Greenpoint Gazette
Kevin D'Angelo

Declaration of Grievances: Residents Rally, Prepare to Sue to Block Waterfront Development

BY Kevin D’Angelo

“Where to start the list of horrors,” Phyllis Yampolsky exhaled when asked how Greenpoint Landing would affect the community. “Greenpoint, up until now, was the place to be.”

Yampolsky, a 31-year Greenpoint resident, rallied with nearly 75 fellow Greenpointers Wednesday on the corner of Commercial and Dupont Streets to oppose the projected 40-story development proposed for just across the street on the Greenpoint waterfront.

“[Greenpoint] is very low-rise and very finite. There is no infrastructure to accommodate the influx of residents,” she said.

Among those sharing similar sentiments was Stephen Pierson, the opposing candidate in District 33’s city council race against incumbent Stephen Levin. He organized the rally in conjunction with Save Greenpoint, originally a tenant association that has evolved into an activist group looking to protect the waterfront from oversized developments, like such. The protest incited fiery speeches and testimonials as local residents voiced their opposition to the project via megaphone.

The Greenpoint Landing and 77 Commercial Street development plans include a collection of residential towers, some reaching as high as 40 stories. Ultimately, the development is expected to add more than 6,000 new apartments to the northern tip of Greenpoint.

As a sort of cautionary tale, residents often turn to the 2005 rezoning of North Brooklyn that prompted the rapid development of Williamsburg’s Northside, which paved the way for similar high-rise developments and ushered in a new generation of higher-income residents to Williamsburg. Participants in Wednesday night’s rally insisted they did not want the same fate for their neighborhood.

“We don’t need 10,000 people that make $200,000 or more diluting the culture of the neighborhood. We don’t need a replacement population,” exclaimed Meredith Chesney, owner of a local hair salon. “We have a tremendous family-oriented population. Whatever goes on up here should be contextual to the neighborhood.”

While most units at Greenpoint Landing would serve higher-income occupants, the city requires that the development dedicate a percentage of those units to affordable housing and open space as well. But the protestors didn’t seem impressed by either of these gestures. Jennifer Charles, a member of Save Greenpoint, warned, “Don’t fall for the bait-and-switch of affordable housing.” Another Greenpoint resident of more than 30 years pointed out that the renderings of the affordable housing structure, included in current development plans, were unsightly and “didn’t seem reminiscent of any of the buildings around here.”

Residents also echoed a previous grievance, questioning what happened to the park they were originally promised at Newtown Creek. “This should be a big park…and we should be at the forefront of that,” said Dennis McConkey, a 22-year Greenpoint resident, who happened to stumble upon the rally while walking his dog.

McConkey, who was one of the most vocal and loudly applauded speakers at the rally, went on to address his concern about Greenpoint’s overall infrastructure.

“They haven’t made any plans for energy sources,” he said. “You want to build 40-story apartments, but you’re not going to make new energy. Are they out of their minds?”

He wasn’t the only one who found this problematic. Many more residents cited the temperamental G train as an already existing inconvenience for Greenpoint’s current population.

“There are probably people who would be here, except they’re stuck waiting on the G train,” one protester said. “It’s going to totally collapse under the weight of 20,000 new people.”

City council candidate Pierson criticized the Environmental Impact Survey for stating that the development would not negatively affect the Greenpoint landscape. He suggested the assessment, based on data from 2005, might not be valid.

“The developers are relying on an out-of-date and incomplete Environmental Impact Survey done more than eight years ago, which provides more than sufficient grounds for a lawsuit,” he said.

Pierson had kicked off the rally announcing that he was ready to proceed with an Article 78 lawsuit against the city. If successful, the lawsuit would require a new study that factors in the effects of recent development on Greenpoint’s infrastructure. Although this step would create the opportunity to block or at least limit Greenpoint Landing from rising above 15-20 stories, many at the rally understood the odds they are facing. One protester challenged Pierson to follow through on his words. “If we’re actually going to win this thing, we need all the help we can get. I want to know if Mr. Pierson doesn’t win the election, is he going to see this thing through.”

Pierson accepted that challenge. “Win or lose I want to see this through,” he said. “And I will fight as hard as I can.”

He asked for residents to continue to fight with him. Phyllis Yampolsky, in her 19-year struggle to save McCarren Park Pool from demolition, expressed the need for persistence and community organization in winning against a development of this size.

“We won then, but I don’t know how long this is going to take.”

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