Brooklyn Broadside: How Three Decisions Affect Character of Our Environs

March 7, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Dennis Holt
Senior Editor

Three projects involving land use decisions in downtown Brooklyn, Gowanus, and Boerum Hill have drawn a lot of attention because of their relationship to the past, present, and future.

The one about the planned Whole Foods store has received the most attention from the non-Brooklyn press because of what it is, where it is, and the strong possibility that it is a precursor of things to come.

Planned for Gowanus, this will be the first Whole Foods in Brooklyn, and it represents the kind of contest that will go on in that area for a long time — the question of acceptable size and scale. Many who live in Gowanus now, and there are more than most people think, seem to want smaller projects than most developers are talking about, like the Whole Foods store which, with its parking lot, will take up a lot of space.

There was a photo in the New York Times recently of most of that now empty space that brought home a telling point. Because of the polluted condition of the land, Whole Foods had to spend a lot of money and time cleaning things up. This is now and will be in the future a constant challenge.

Small-scale projects will also have to address decontamination and they simply may not have the money to do so. Most people have focused on the issue of scale and size and not the prospect of a smaller retail outlet in the “middle of nowhere.” That reality will have a major impact and influence projects to come.

Recently, a second development that got a lot of attention from the non-Brooklyn press was the landmarking of some of the older office buildings in downtown Brooklyn. Oddly enough, none of those news reports about trying to save history took note of the history of the effort.

The idea first came from the Brooklyn Heights Association, which simply wanted to avoid another 180 Montague Street, a building greatly out of scale with the other buildings on Montague and Remsen Streets. That was the association’s prime concern, but to make a legitimate case with Landmarks more buildings had to be included in order to produce a more plausible proposal.

That was done, the Heights leadership made the needed decisions, and the interesting architecture of downtown Brooklyn is now protected.

The third project is the nine new townhouses that will join 14 other new townhouses on State Street in Boerum Hill. This block between Smith and Hoyt Streets contains six landmarked classic brownstones. People have wondered whatever happened to the other houses.

Well, there weren’t any. On the Smith Street side of State there was a large factory for the longest time. On the Hoyt Street side there was at one time a large synagogue that eventually relocated and became the Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill.

But the nine new houses to be built by Abby Hamlin will complete and make whole this block, and the new houses are well-nigh unique: not many single-family townhouses are being built these days.

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