Often, when developers present to the community board it is insulting, to say the least. Everyone is doing a dance and being at least a little bit dishonest.
On Monday, we got to hear a developer tell us that he was looking to tear down two perfectly functional buildings that hold two thriving businesses. (A third business recently left, and I have no doubt it is because the developer purchased the building.)
The developer wants to build a steel-and-glass office tower, and is seeking a special permit to build taller than is allowed under current zoning. As a community give back, this new development will include a floor of manufacturing— in the manufacturing zone.
Evaluating this, I looked at the projection of the new building on the screen and felt like my back was against the wall. The reality is that the developer could just make this a retail store, a restaurant or an office.
They don’t “have to” include manufacturing in the manufacturing zone. They bought it because they want to make money off of our hot neighborhood, as everyone does these days.
But this kind of honesty is taboo. Instead, the presenters told us they are “preserving and enhancing the local manufacturing job base.” Really? Because they’ve displaced two manufacturing businesses and haven’t guaranteed affordable rents for the manufacturing space.
A lot of things could constitute “manufacturing” that are not the skilled craft jobs we have come to associate with the term “manufacturing,” and certainly there are rules about what kind of manufacturing could be included in an office building.
For instance, instead of the plumbing business that was there, it could become the Google Robotics Development Atelier (an example I just made up).
The developers also said they are “reinforcing the industrial architectural character of the neighborhood.” How is tearing down two actual Greenpoint industrial buildings to build an office tower reinforcing anything?
When I asked about this, I was shown a picture of our low-rise brick factory buildings, and the developer said “this is what is there now.” I felt like they were implying that “this” wasn’t worth saving.
Yes, I know it’s not slick or sexy, but it’s low-rise and it is actually what our neighborhood has looked like since the 1800s. That is the industrial character of the neighborhood; the building the developers designed is a simulacrum and inauthentic
That ugly little brick building is what our neighborhood looks like. Don’t claim you are reinforcing the character or our neighborhood while in actuality you are fundamentally altering it.
I’m not sure if there is a term for this kind of B.S., but I would call it “preservation washing.” You actually can come into a neighborhood and preserve the industrial character while gentrifying it. It’s called “adaptive reuse,” and it not only preserves the actual look and feel of the neighborhood, it also is less wasteful and better for the environment because an entire block isn't demolished.
You actually can preserve the industrial character of a neighborhood by creating industrial spaces, not simply doing it for a height and density bonus.
Capitalism, the 2005 rezoning, and our City Planning Department force us to not only accept things we don’t like, but actually somehow want us begging for it. During the comment period, non-profits advised the board to approve the rezoning because, essentially, “they don’t have to include manufacturing, flood proofing, etc.”
I was ranting about this to my friend afterward, and he laughed incredulously. He said that the way developers talk to us reminds him of his adolescent son when he’s lying. He told me sometimes he gets so exasperated that he just looks his son in the eye and says “you must think we are really, really stupid.”
Well that’s how I feel, too. I could go into all the other frustrations I feel, but the reality is that this will likely be approved and our iconic and beloved Greenpoint, full of history and character, is going to be totally gone soon It will be a fake vision of us made by people who liked us, but thought we could be a little prettier.
And because developers want more money and current landlords want to take a couple million bucks and get out of town, there isn’t much we can do about it. But if you have feelings about it, go to the CB1 ULURP meeting on October 3.