Fire stokes claims of corruption: Locals question source of inferno at ancient Hook warehouse they want landmarked

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Preservationists are crying foul play after a blaze tore through a vacant Red Hook warehouse on Thursday night, just weeks after a coalition of locals asked the city to landmark the building.

The 1886 structure — known then as the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse — on the Red Hook–Gowanus border is currently owned by a developer, and is among a few dozen buildings Gowanusuars proposed be landmarked before officials vote on a plan to rezone part of their neighborhood, which is why the late-night flames seemed cause for alarm, a landmarking advocate said.

“The timing of the fire immediately on the heels of outreach to the owner paints it in an incredibly suspicious light,” said Gowanus Landmarking Coalition member Brad Vogel.

New York’s Bravest rushed to quench the inferno at the Smith Street warehouse on the banks of the Gowanus Canal at 11:15 pm, finally extinguishing it 30 minutes past midnight, according to a Fire Department spokesman, who said marine units also battled the blaze from the fetid waterway itself.

Flames tore through the top two floors of the four-story building between Creamer and Bay streets, but injured no one, according to firefighter Chris Berke.

The ancient warehouse’s owner, developer the Chetrit Group — which is behind a Chrysler-building-sized skyscraper rising Downtown and the slow-going restoration of Brooklyn Heights’s Bossert Hotel — filed preliminary paperwork to raze it last September, roughly three years after the Department of Buildings issued a full-vacate order for the structure in 2014, warning it was unstable and could collapse, according to an agency rep.

But Buildings Department officials couldn’t sign off on the warehouse’s demolition because the application submitted last year was incomplete, an agency rep said.

And locals started to suspect something nefarious was up when someone spotted a sneak doing possibly illegal work on the old building’s roof earlier this month, according to the Red Hook councilman, who blasted Chetrit Group brass for neglecting the warehouse and demanded fire marshals determine and disclose the cause of the recent inferno.

“It occurred after the community raised alarms about recent, potentially illegal construction activity on the roof, and after my office and community leaders took steps to start landmarking the building,” said Councilman Carlos Menchaca. “The Chetrit Group has created a local nuisance for many years.”

The Buildings Department rep said its inspectors did not investigate the accusation of illegal work at the site, which was made via 311 on May 18, roughly a month before the fire.

A rep for the developer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 5:42 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Michael says:
Regardless of the cause, the owner is responsible to restore the building to it's pre-fire state.
June 18, 2018, 4:17 am
Sanchez from Williamsburg says:
nice photo
June 18, 2018, 7:38 am
Bobby from Queens says:
Lots of smokers in the area - stray cigarette gone crazy?
June 18, 2018, 8:55 am
Samantha from Red Hook says:
Save the building and trash the developer:
June 18, 2018, 9:11 am
Julio from Gowanus says:
So wait - why didn’t DOB investigate the 311 call? They just didn’t feel like it? Also, the permit online from 9/17 is not for demo of a multi-story building.
June 18, 2018, 6:15 pm
Sergie The Russian Bot says:
Zis article, very, very, well ritten for Russian bot. Happy job!
June 18, 2018, 9:18 pm
Courtney says:
How can we even be sure there was a fire, and it wasn’t just the developer busting things up?!
June 19, 2018, 7:51 am
Samantha from Red Hook says:
Hope NYPD and FDNY don't stop at a shallow investigation.

This is arson and the city needs to bring this developer criminal to justice and have them pay their debt to society.

Ongoing illegal demolition coupled with the ultimate arson.

How slick they are to quietly carefully first remove all the roofing tar paper because it is so toxic and polluting. Just to appear as though they are removing flammables. Only to have a nice quiet fire that would destroy the remaining wood support system and render the masonry walls unstable.

You'd think a billion dollar developer would be able to afford doing it the legal route. At least they won't be able to plead insanity or desperate measures.
June 19, 2018, 8:48 am
Sally from Gowanus says:
99.99% arson. Note the fire at southern end of building, which is both further out of sight and lessened risk of collateral damage to the trucks and whatnot that park on the the north side. I hope FDNY, NYPD and the Brooklyn DA take this very seriously indeed.
June 19, 2018, 1:01 pm

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