Search results for "Greenpoint and Williamsburg waterfront"

Placeholder Alt Text

Warehouse Modernism

Brooklyn’s East River waterfront is defining itself in unexpected ways
Taking shape along Greenpoint’s once-industrial waterfront district is a series of surprisingly contextual modern condo developments using red brick and exposed black steel to tactfully insert tens of thousands of new residents along this sleepy East River shoreline. The largest of them, a 30-story tower that is part of Handel Architects’ Greenpoint Landing, includes 5,500 units sprawled over 22 acres at the mouth of Newtown Creek, with 1,400 apartments renting for as little as $393 to $1,065. Initial renderings presented for public review surfaced as bland massing diagrams, but the subdued details of Handel’s build-out hold promise for communities becoming accustomed to glossy, glassy, boxy towers in districts where rezoning permits greater height and bulk. To the stakeholders’ credit, the developer showed them a selection of schemes to choose from, including designs by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. In contrast to Long Island City’s gleaming, generic masses and Williamsburg’s spotty, uneven edges, Greenpoint’s waterfront retains enough of its traditional shipping warehouses to sustain the contours of a characteristically industrial neighborhood along West and Commercial Streets, even if most of the industry is gone. Despite a major waterfront rezoning passed by the city council in 2005, until a few years ago, most of West Street continued to host storage for building material and scaffolding, a lumber manufacturer, and a crane and equipment rental company. After large portions of Greenpoint Terminal Market were lost to a ten-alarm fire in 2006, Pearl Realty Management adapted the remains into a studio-and-workspace rental complex, an extension of its Dumbo-based green desk co-working enterprise. Slowly, smaller firms like Daniel Goldner Architects, Karl Fischer Architect, STUDIOSC, and S9 Architecture populated the upland side of West and Commercial with renovated warehouses and upscale condos echoing the material palette of the existing low-rises. Much of the post-rezoning development along West and Commercial stalled due to the 2008 mortgage-backed securities crisis. In 2009, the former Eberhard Faber Pencil Company building became the Pencil Factory lofts, and Daniel Goldner Architects filled in the corner lot with a syncopated colored brick addition and perforated aluminum garage. The project struggled in the post-crash housing market. But in the past two years, a rush of new buildings began to rise up along West and Commercial with a distinct material selection: red and light-colored brick and exposed black-painted steel, with glazed entryways and antique fixtures. Karl Fischer Architect’s 26 West Street opened in 2016, its redbrick and black steel facade filling out the six-story street wall, its large overhang resembling a meat market loading dock. The warehouse modern–aesthetic even extends all the way around the mouth of the Newtown Creek, where a 105-unit building by S9 Architecture employs the same neotraditional style—red brick, exposed black steel, industrial awnings, antique fixtures. An upscale ground-floor grocery store warmed some nearby loft residents up to it after months of sound-based trauma from the drilling of pilings. With leases from $3,350 to $4,350, locals will never be at peace with the rent pressures that come with these buildings, but at least they have the virtue of not extravagantly showing off their residents’ income. Not everything conforms to this trend: The expansive 140-unit development under construction by Ismael Leyva Architects at 23 India Street more crudely fills in its zoning envelope with affordable housing ranging from $613 for studios to $1,230 for winners of the NYC Housing Connect lottery, capped by a 39-story, 500-unit condo tower that promises in every way to form a bland massing diagram in the sky. In any case, contextual exterior cladding is little consolation for a community that fought hard for its 197-a plan—completed in 1999 and adopted by the city council in 2002—which would have allowed significantly less bulk and height, aimed to retain more light-manufacturing jobs, and mandated more affordable housing along with waterfront access. Jane Jacobs, in one of her final written statements, penned a strong defense of the original community plan against the eventual zoning resolution. Of course, the trade-off forced by the city—an upzoned waterfront in exchange for publicly funded parks and developer-mandated walkways—has already helped reduce heavy-industrial pollution, killed a proposed Con Edison power plant, and reduced and eliminated waste-transfer facilities and truck fumes. Some residents are just waiting for the dust and noise of construction to subside, while others hope for another recession to slow down the accelerated activity. In 2009, Andrew Blum published “In Praise of Slowness," for the launch of Urban Omnibus that, in retrospect, should have a more durable life as a critique of fast development. For New York City neighborhoods, slowness provides a much-needed stability in the absence of state-level expansion of rent regulation to protect against predatory development. Yet if there had to be luxury condos facing the former industrial piers, the emerging Greenpoint warehouse modernism was a more subtle and site-specific solution than anyone expected or imagined.
Placeholder Alt Text

Excellence in Design Awards

Bomb squad building, verdant library, and others score NYC design awards
Today officials revealed winners of New York's annual Awards for Excellence in Design, a recognition of the city's best civic projects. Timed to NYCxDESIGN, the city's annual celebration of all things design and architecture, the projects being recognized contribute to the city's public life, preserve its history, and exemplify sustainable approaches to buildings and landscapes. The awards, now in their 35th year, are presented by the Public Design Commission, an 11-member group of designers and representatives from New York's cultural institutions that reviews art, architecture, and landscape architecture on city property. "The best public projects are purposeful and use design to build a sense of community and civic pride," said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a prepared statement. "We commend the teams behind these critical and creative projects that will help build a stronger, more equitable city and improve services and recreational activities for every New Yorker." Tonight, the mayor, along with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, Public Design Commission President Signe Nielsen and Executive Director Justin Moore, will present awards to this year's and last year's honorees at a City Hall ceremony. Get a sneak peek at the eight winners below (unless otherwise noted, all images and project descriptions in quotes are from the Mayor's Office): AWARD WINNERS Greenpoint Library and Environmental Education Center Marble Fairbanks; SCAPE Landscape Architecture Greenpoint, Brooklyn Brooklyn Public Library "Exceeding LEED Silver goals, the center will become a demonstration project for innovative approaches to sustainable design, and an environmental learning tool for the community." Double Sun Mary Temple Williamsburg, Brooklyn Department of Cultural Affairs’ Percent for Art Program and Department of Parks & Recreation "Gracing the interior of McCarren Park Pool’s dramatic archway entrance, Mary Temple’s paintings create a subtle and elegant visual disturbance." Downtown Far Rockaway Streetscape  W Architecture and Landscape Architecture Far Rockaway, Queens Department of Design and Construction, Department of Transportation, and Department of Parks & Recreation "Incorporating Vision Zero strategies, this comprehensive streetscape design will foster a safer, more inviting, pedestrian experience in this central business district and transportation hub." Bomb Squad Building Rice + Lipka Architects; Liz Farrell Landscape Architecture Pelham Bay Park, Bronx Department of Design and Construction and New York Police Department "The simple and smart design of this resilient office and training facility elevates critical program elements above the floodplain and allows flood waters to flow through without damaging the building." Treetop Adventure Zipline and Nature Trek  Tree-Mendous The Bronx Zoo Department of Cultural Affairs, Department of Parks & Recreation, and Wildlife Conservation Society "Two new adventures provide unique perspectives at the zoo—visitors can zip across the Bronx River and navigate a series of bridges with narrow beams, obstacles, and climbing wiggling surfaces." FIT New Academic Building SHoP Architects; Mathews Nielsen Fashion Institute of Technology Agency: Department of Education and the Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York "The first newly-constructed building on the FIT campus in nearly 50 years has an NEA award-winning design that reflects FIT’s commitment to openness, community engagement, and the robust exchange of ideas across many platforms." Woodside Office, Garage, and Inspection Facility TEN Arquitectos; W Architecture and Landscape Architecture Woodside, Queens Agency: Department of Design and Construction and Taxi and Limousine Commission "Serving as the central inspection location for over 13,500 taxis, this facility will provide a welcoming and dignified experience for drivers, reduce queuing times, and increase inspection capacity by more than 200 cars per day." The Cubes Administration and Education Building LOT-EK Astoria, Queens Agency: Department of Parks & Recreation and Socrates Sculpture Park "Constructed of 18 shipping containers, the Cubes will be Socrates Sculpture Park’s first permanent structure in its thirty-year history and a manifestation of the organization’s emphasis on reclamation and adaptive re-use, as well as a reference to the neighborhood’s industrial roots." SPECIAL RECOGNITIONS: The Department of Environmental Protection, for the agency’s thoughtful design of green infrastructure in the watershed to help protect the city’s water supply. "DEP’s use of green infrastructure in its upstate properties not only results in resilient and innovative designs, but is a critical component of the agency’s ability to maintain the high quality of New York City’s drinking water supply." Conservation and Relocation of three WPA-era murals EverGreene Architectural Arts; Fine Art Conservation Group; Morphosis; Weiss/Manfredi Roosevelt Island, New York Economic Development Corporation and Cornell Tech "Commissioned in the 1940s by the Work Projects Administration (WPA), these murals were painted over and forgotten for decades. As part of the new Cornell Tech campus, the murals were uncovered and conserved and will be integrated into new campus buildings for public enjoyment." Tottenville Shoreline Protection Stantec; RACE Coastal Engineering Staten Island Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, the Department of Parks & Recreation, the Department of Transportation, and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York "In tandem with ReBuild by Design’s Living Breakwaters Project, this shoreline initiative will increase public access by creating an interconnected and seamless waterfront trail, incorporating wetland enhancement, eco-revetments, hardened dune systems, shoreline plantings, maritime forest restorations, and earthen berms."
Placeholder Alt Text

Maker Park

New park unveiled for controversial Williamsburg waterfront site
The development team behind Maker Park has released new renderings for an inventive green space that grows from industrial relics on the Brooklyn waterfront. With this design, and last week's announcement that the city will buy a critical strip of vacant land to complete a large riverside park, it seems the wheels are finally starting to turn on the waterfront's conversion to parkland, a process that began in response to a 2005 Williamsburg-Greenpoint rezoning that produced more luxury condos than public space. Maker Park—which its creators stress is in its ideas stage—adapts the infrastructure on an isolated slice of the East River into performance venues, gardens, and open space, an adventure playground writ large for longtime residents and visitors alike. The idea, its creators say, honors the neighborhood's creative types through a guiding ethos of exploration influenced by the city's maker scene, a technology-infused offshoot of DIY culture that stresses interdisciplinary collaboration. The park is one vision for a waterfront green space that is more than a decade in the making. Last week the city announced a deal that brings a park—Maker Park, a competing vision, or a blend of stakeholders' ideas—one step closer to completion. City officials say $160 million will be spent to acquire the last remaining parcel in a necklace of city-owned land that runs along Kent Avenue from North 14th to North 9th streets (a seven-acre state park occupies two blocks to the south on the same strip). The Maker Park vision for that 27-acre expanse—which is officially called Bushwick Inlet Park—has precedent in the citizen-led efforts that gave birth to the High Line and now spur parks like the QueensWay. A grassroots team led by three young New Yorkers—Zac Waldman, who works in advertising, Karen Zabarsky, the creative director at Kushner Companies, and Stacey Anderson, director of public programs at the Municipal Arts Society (MAS)—has partnered with a team of architects and designers to reimagine the city-owned site's otherworldly white fuel containers, the remnants of Bayside Fuel Oil Depot, as galleries, stages, reflecting pools, art galleries, and hanging gardens. In collaboration with New York–based firms STUDIO V Architecture and Ken Smith Workshop, the group officially unveiled its vision for the ruins in May. In the renderings, Maker Park would stretch from Bushwick Inlet (at North 14th Street and Kent Avenue) south to North 12th Street, right across the street from present-day Bushwick Inlet Park. "Most of the developments on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront have made it anonymous," said Jay Valgora, founding principal of STUDIO V. "Much of the waterfront is kind of generic, and that's a shame, because the neighborhood is not. We think the park has to be as special as the community it's going to support." Initial renderings deliver on that promise. In dialogue with the cylindrical oil storage tanks, a curved boardwalk sweeps visitors over the inlet and back to shore in a terraced open lawn. The inlet would be planted with native grasses to create a wetland—and natural flood barrier, and a former Bayside building that fronts North 12th Street could be converted to green-roofed galleries or an events space. Maker Park's do-it-yourself ethos isn't meant to override community input. "These renderings are meant to inspire, not to prescribe," said Zabarsky. "The reason they're so magical and have these different elements is to bring about new ideas." Anderson added that community stakeholders have worked with the city for more than ten years to realize the park and that "this is alternate design vision for one portion of the park" grounded architecturally in adaptive reuse. Though they have detailed renderings and site plans, the team says their ideas are a stake in the ground—it is up to the neighborhood, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, and other agencies to conceive and execute a final plan. To that end, Maker Park is hosting a design exhibition in Greenpoint next week to solicit ideas from neighbors on how to develop the designs moving forward (more information on the event can be found here). The group has drafted ten guiding principles—centered on transparency, public input, and the preservation of open space along the river—to follow in its work. The street-facing green space adheres to the Parks Department's Parks Without Borders, a new initiative that opens up the edge conditions of the city's many gated parks, while a soccer field on the southern edge mirrors an adjacent space in Bushwick Inlet Park. Despite their ambition, the plans should work "within a typical park budget," said Valgora, but it's ultimately up to the city to allocate funds. One component that could cost more is the reuse of the Bayside building, though he said Maker Park is doing a financial feasibility analysis right now to get a clearer idea of those costs. Outside the group, the conservation of the industrial heritage is anathema to the neighborhood's progress and public image. Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park (FBIP), an advocacy group instrumental in the creation of its namesake green space, have been vocal in their distaste for the "glorification of oil tanks." It sees Maker Park as a spiteful gesture to a community that has borne a disproportionate share of environmental hazards over the course of the city's industrial history. Not surprisingly, FBIP supports the city's open space master plan, which does not include plans to preserve the fuel tanks. The Maker Park team is keenly aware of the site's environmental challenges. One guiding principal is the safe remediation of the site's environmental hazards, and the group has recruited landscape experts to develop a mitigation strategy. The contamination on site is not unusual for waterfront development in New York, said Michael Bogin, environmental lawyer and principal at Sive, Paget & Riesel P.C. There are other ways to contain toxins—recovery wells, barrier walls, and clean-fill—besides destroying the infrastructure to ensure that mobile contaminants do not escape from the soil or water. "If you take the tanks down, then put in two feet of clean-fill material, then all you've really done is destroyed the architectural value of those tanks. You haven't created a different remedy." Landscape is crucial to the remediation strategy. Ken Smith, founding principal of Ken Smith Workshop, said that the sculpted topography of the site would be built on two to three feet of clean-fill material. Capping the site, which itself is a hundred-year-old landfill, also raises it out of "high frequency" floodzones, he said. Wetlands, planted with native grasses, would be accessible via the boardwalk and cross-hatched waterside beds, and the great lawn, a counterpoint to the contextual native flora, is encircled by trees and could host large events. Both men signed onto the pro bono project to secure the city's ever-threatened manufacturing legacy. "The East River is the heart of the city, the focal point of 21st-century New York City," Bogin said. He has worked for clients who, in his view, have degraded the historic quality of the waterfront or blocked access to the shore. "We're losing the history of the river. I don't want Brooklyn's waterfront to become Times Square. Let's save something."
Placeholder Alt Text

Build Like Lazarus

Real estate and unions bring 421-a tax break back from the dead
Union leaders and real estate power players have brokered a deal to revive an expired property tax break that many see as key to developing affordable housing in New York. The two groups agreed on a multipart deal to revive 421-a, one of the largest property tax exemptions for rental housing in the city. In its expired version and its just-forged incarnation, 421-a gives developers tax breaks for constructing multi-unit buildings on vacant land in certain areas of the city. The deal expired in January when the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), an industry association, and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC), an organization of building trades unions, could not reach an agreement on wages. Real estate developers said they could not finance affordable housing projects and pay the wages unions demanded, while unions argued that wealthy developers could pay, but didn't want to cut into profit margins. Unions also argued that their knowledge of workplace safety and skilled labor pool create job sites that are safer than non-union ones. One major part of the new deal is that union construction workers on 421-a property tax exempt projects be paid an average of $60 per hour, benefits included, for new construction in Manhattan south of 96th Street with 300-plus rental units. A second component applies to buildings of the same size in Queens and Brooklyn Community Boards 2 and 1, an area that roughly includes Astoria, Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, and Fort Greene, plus any eligible construction within one mile of the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. On these 421-a eligible projects, construction workers would be paid $45 per hour, benefits included. The third portion paves the way for opt-outs. Any 421-a project where more than 50 percent of rental units are reserved for below-market-rate households is exempt from wage agreements, and these affordable units would remain so for 40 years. The property tax exemptions on these sites would be active for 35 years, up from 20 under previous 421-a rules. “We are pleased to have reached an agreement that will permit the production of new rental housing in New York City, including a substantial share of affordable units, while also ensuring good wages for construction workers," REBNY chairperson Rob Speyer said in a prepared statement first shared by Politico. The governor expressed measured approval, too. "The deal reached [last Thursday] between these parties provides more affordability for tenants and fairer wages for workers than under the original proposal," Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a prepared statement. "While I would prefer even more affordability in the 421-a program, this agreement marks a major step forward for New Yorkers." The proposed deal would apply to a 421-a bill passed (but not signed into law) by the state legislature in June of last year. That agreement would apply citywide, and it includes provisions that developers must hire independent auditors to review payroll. Developers will not have to hire unionized workers as long as they enter into labor agreements voluntarily with unions. If state legislators sign off on the REBNY and BCTC agreement, 421-a will be revived. Cuomo has indicated he will sign the changes into law in a special legislative session prior to the regular session that begins in January. Concurrently, the governor is urging lawmakers to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to release $2 billion in funds to build affordable housing for low- and middle-income households statewide. Right now, that money is entangled in other negotiations. In New York City, Mayor de Blasio is still reviewing the proposal to see if it passes his administration's standards. Politico points out that the deal that a similar he designed in association with REBNY last May was criticized by the governor. For their part, affordable housing developers are not pleased by the deal between the powerful groups. "Adding an additional 10 years (to the) exemption, on top of (an) already grossly excessive 25-year proposed exemption, yields a tax break that is unprecedented and unjustifiable on any fiscal or programmatic grounds," Benjamin Dulchin said in an email to Politico."[It's] unconscionable on its face." Dulchin is the head of the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, a group that represents affordable housing developers. Since 421-a expired, applications for residential construction have dropped precipitously, so affected industries are hoping its revival will spur new construction.
Placeholder Alt Text

Under New Management

AN talks to Michael Samuelian, the next president and CEO of the Trust for Governors Island
With new leadership at its helm, Governors Island, the 172-acre island in the middle of New York Harbor, is poised for some exciting changes. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) spoke with Michael Samuelian about balancing public and private space in new developments, changes on the New York City waterfront, and his soon-to-be-finalized new job as president and CEO of the Trust for Governors Island. AN: You are a board member of Friends of Governors Island. How were you selected for your new role? Michael Samuelian: Through conversations with the mayor's office, with [deputy mayor] Alicia Glen's office, a few key people on the board of the Trust, some of whom I knew, some I didn't know. I don't know how many people they were speaking with at the time, it was not an atypical series of conversations; we spoke about the position, about why I wanted it, and how I can give back to the city. As a vice president at Related Companies you were responsible for the development of Hudson Yards, a project that weaves together public and private space. What lessons from that project will you be bringing to Governors Island? For the last couple of years I was predominately responsible for public space at the Yards, and its interaction with the High Line, the Shed, the Community Board, and the BID, all of the outward-facing entities, so I certainly learned about the balance of public and private needs on the job. I think that's one of the most important things I'll bring to Governors Island. Governors Island is not about creating the most value, necessarily, it's about creating the right mix of uses. That's what I'm most excited about. With Hudson Yards, it was about integrating the project with the rest of the neighborhood. With an island, there's not a lot of integration you can do, but you can focus on some of the most important aspects of public space, which are connectivity and vitality. That's what we want at Governors Island... to create a place that's a real destination, that New Yorkers fall in love with. There's a lot of development happening on the island's south side: The Hills were just completed and there are more opportunities for private development there as well. Could you speak to how you see those public and private spaces being integrated? The most important thing—one of the things the mayor and I discussed about the role—number one, is do no harm. Governors Island is a fantastic place today, and like a good doctor, you don't want to kill the patient, you want to make him better. Our challenge on Governors Island is that it's a fantastic place already, but how do we make it better? The issue of balance is important to me, figuring out what the right balance of public and private uses while making it even more accessible to people. While we have half a million people coming there per year; that pales in comparison to other public parks. One of my first priorities is getting more people, more New Yorkers, to the island and figuring out that right balance of uses. That will be through some additional private uses. But the number one thing is enhancing accessibility, getting more people to the island. There's some concern about private uses there and honestly I don't come with any predisposed notion of what should happen on the island. The other important concept is plurality. There's not one big idea that will make the island magical, it's already magical. It's really about finding the right balance of uses there. Aside from the public space, not one use should dominate the island; all the other uses should support the public space. I hear you. Is there an ideal balance of uses in your mind, though, or the Trust's mind? We have to figure that out. We really want to harness the energy of the city, and aside from housing, that could be any use under the sun: Institutional, cultural, commercial, retail, hotel. Our first task is to figure out what the appropriate mix of uses is, in order to answer the number one goal, which is enhancing access to the island. What are the great public uses that will get people to experience the island? All of the historic buildings, and the public spaces that just opened, those are starting to gain traction with visitors. For the first time, more people are coming to Governors Island from the Brooklyn side rather than the Manhattan side. I think that's an important thing for people to know. It's an island for everyone, not just north Brooklyn or lower Manhattan. It's an island for the entire city. The more we can get this on people's radar, the better we've done our job. In terms of broadening access to the island and on the island, are there any specific projects we should be looking out for? I think the mayor's plan for enhanced East River Ferry access is a great first step to get New Yorkers thinking about the water and waterborne transportation. Obviously, we are an island so we'd be the main beneficiary of that [laughs]. But with all the waterfront development that's happening in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, all along the Brooklyn waterfront, all of that will help us as more and more people build a relationship with the water, and being an island on the East River Ferry route, it's important that we are part of that conversation. There's so much development, as you said, happening on New York's waterfronts in all five boroughs. Do you see Governors Island setting a model for waterfront development in the city? I'm coming there as a neutral party, not predisposed to any particular uses, but we are starting with relatively neutral territory: We have a million square feet of empty historic buildings, we have the potential for a lot more development on the south side of the island, but there's no magic number, no magic piece that will make it all sing together. To use kind of a difficult term, it's about curating the right types of uses that will make Governors Island even more special. Interview edited and condensed for clarity.
Placeholder Alt Text

A view along the planned pedestrian walkway designed by AECOM.
Courtesy AECOM

Greenpoint and Williamsburg waterfront advocates recently celebrated two small, but pivotal, victories in a decades-long battle for walkways along the East River in North Brooklyn and 28 acres of waterfront parkland that were promised but never delivered by the Bloomberg administration’s 2005 rezoning. Both victories could signal an important turn by Mayor Bill de Blasio toward community control and could restore a slight measure of confidence in the citywide rezoning process currently underway. Most remarkably, AECOM’s incorporation of FEMA-recommended flood levels, a terraced amphitheater bluff, and a living shoreline into plans for the Greenpoint Monitor Museum waterfront are evidence of the penetration of resilient design into every corner of New York City’s shoreline.

The district’s residents spurred the first victory last fall when they voted to award $599,200 of the $19.5 million Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF) to the Greenpoint Monitor Museum’s visionary waterfront design and permitting project. AECOM’s Gonzalo Cruz, a Harvard Graduate School of Design alumnus who directs the firm’s Urban Design and Landscape Architecture studio, prepared the support materials, leading the conceptual design pro bono. The project, dedicated to honoring the pioneering Civil War battleship manufactured there, its engineer John Ericsson, and Greenpoint patriots who fought to preserve the Union, presented a unique opportunity.


“They owned the land so the project did have the potential to go somewhere,” Cruz said. “It was incredible for us to be able to help them. They’re very committed to the site and the history. We provided a one-stop shop: People who can provide coastal and marine engineering services as well as design services.”

To protect the land from erosion and to create a natural habitat, a living shoreline wraps the edge of the site with plantings of cordgrass, sea lavender, switchgrass, black needlerush, glasswort, and groundsel bush. An ecological walkway and scenic overlook loft above, providing a continuous public right-of-way that ties into the 2005 zoning resolution. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Bushwick Inlet flooded five blocks inland, so the team designed a tiered amphitheater facing the Manhattan skyline that ascends 12 feet above sea level, with berms that reinforce the upper edge, softened by a retaining lawn featuring educational displays about engineering and history. At the top, Cruz reserved a section of the site for the future Greenpoint Monitor Museum.


“It was a wonderful thing they did,” said Janice Lauletta-Weinmann, president of the museum. “Without those conceptual drawings, it would have been very difficult to get the idea across what would have been nice in the neighborhood.”

The GCEF award acted as a signal for the city government to eliminate the threat of eminent domain that has dogged the nonprofit since the 2005 rezoning clumsily designated its property as part of the anticipated 28-acre Bushwick Inlet Park. The Greenpoint Monitor Museum gained title to the one-acre parcel along the Bushwick Inlet in 2003 but has been unable to effectively fundraise with the threat hanging over it. Meanwhile, the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations neglected to acquire the other parcels designated for parkland before rezoning caused land values to explode. With the GCEF grant and AECOM’s design moving to the next phase, the Greenpoint Monitor Museum project is now embarrassingly far ahead of the city’s barely preconceptual zoning diagrams.

“There was some sort of idea of a beach situation, which at the time the plan was put together, was ten years ago,” Cruz said. “There were some trends at the time where people were just latching on. Besides that there was nothing more. There was just a path full of benches; that’s what the original master plan had along the site.”

In December, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Mayor de Blasio’s spokesman publicly affirmed for the first time that they would not support the use of eminent domain on the site.

Meanwhile, the battle for the rest of Bushwick Inlet continues: The Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park has been organizing regular street actions and protests aimed at pushing the city to acquire an 11-acre parcel for the park where the CitiStorage building burned down last January in a suspicious fire. Activists predicted a real-estate development would soon follow; six months later, Midtown Equities and East End Capital signed an option to purchase the land, floating the offer to build a section of the park in exchange for a variance to add residential units. Related Companies reportedly joined talks to provide capital; the developers could already build up to 600,000 feet of as-of-right commercial space. In late December, waterfront activists scored another important victory: A de Blasio spokesman affirmed in Crain’s New York Business, “The administration would never accept a rezoning here that did not have the support of the councilman and community.” CitiStorage is the last section of the now 27-acre Bushwick Inlet Park remaining to be acquired; activists say legislation sitting in a State Senate committee in Albany would use eminent domain to force its sale.

“A great park will be such a boon to this neighborhood,” said Katherine Thompson, cocaptain of Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park. The people that have lived here for a long time and have done the fighting, it’s going to be a really big disappointment if they feel like this neighborhood has been taken away by rampant outsized development that has disregarded the fabric of our community.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Ash, Cash, and Grass
The burned Brooklyn warehouse.
Several seconds / Flickr

In early February, a seven-alarm fire tore through a storage warehouse on the Williamsburg waterfront burning countless pages of documents and casting a thick plume of smoke over the low-slung neighborhood. Within days of the non-lethal fire, as the building continued to smolder, Brooklyn residents started demanding that the damaged CitiStorage Warehouse be replaced with parkland. They say they are owed nothing less and have been since 2005 when Michael Bloomberg rezoned a massive swath of Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

The impacts of that rezoning are hard to understate. Much of the formerly industrial waterfront is now home to glass towers and the wealthy residents who can afford to live in what has become one of New York’s most coveted neighborhoods. At the time, the city promised that the rush of development would bring with it Bushwick Inlet Park, a 28-acre green space along the East River. To date, only part of that promised park have been delivered.


Designed by Kiss + Cathcart and Starr Whitehouse, the 11 acres contains an athletic field and a Parks Department building with a sloping green roof. While the park has been quite popular, it is only one block wide, impeded to its north by the CitiStorage facility and another warehouse. To the chagrin of local residents, and some elected officials, the recent fire will not lead to more parkland, at least in the short-term.

“The unfortunate fire at Citistorage will not affect Parks’ development of Bushwick Inlet Park,” said the Parks Department in a statement. The department said the acquisition of the privately owned site is currently unfunded, as are plans to build a museum to honor the USS Monitor, a Civil War–era gunship. Under current law, the owner of the CitiStorage site is not required to sell to the city, and according to the Brooklyn Paper, the site is now valued between $73 million and $100 million. This is roughly three times its value back in 2005 when the zoning was approved. To many, not purchasing the property 10 years ago was a major missed opportunity by the city.

It is not yet known what will happen next at the highly desirable site. But, back in 2005, the Parks Department drew up grand conceptual plans for the property that included a youth athletic field, a dog run, and volleyball courts. While that vision may be dead in the water, Bushwick Inlet Park will continue to expand, at least to the north of CitiStorage.

This spring, the city expects to complete its $68.5 million acquisition of the Bayside Fuel Oil Depot. After the existing oil tank infrastructure is demolished and the site is remediated, a design for the site will be put forth.

Placeholder Alt Text

New York City’s Bike Infrastructure Growing and Improving
New York City’s bike infrastructure is expanding into new territory with new greenways connecting the city in a web of safer transportation options. And as it does, the Department of Transportation is working to significantly improve the bike lanes that already exist. In recent weeks, significant progress has been made on the Brooklyn Greenway—a planned 14-mile stretch of protected bike lanes along the borough's waterfront. Volunteers have been busy prepping an empty lot in the Columbia Waterfront District to become one of the Greenway’s many landscaped parks. This two-acre lot is designed by Rogers Marvel Architects.   A little farther north in Williamsburg, the blog Greenpointers spotted new markings along Kent Avenue to connect one of the Greenway’s missing links. An existing on-street bike lane will be moved to create a two-lane, buffered bike path with more insulation from moving trucks and cars. And over in North Manhattan, the NYCDOT recently proposed two-miles of bike lanes for Washington Heights and Inwood. Farther south on the island, existing bike lanes in Tribeca and the East Village are being converted into protected lanes. So what will all these bike lanes mean for New York? Are drivers doomed to sit in increased traffic? Simple answer, no. As Fivethirtyeight recently explained, "bike lanes, if they’re planned for the right streets, can be created without greatly increasing vehicular congestion."
Placeholder Alt Text

A Touch of DUMBO in Williamsburg: Two Trees Envisions Office Space at the Domino Sugar Factory
The redevelopment of Brooklyn's Domino Sugar Factory has been a long and controversial process, but is showing signs of progress, or at least a slow but steady crawl to the next phase of planning. The Wall Street Journal reported reported that developer Jed Walentas of Two Trees Management wants to make room for office space in addition to residential units long proposed for the site. The Brooklyn-based firm purchased the 11-acre property last October for $185 million from Community Preservation Corporation Resources (CPCR). Two Trees, known for its transformation of DUMBO, hopes to apply its successful mixed-use formula to north Brooklyn, which has been dominated by clusters of residential high rises over the last decade. Several waterfront neighborhoods in Brooklyn, stretching from DUMBO to Greenpoint, have become home to a number of tech companies, including Kickstarter, Etsy, and Indmusic. Walentas would first need to win the approval from City Council and the Department of City Planning to rezone the area to accommodate office and commercial development. But such a change might not be that easy to make. In 2010, when CPCR sought, and later succeeded, in rezoning the area, the community put up a fight. The promise of affordable housing won over government officials, but Two Trees is mum on whether they plan to follow through on that commitment. Within the last few months, Two Trees has hired SHoP Architects to create the master plans for the Domino Sugar Refinery, taking the place of Rafael Viñoly, and has also enlisted the help of landscape architecture firm, James Corner Field Operations. In December, Two Trees issued a RFP for a proposal suggesting a "creative use" of Site E on Kent Avenue between South 3rd and South 4th streets, according to Brownstoner. Several proposals offered recommendations such as a High Line-style parkland, a skating rink, or open markets.
Placeholder Alt Text

Troy, Troy Again! Architects Revamping an Aging Waterfront
The design minds behind the waterfront destinations of West Harlem Piers on the Hudson River, the India Street Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and the Edge Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, have been chosen for yet another waterfront revamp. W-Architecture, a New York City-based architecture and landscape architecture firm, was selected to design and renovate the Troy Riverfront Park in Troy, New York, a $1.95 million project that's part of the city's plan to redevelop its Hudson River waterfront. Currently under construction, diseased trees are currently being cleared to open up views to the river and create a more sustainable and seamless connection to the city's downtown. Troy, like many cities on the Hudson River, has a rather neglected waterfront. Barbara Wilks, principal of W-Architecture, is known for reusing existing site materials in her park designs, but she said, "There was nothing left—it had been made into a park in the 1970's. We did incorporate the existing Vietnam memorial that had been located there later as well as the statue of Uncle Sam, who was from Troy." Accessibility and views were also an issue taken under consideration by the design team. "The most inviting aspect is the orientation to the river. From the existing park, the river was hardly visible. Now all the topography is being regraded to focus on the views up and down river." The park is concurrently being developed with the former city hall site to the west and aims to reopen towards the end of this summer.
Placeholder Alt Text

Greenpoint Rising
Jonathan Bernstein has proposed a new condo project for the far reaches of Greenpoint designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.
Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.

When the neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint were rezoned in 2005, a parade of luxury condominium towers were expected to replace moribund factories and warehouses along the North Brooklyn waterfront. Few of those towers materialized before the collapse of the real estate market, though, and with thousands of apartments already under construction in the area—and many sitting empty—it could be years before developers renew their march to the water.

The towers seen from the water. Click to view a slideshow of the project.

But this is New York City, where developers never cease to dream. And so, up in the far reaches of Greenpoint, first-time developer Jonathan Bernstein is plotting what would be the tallest tower on the waterfront—nearly 20 percent taller than current zoning allows—making it among the most audacious projects in the borough to date.

Located two blocks from the last G-train stop before Queens, the project is being designed by marquee firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. Adjacent streets would be transformed into parkland. Piers would be built to accommodate historic ships, ferries, and Water Taxi service. A new beach would offer sorely needed waterfront access. And all of these perks would help blunt community concerns about the project’s blockbuster proportions.

So far, the plan seems to be working.

“It’s a beautiful project with a hard sell,” Ward Dennis, chair of local Community Board 1’s land-use committee, said in an interview. “What the community needs to decide is where that balance is between density and open space and affordable housing. And really, that’s what all of these projects come down to.”

For a 100,000-square-foot lot on India Street currently occupied by a warehouse, Bernstein—who was once Donald Trump’s personal attorney—is proposing two muscular glass towers, one rising to 470 feet, the other to 200 feet. As with all new projects on the North Brooklyn waterfront, the towers are surrounded by a base of more contextual row buildings that rise no higher than 65 feet. And the project is not only taller than zoning allows but also bigger, containing roughly 890,000 square feet, as opposed to the 660,000 square feet potentially allowed as of right.

“We are asking for radical changes to the zoning, but we do think it’s way different than anything that’s been proposed on the waterfront,” Bernstein said during an informal presentation to the community board’s land-use committee last week. “We think it will be a gateway to Manhattan and Greenpoint.”

Bernstein has employed some clever zoning tactics to make his radical moves. Under the 2005 rezoning, the most a developer could expect to build would be two towers, one at 400 feet, the other at 300 feet. More typically, buildings top out in the range of 300 feet and 150 feet, as is the case at the Edge condominiums further to the south. So far, no building has even reached 400 feet, though a third tower at Northside Piers is planned for that height.

Even more unorthodox is Bernstein’s proposal to demap all of neighboring India Street and part of Java Street. Bernstein wants to turn these streets into parkland that connects with a larger-than-required park on the waterfront, replete with an amphitheater, sand dunes, and wetlands designed by W Architecture and Landscape Architecture. By incorporating thousands of square feet from the roadbeds into his project, Bernstein would significantly increase the project’s density, and hence the tower’s permitted height.

Bernstein said he must build big in order to afford his project, citing the expense of creating required public amenities, even arguing that zoning restrictions are one of the main reasons the waterfront remains under-developed. “We have to pay for these things,” Bernstein said. “We’re trying to create something that is good for the community and yet financially feasible.”

While the tower would be an eye-popper for such a lowrise neighborhood, it would not be the first in the area to exceed zoning restrictions. This spring, 155 West Street, an Ishmael Leyva–designed project proposed for a site directly north of Bernstein’s, won approval to rise to 400 feet, instead of a permitted 300 feet.

On that site, however, a sewer easement prevented the developer from building out the entire lot. Instead of a 300-foot tower and a 150-foot tower as of right, the two were combined into a single, 400-foot tower, plus a $2 million waterfront park. Moreover, in this case the developer was simply shifting density, unlike Bernstein, who is seeking to increase it.

Bernstein has yet to seek the numerous city approvals it would take to realize the project, including permission from the city planning, transportation, and parks departments, and one of his associates emphasized that specifics could still change ahead of public review. Bernstein said he has spoken with these agencies, though, and that they’ve expressed enthusiasm for the project. (He has even signed a contract with the city’s Economic Development Corporation to serve as the Greenpoint stop in an East River ferry service program.) Representatives of the agencies did confirm such meetings to AN, but said it was premature to make any judgments before a formal public review.

Elected officials, including local Assemblyman Joseph Lentol and Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman Vito Lopez, have expressed reservations. A Lopez spokesperson said that he is particularly uncomfortable with the project’s height: “He’s against anything that’s not contextual with the neighborhood, especially a 45-story tower.”

Some in the community believe this opposition is why Bernstein has come to them first, seeking their support ahead of a formal public review expected in the next few months. And despite reservations about the project, locals have been keeping an open mind, such as Christine Holowacz, co-chair of the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning. “I love the open space on the project,” Holowacz told AN. “I’m not so sure about the tall towers.”

Placeholder Alt Text

A map of many major development projects in Williamsburg. Click to view larger.
Map by Dustin Koda

Pilings in empty lots behind dilapidated chain-link fences. Foundation pits filled with rainwater. Steel frames of five-story condos rusting, with no sign of further construction in sight. A walk around Williamsburg, Brooklyn is enough to tell you that its future is on hold.

17: 185 SOuth 4th Street (Numbers refer to the development map above)

According to a recent report by the New York City Department of Buildings, there are currently 18 stalled construction projects racking up citations and blighting the landscape of this North Brooklyn neighborhood and its sister district, Greenpoint. The view from the street, however, suggests that the number is much higher.

This signals a significant turnaround for the development hotspot. As recently as 2008, the picture was sunnier. The hip neighborhood, once the province of artists and students, was beginning to draw a larger contingent of families. The waterfront—an industrial landscape of garbage transfer sites and warehouses—was being transformed into a green swath by the opening of East River State Park and the city’s soon-to-come Bushwick Inlet Park. The future seemed wide open for continued growth.

A quick look at the numbers gives an immediate sense of the optimism that once imbued the area, as well as how much that optimism has faded. According to, a residential real estate broker, 2,818 new apartments will hit the Williamsburg market by the end of this year. Next year, the brokerage expects that number to hold, with 2,766 new apartments coming on line. According to real estate appraiser Miller Samuel, in 2008, buildings in Williamsburg and Greenpoint were selling for an all-time high of $668 per square foot on average. But in the first quarter of 2009, the average price had fallen to $519, a number likely to fall further.

38: 277 Grand Street
50: Warehouse 11

The future of the waterfront is also in question. The State Parks Department cut its funding for East River State Park from $169.1 million to $112.1 million earlier this summer, and the New York City Parks Department cut its budget by $57 million, most of which was earmarked for Bushwick Inlet Park.

12: nforth
20, 26: The Edge, as seen through Northside Piers

One thing making the downturn harder on North Brooklyn than on other parts of the city is its high concentration of new construction, said Miller Samuel CEO Jonathan Miller. Formerly a light industrial zone, the neighborhood has been deluged with residential units. In the last two years, new buildings have accounted for 75 to 85 percent of all sales in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, he said.

The problem starts with banks. A new rule prohibits Fannie Mae from guaranteeing mortgages for units in buildings that haven’t sold 70 percent of their units. And because Fannie Mae considers New York to be a real estate market in decline, that number goes up to 75 percent. With banks scrambling for their own survival, few are willing to take risks, especially on real estate. For new buildings, in particular larger developments like the Northside Piers or The Edge, reaching that figure is an increasingly daunting task.

As a result, smaller, better-funded buildings are still selling well, said Leah Ellis, an associate at Kutnicki Bernstein Architects. But many of the big buildings with over 100 units are struggling, she added, and developers are getting nervous.

The banks play another role in the woes faced by North Brooklyn developers. Architect Karl Fischer, whose firm has designed many of the modern condominiums that typify recent development in the neighborhood, said that one distinguishing characteristic of the Williamsburg real estate market is that many of its developers are not established or capitalized enough to withstand the downturn. First, they get squeezed by the banks, and then they paint themselves into a corner where they lose control of the property to banks that refuse to lower unit prices to sell.

In a sea of price cuts, no building illustrates this nightmare scenario as well as Warehouse 11, a Karl Fischer-designed, 120-unit development on Roebling Street. Construction on Warehouse 11 is 95 percent complete, and it’s in foreclosure, with the developer owing $50,766,000. The bank has pulled all sales listings for the individual units, and in May hired brokerage Massey Knakal to sell off the building’s senior debt. Massey estimates that the building’s potential gross annual rental income could be as high as $4.1 million.

60: 120 South 4th Street
3, 4, 5: Ikon, The Aurora, and 20 Bayard Street

With sales heading for a dip as low as $350 per square foot, developers and their architects are resorting to survival tactics, from rethinking the finishing touches to buying cut-rate treadmills for the fitness room. Many buildings have already gone from being condos to offering some or all of their units as rentals, Ellis said. Some developers are also retooling their condominiums as dormitories or eldercare facilities. In one luxury condo in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a desperate developer went one step further, renting out the unsold units in his building to the city as housing for homeless families. While that’s an extreme example, it’s clear to most developers holding unsold units in Williamsburg that something has to give.