Between a block and a hard place: Plan to revamp Dumbo plaza and nearby Belgian-block streets draws mixed reactions

Green streets: Grass is peeking through the historic cobblestones on Water Street in Vinegar Hill.
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They don’t want chips off these old blocks!

Some preservationists are crying foul over a city scheme to remove and reshape historic Belgian blocks from Dumbo and Vinegar Hill streets as part of a plan to make changes to a plaza that they said neighbors don’t even want — and never signed off on in the first place.

“There are changes that have not been agreed to,” said Aldona Vaiciunas, who heads the Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association civic group. “Replacement of those would be destructive and irresponsible — it’s really pissing me off.”

Department of Transportation workers will remove the ancient stones from swathes of Gold, Main, Adams, Jay, Plymouth, Water, Front, and Pearl streets, as well as Anchorage Place, to inspect, clean, and smooth them in the city’s ongoing, $105-million effort to make the roads handicapped-accessible, according to a presentation the agency shared with the Brooklyn Paper, which also showed officials will demap Anchorage Place between Plymouth and Front streets to execute a years-in-the-making project to expand the triangular Pearl Street Plaza bounded by those streets.

But the agency — whose plan to spruce up the plaza and streets within the Dumbo and Vinegar Hill Historic Districts already received the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s approval — failed to share the latest iteration of the scheme, including its work on the Belgian blocks, with locals before pressing forward, Vaiciunas claimed.

“Why are they sharing this with the press before sitting down and talking with us?” she said.

And improving Pearl Street Plaza’s painted asphalt with new tables, chairs, umbrellas, bleachers, and lights that illuminate the archways beneath the Manhattan Bridge will be a waste if it means chipping away at the Belgian blocks that comprise its surrounding streets, according to another local leader.

“We want it to be historic, not some crappy plaza,” said Doreen Gallo, who heads the Dumbo Neighborhood Alliance civic group. “It just feels like it can be reevaluated. It’s a landmarked, important part of our history, and they should get it right.”

The work continues a project the city began years ago, during which Belgian blocks on Washington Street and parts of Water Street have already been removed, reshaped, and reinstalled. The latest phase is expected to kick off next spring and wrap by 2024, according to a Transportation Department rep, who said that agency kicked in $45 million for the scheme, and the Department of Environmental Protection foot the bill for the rest.

Last year, false reports led residents to fear the city would permanently rip out the 18th-century blocks in its effort to improve accessibility on Dumbo and Vinegar Hill streets.

But officials quickly put the kibosh on the rumors, explaining they would instead excavate, clean, and smooth out all stones that can be salvaged, and replace any that can’t with new ones — a procedure the Transportation Department rep reconfirmed ahead of next year’s street work.

Still, even rehabilitating the Belgian blocks will chip away at the character they bring to neighborhood streets, according to Vaiciunas, who worried that the reshaped stones may prevent grass from peeking through the cracks between them on roads including Water and Plymouth streets during the warmer months — a quirk residents have grown to love, she said.

“We all like that they give character to the neighborho­od,” Vaiciunas said.

Others, however, applauded the plan to make what they said are much-needed changes to the neighborhoods, where crumbling streets are a daily nuisance to locals and visitors alike.

“The streets of Dumbo and Vinegar Hill are completely broken, they are dangerous to drive on with huge holes and uneven cobbleston­es,” said Alexandria Sica, who runs the commerce-boosting Dumbo Business Improvement District. “This is a very critical infrastructure project.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 7:30 pm, August 17, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Brian Van from Gramercy says:
"Accessibility" wins out over "character" any day of the week.
Aug. 17, 2018, 7:58 am
crazytrainmatt from NYC says:
The replacement stones in the picture look lovely -- a flat, seamless surface that is much easier for strollers, bikes, wheelchairs while still looking distinctive.
Aug. 17, 2018, 8:08 am
Rip Torn says:
What a shocker! Rich yuppies think that old awful squares are better than useful ways for wheelchair uses, bicyclists, and all other people who actually use the road rather than take selfies on it.
Aug. 17, 2018, 8:22 am
Mike says:
Just because something is in poor repair doesn't mean it's historic. It just means that it needs repair.
Aug. 17, 2018, 9:11 am
Blanche DuBois from Sadr City says:
Believe it or not, even the handicapped like historic charm and don’t need the government babying them.
Aug. 17, 2018, 9:36 am
D from Crown Heights says:
The plaza looks pretty good - glad to see it get expanded. It'll be a great place to walk, hang out, or push a stroller through.
Aug. 17, 2018, 10:03 am
Tyler from pps says:
“We want it to be historic, not some crappy plaza,” said Doreen Gallo

Such whiny people.
Aug. 17, 2018, 10:26 am
VHGIRL from Vinegarhill says:
As always people accept what reporters write and report on as true. They reinvent what has been said and turn it into a —— show so that other people get angry at the people being interviewed because they believe what the reporters say. Vinegar Hill has been dealing with this issue since 2013 but they don't tell you that. Ms. Sica of the DUMBO BID needs to mine her own business as Vinegar Hill is not part of the BID nor part of DUMBO and she has nothing to say on this neighborhood.
Aug. 17, 2018, 3:29 pm
Senior Citizen from Downtown Brooklyn says:
Why don't we bring back a stable of horses as well? There is nothing more characteristic of the nineteenth century than the smell of horse manure.
Aug. 17, 2018, 4:15 pm
VHGUY from Vinegar Hill says:
Rip Torn, in this story it is actually the 'rich yuppies' who want to have the stones removed and re-cut and the old guard neighborhood folks who want to keep them as-is.

In a rare moment, I find myself agreeing with the BID.
Aug. 17, 2018, 5:51 pm
Gargoyle from Newkirk Plaza says:
What "historic" event/s occurred on those Belgian blocks? Are they even the original ones?
Aug. 17, 2018, 6:53 pm
Philip from Boerum Hill says:
The old blocks are good at preventing speeding and probably better absorb storm water.

The new blocks can be selectively located for accessibility at crosswalks and gathering places. Though, these look suspiciously similar to the ones that crack and pop loose in Soho and Williamsburg.

Too bad the pebbly stuff tends to be set with epoxy.

Better than tarmac.
Aug. 18, 2018, 5:19 pm
Philip from Boerum Hill says:
Off topic... A lot of terrible new cement sidewalks are being installed throughout the city. No aggregate, weird colors, unevenly mixed, sometimes without expansion joints, sometimes with epoxy joints. In fancy neighborhoods too. Pretty depressing.
Aug. 18, 2018, 5:26 pm
TOM from Sunset Park says:
Grass growing between the blocks means the surface is pervious--it drains the rain. What more can you ask for?
Aug. 20, 2018, 8:19 pm

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