spend years rightly complaining about Trump and his policies while being just as racist and exclusionary in their own backyards.
Jan. 19, 2017, 12:23 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
They should build a road instead so I can drive my fat a-s through the neighborhood
Jan. 19, 2017, 7 pm
Brooklyn from Ft. Greene says:
Some homeowners may hate renters, but in most cases they can't pay their mortgages without them.
Jan. 19, 2017, 11:23 pm
Actually Went to the Meeting! from Vinegar Hill says:
I was at this meeting, and the article is not representative of the sentiment or the arguments that were presented there. Just a few corrections or points.

1. Both renters and homeowners were present. Many of those homeowners rent to long-term tenants (10–20 years) in the area at stable rates, as renters themselves pointed out in their testimony.

2. This lot is ALREADY ZONED for development (R6B), which many people at the meeting (including the committee members) pointed out. A very large building *with affordable housing* can already be constructed as of right, no zoning change necessary. The proposed upzoning would create a MASSIVE building that would look completely out of place, for the gain of a few additional affordable units. Which by the way, are required by law. The article makes it sound like this is a concession the developer is offering.

3. The townhouse idea (and all the related rhetoric) was *one* counter-example to show that the upzoning is just what this particular developer wants at this particular time; the upzoning is not necessarily to make this project economically viable. And Mr. Tocci, the developer (let me put it in neutral terms, since I have not been here long enough to develop personal animus), has had a long, generally very contentious and negative, relationship with the neighborhood.

4. To wit: The article also does not mention that the very site in question once contained an architecturally significant church (St. Ann’s) which Mr. Tocci and his family tore down, leaving a truck lot in its place. They also tore down another old church a block away. St. Ann’s is the sort of building that should have been a library or community center if it was no longer a church.

5. 23 affordable units plus 70 luxury units RAISES, not lowers, the average rent for the neighborhood. Make no mistake, this is a profit-maximizing plan by a businessman, not a philanthropist’s plan to provide sorely needed affordable housing. How many middle-class homeowners will sell and how many renters (with live-in, middle-class landlords) will survive in a neighborhood as turnover and development accelerate? Take a look… anywhere else in the transport-accessible parts of Brooklyn.

6. I’m leaving this long comment as a neighborhood resident because the comments so far seem to be either sock puppets or ignorant, reactionary trolls (good job referring to Trump, though, and then speaking about an issue on which you haven’t taken the time to inform yourself—not at all ironic).
Jan. 20, 2017, 8:38 am
Nicole from Greenpoint says:
It seems these are very stubborn & selfish people who don't want affordable housing in their neighborhood. If the city's housing plan is to work we should all share in allowing affordable housing in our neighborhoods. Just think of it, people living in harmony.
Jan. 20, 2017, 5:23 pm
Actually Went to the Meeting! from Vinegar Hill says:
Nicole (or Mr. Tocci's troll, whoever you are—this truly seems like troll BS), maybe you don't know how to read: The current code allows affordable housing to be build (maybe 11 units vs. 23) with no change to zoning. IT IS ALREADY "ALLOWED."

Nobody is upset about or threatened by affordable housing. They are upset about having what is essentially a skyscraper lying on its side in the middle of a residential neighborhood that doesn't have that character and that can't handle that degree of expansion. If someone wanted to build a five-story building with 50 units and make ALL 50 UNITS affordable, that would be great.

There are tens of thousands of low-income housing residents directly adjacent to Vinegar Hill in the form of public-assistance housing. That does a great deal to allow people to live in proximity to the city. The Admirals Row houses just next to Vinegar Hill were knocked down to make a Wegman's rather than reserved for what could have been a huge housing development with a SIGNIFICANT amount of affordable (60% AMI) housing—say, 200 units! 400! The City owned that land and could have dictated what happened to it. That would have made a real difference.

Because this article cherry-picked a few quotes, you seemed to have totally missed the point that many residents do already live in "affordable" rentals in Vinegar Hill. Walk around the neighborhood one day and see how many buzzers there are on each townhouse.
Jan. 22, 2017, 11:31 am
Robert from DUMBO says:
I don't understand how anyone can say DUMBO has gone down the drain. My family and I have lived here for a number of years and it is a Great neighborhood. All the new developments have really revitalized the area . I remember when the area was dead. Now it is a lively community full of people and businesses. I live in a great building which has become a part of this community. People should be thanking the companies that build up and transform these areas. Progress is moving forward not backward.
Jan. 25, 2017, 5:39 pm
Dave from Brooklyn says:
@ Actually Went to the Meeting!

You live in the largest city in the country. If you want housing to fit your subjective criteria of "in character" then feel free to move to any number of suburbs nationwide.

Here in NYC/Brooklyn, all housing, anywhere at maximum density should be the goal.
Jan. 26, 2017, 4:53 pm

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