Wednesday, August 29, 2007

340 Court Street: Casting A Shadow On the Future

Brownstoner had a post up yesterday on the future of the former International Longshoreman’s Association building located at 340 Court Street (between Sackett and Union).

As I noted previously, we heard at the CGNA meeting last week that the Clarett Group had paid $24MM for the site; we also heard they could build up to 21 stories on the site. A view of the projects on their website is not particularly encouraging - lots of tall structures. Although the quality seems high, the buildings Clarett seems to specialize in are out of scale for Carroll Gardens. (The picture above is a montage of renderings from the Clarrett website.)

The more likely scenario is that they would build "quality housing" under the zoning code, using more of the lot area and building up to 70 feet, instead of 21 stories. Obviously this would be a better situation but still far from ideal.

The best solution would be to get the area properly rezoned in the vein of Cobble Hill, with a strict 50' height limit on the neighborhood.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

ARM Resets

Via the always reliable Calculated Risk, this chart comes from a Bank of America research paper. The chart shows, inbillions of dollars, the amount of adjustable rate mortgages re-setting each month from 2007-2009. It isn't pretty.

A lot of people have been talking lately about troubles in the housing market, though in New York, we haven't really seen any effects just yet. The bad news is, on a national basis we have barely begun to feel the pain, and while New York may be behind the curve, we are not immune.

Several years of unsustainable double-digit growth combined with the long-overdue credit contraction will lead to serious declines in the US housing market. And that does include New York.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Carroll Gardens Town Hall Zoning Meeting

Fortunately, last night's meeting has been amply documented . . . I was not looking forward to transcribing three pages of scribbled notes. Miraculously, the Gowanus Lounge found the time, sources, and somehow, the inclination to post about this meeting FROM HAWAII. Mr. Guskind provides a rundown that covers the gist of the meeting, ostensibly from sources at CORD, which has also blogged about last night's meeting and was out in force. Curbed also has a post authored by Lost City.

It was a packed house last night, and a number of issues were raised.

The points that I wanted to get out at the meeting was to pursue a three track process:

1) Pursue down-zoning of Carroll gardens to R6B, with a 50' height limit.
2) Explore landmarking at the same time, to protect the character of the neighborhood. Landmarking overlays may end up taking different shape than the overall zoning area. i.e., pockets of the neighborhood may end up being landmarked, other parts not. But we should get the ball rolling.
3) And most urgent in my view, pursuing a technical determination from DOB that the side streets in Carroll Gardens, specifically including the "Place" streets: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Place, are not "wide streets" for city planning purposes. "Wide Streets" allow greater building rights than a typical street, and this is a justification for building higher at, e.g., 360 Smith Street.

Two particular bits of information stood out dramatically for me from last night's meeting:

First, the ILA site located at 340 Court Street has been sold for what I believe was an astonishing $24MM. The site is enormous - go to Google maps and use the satellite view to get a sense of the parcel size, which stretches from Union to Sackett and halfway up the block from Court towards Clinton. The jaw dropping news was under the current zoning, a builder could go up to 21 stories on this site. That makes 360 Smith look like a grass hut in comparison.

Second, Rita Miller from CORD stated that both Bill de Blasio's office and Joan Millman's office had told CORD that a moratorium would basically be illegal, which was corroborated by Bill and Joan. She then stated that Amanda Burden had sent a letter to CORD saying that a moratorium WAS possible, which sent a stir through the crowd. This caused some backpedaling by de Blasio, and a good deal of consternation in the crowd. I was stunned myself. Unfortunately, the letter from Amanda Burden, which is available in full at the CORD website, does not actually say that.

The relevant quote is here:
"Please note that any moratorium, whether temporary or permanent, is required by law to go through the Uniform Land Use Public Review Process, as well as an environmental review."
I'll have to do some research on this, but my understanding is that you can't simply put a moratorium on building that conforms to the lawful zoning of a given parcel, let alone an entire neighborhood. I don't wish to rain on any one's parade, but I believe that a judge would slap that down in short order as an arbitrary violation of property rights. I am an attorney, though I have not practiced real estate law, so before I can say that my belief is correct, I'll have to do some research.

Anyway, Ms. Miller's presentation was nonetheless impassioned and impressive. At the very least, we will get a definitive answer as to the legality of a building moratorium.

There was a ton more from last night, including a few tangential references to the once and future F-Express, but I'll have to do another post to cover it all.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Barack Obama was here in Brooklyn last night, electrifying a large audience at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott.

I've long been undecided in the Democratic primary, with the sole caveat that I do not want Hillary as our candidate. Last night pulled me a long ways toward the Obama camp. Barack is sounding more and more like a true progressive candidate, and spoke candidly about his views.

The speech was powerful, the crowd was young and hung on every word, and applause was frequent and enthusiastic. Obama's stump speech wound up with a colorful story and a call and response that definitely left the crowd Fired up! and hungry for more.

I understand that many people were not able to get in, and I feel for those that didn't make it. I haven't yet watched Obama's Daily Show appearance from before the rally, but it is online here.

Photos via Brandon Kings and Kyllo's Flickr (by way of Gothamist).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The MTA and the Blogs

Mike Rundle has a good article in the Metro today about the MTA and feedback from the blogosphere, and the verdict is . . . . our voices matter.
A recent online petition to reintroduce express service on the F line began as a post on the “Brooklyn Streets, Carroll Gardens” blog. The petition picked up the support of thousands of residents — as well as politicians and transit advocates — in only a few days. Now Metro has learned Councilman Bill de Blasio and NYC Transit officials expect to meet tomorrow to discuss the issue, which had lain dormant for years.
Ben Kabak has a good rundown of the article over at Second Avenue Sagas (and gets a quote in as well).

And for my part, I spoke to NYC Transit representative Andrew Inglesby yesterday. No promises were made, but he assured me that the MTA is exploring options for restoring the F express after the Culver rehabilitation is completed . . . and also looking for ways to enhance service while the construction is under way. And I believe that is true, and further believe that our voices have made a big difference.

I'll have a chance to talk to DeBlasio Thursday during the zoning discussion (see this post) and let you know what happens.

For now, I think things are moving in the right direction. Councilmen Simcha Felder and Domenic Recchia have upped the ante with MTA, stating that they will oppose any rate hike in the future without F express service restored (thanks Jen). And thank you to all 3600 of you who signed the petition.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Town Hall Meeting, Thursday 8/23 @ Scotto's Funeral Home

Now that your Wednesday is filled with Obama-rama, what to do Thursday?

How about a little neighborhood zoning palate cleanser? From my Inbox to your eyes:

Join Councilmember Bill de Blasio and talk about the future of our neighborhood!

WHAT: This is a town hall meeting to share thoughts and ideas regarding
the city's commitment to down zone Carroll Gardens. We are also
requesting community input about extending the landmark district of
Carroll Gardens.

WHEN: August 23rd 6:30-8:30

WHERE: Scotto Funeral Home 106 1st Place, Brooklyn, NY 11231

For more information contact Tom Gray at (718) 854-9791 or

Councilmember Bill de Blasio 2907 Ft. Hamilton Parkway (718) 854-9791

Barack in Brooklyn

Barack Obama will be here in Brooklyn Wednesday night. We're still undecided in the primary, except to say . . . not Hillary.

The best way to get your impressions is first hand, so we'll be on hand to see what the man has to say. I'm looking forward to hearing Edwards speak as well when he visits. Edwards Two Americas platform and populism resonates with me; now that he's been tagged as the Angry One by the media, I like him even better.

For now, Obama, Wednesday night, tickets $25.
Barack in Brooklyn Information

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Housing Market Bubble

If you've been watching the wild oscillations of the stock market these past few weeks, you know that something is not quite right. Many people are not aware that virtually all of this recent volatility relates to the housing market bubble, which was allowed to inflate beyond reason over the past few years. The fault for this lies mainly with a Republican congress and the shameful policies of the Bush administration.

But the news media also comes in for some serious criticism. The media actively enabled the bubble, serving as a loudspeaker for the paid shills of the National Association of Realtors, the Mortgage Bankers Association, and the National Association of Homebuilders. Their talking points were all too often presented as the unbiased estimates of "experts", while academics were given short shrift.

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy Research has a great paper (warning, pdf) illustrating some aspects of this mess.

For a much deeper understanding of the fundamental problems we will be facing over the next few years due to an unprecedented credit bubble, see Calculated Risk, my go-to source for thoughtful analysis on the housing and related economic issues.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Possible Replay of Flooding Problems Tomorrow

What the hell is going on with our weather this month? Two crazy lightning storms, and now we have another flash flood warning in effect for tomorrow morning. See the NYT blog, here.

Three day weekend, anyone?

"Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it!"
- Mark Twain (probably)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Play Hooky Today! Subways A Disaster

Why reinvent the wheel? Ben at Second Avenue Sagas has the gory details on the debacle in the subway system due to last night's storm.

I was up and out early for an 8:00 dentist appointment way the hell over in Jersey City. Needless to say, that did not happen, but I did make it to work by 9:00 . . . a mere 1:45 commute.

Everything is totally screwed up this morning. Stay home if you can.

But what a storm last night! That was the second time in five days we've been woken out of a sound sleep by a massive thunder and lightning display. The lightning was impressive enough from indoors. But my brother was paving La Guardia this weekend, and they had a spectacular view of the action in the last storm. He said it was the first time he's seen ball lightning. Picture a giant orb of flickering power, and then lighting bolts shooting out of it in several directions at once.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Brooklyn Daily Eagle on Dangerous Gowanus Expressway

Great minds think alike. The Daily Eagle did a story on the dangerous situation we have with the Gowanus Expressway:

According to the New York State Department of Transportation, its concrete riding surface is crumbling, and the network of the expressway’s supporting steel beams is also deteriorating. Additionally, undrained dirt and salt-laden water flood and corrode the highway.

The Gowanus is currently being re-decked as it undergoes “continual emergency repairs,” according to the state Department of Transportation. It will be in a state of repair until 2012, said Harold Fink, the DOT’s Gowanus Expressway project manager. At a recent Community Board 7 meeting, Fink acknowledged the Gowanus’ “rapid rate” of deterioration.

Good quotes in the article from neighborhood institutions Buddy Scotto and Joanne Simon.

Although the costs significantly differ, Simon argues that the tunnel is a long-term investment. “The life of an overhead is roughly 50 years; the life of a tunnel is at least 200,” she said, adding, “A tunnel is much cheaper to maintain.”

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Minneapolis Bridge Collapse: Could it happen here?

I was inspired to post this by Streetsblog, which linked to the NYT coverage of the Minneapolis bridge collapse and posted a "related" link to the Gowanus Expressway page.

All of the ongoing and onerous construction work on the Gowanus Expressway (hereafter, "Gowanus") are temporary fixes. Basically, we're applying tens of millions of dollars in band-aids to this scar that runs through South Brooklyn. Structurally, the Gowanus has deteriorated to the point where the entire structure MUST be replaced in the near future. (Don't take my word for it; go check out that Gowanus link, which feeds to a DOT page.)

It's not out of the question that we could face a similar catastrophe here due to the state of the Gowanus, and for that we should remain concerned.

The larger question for us is, what will we replace this monstrosity with? Another monstrosity, even larger, or with an additional elevated viaduct? Or a tunnel, which would allow the Gowanus as we know it to be torn down, reuniting neighborhoods rent asunder and providing the space for parkland, affordable housing that isn't built on toxic waste or in flood plains, and a beautification of the South Brooklyn landscape?

Certainly, the tunnel will not be cheap. But considering all the positives of a tunnel, including neighborhood values, health concerns, job creation, and lower future maintenance costs, a tunnel is the clear choice for Brooklyn.

Be sure to let the DOT know that when we replace the Gowanus Expressway, we need to do it the right way: with a tunnel. Let's correct this historic injustice once and for all.


Just what the neighborhood needed. Hello, neighbors, hope ya like crap!

This rumor surfaced a while back, was discounted, and now appears to be back. I still hope it doeesn't happen.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Atlantic Avenue Tunnel

I've been meaning to post on this for some time, but never got around to it. My neighbor Celia told me about the long lost Atlantic Avenue Tunnel in June. Then McBrooklyn did a post on it.

And today, Bob Guskind over at Gowanus Lounge has posted on it as well, and I can't put it off any longer. I've already emailed Bob Diamond at the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association to plead for a berth on the next tour.
Bob Diamond rediscovered the long forgotten Atlantic Avenue Tunnel in 1980. The Brooklyn Historic Railway Association (BHRA) was formed in 1982 to restore the historic tunnel. BHRA successfully filed and received designation for the tunnel on the National Register of Historic Places. BHRA continues to maintain and conduct tours and events within the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel.
There are few things that get me more excited than lost and abandoned infrastructure. There is a magical quality about these things that makes me feel like a kid again.