Neighbors clash over DUMBO pedestrian plaza

July 13, 2012 Mary Frost
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By Mary Frost

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The DUMBO BID’s plan to close Anchorage Place to traffic and turn it into a pedestrian plaza may be modified after local businesses voiced their concerns at Wednesday night’s hearing.

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But minor changes won’t address the overall issues that need to be addressed, critics said, including “DOT’s occupation of every nook and cranny of the Manhattan Bridge anchorage,” illegal dumpsters and truck repair work from a local garage overflowing onto the street.

The plan, which received overwhelming support from Brooklyn arts organizations, retailers, real estate groups and Community Board 2, would connect the Pearl Street Triangle to the Manhattan Bridge Archway, increasing pedestrian safety and allowing for larger events.

“It will allow the DUMBO Improvement District to increase programming in the plaza spaces by offering a larger area for public seating and for staging of events and art,” said Alexandria Sica Executive Director of the DUMBO BID.

“It’s a positive thing, and I hope it will enable us to accommodate a large number of guests at public performances,” said Frank Riley, producer of the DUMBO Arts festival.

“We support the effort,” said Sara DeRose, Marketing Director of the Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC). “It’s the next step to opening the archway and triangle, and it will be much safer for pedestrians, too.”

Lisa Kim, Cultural Affairs Director at Two Trees Management, said that the neighborhood has become “a business village,” and that pedestrians on their iPhones and Blackberries had to worry about traffic when crossing Anchorage Place. “In this neighborhood, there are death zones. This happens to be one of them.”

But long-established metal and woodworking businesses at the west end of Anchorage Place complained that they would no longer be able to use their loading docks.

Tom Ruby, a Plymouth Street business owner, said that while he “loved the plan,” it “blocks our access to the building our only access. We’re metal workers, wood workers and artists. As it’s currently laid out it excludes existing businesses.”

Another metal-worker, John McDevitt, said, “I’m afraid I’m a party-pooper as well, from a pragmatic point of view. I’ve had a metal-working business here since 1992, and I’m totally reliant on the loading dock to get in flatbed trucks.”

McDevitt said that he had invested an enormous amount of money in his facility and had equipment in excess of a ton. “If this goes ahead, I can’t get the equipment out. I’m not opposed to the gentrification of DUMBO I participated in the first art festival in DUMBO in 1996. But my concern is, can exceptions be made? We would need a throughput. There are trash pickups Tuesday mornings. We have a special dumpster made for our loading dock. We have trucks coming in and out.

“You have to take into consideration established businesses who had no idea this was coming down the pike,” he added.

Businessman Issac Abraham added that large trucks had tremendous trouble turning onto Pearl Street.

The DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance (DNA) also came out against the proposal, which was drawn up “with scant regard for DUMBO’s historic district designation,” said Doreen Gallo, Executive Director of DNA.

Gallo said that the monumental spaces surrounding the Manhattan Bridge “have been segmented from each other in recent years and we believe that the BID concept does not address the overall issues around the anchorage.

“Unfortunately, DOT’s occupation in every nook and cranny of the Manhattan Bridge anchorage area creates visual barriers and disconnection from each of the surrounding neighborhoods. Currently, DOT occupies an extensive amount of DUMBO’s what was previously open space — five separate sites which comprise nearly the whole of the streetscape underneath the span of the Manhattan Bridge from York to Plymouth streets,” she said.

Gallo asked that the DUMBO BID and DOT work with DNA, the Historic Districts Council and Councilman Steve Levin to “retain a restoration expert in guiding the preservation of this Grand Industrial North Entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park.”

Councilman Levin said the proposal was “a worthy goal” but he was frustrated with several aspects of what was going on in the area, including a lack of recognition of the historic landscape. Besides the intrusive DOT buildings, he cited “Gutman’s dumpsters on the sidewalks, illegal curb cuts, and the flouting of landmark rules.

“The long-term vision of the DUMBO streetscape should be a collaborative process including DNA, the Historic Districts Council and the DUMBO BID,” he urged.

“A lot of capital money is going to the reconstruction of DUMBO streets you’re talking $20 million from DOT, my office and the City Council. You do want to see something that preserves the look of the neighborhood, the classic New York look. We have cobblestones under all this asphalt here. There’s a reason why they filmed the most suspenseful scene from ‘The French Connection’ here. The classic look should be preserved along with the facades of the buildings.

“This is a temporary use,” he added. “When it comes to permanent use, everybody needs to get on board with a comprehensive plan to restore the area to its original use.”

After the meeting DUMBO BID’s Sica told the Brooklyn Eagle, “I do think we will be able to work out accommodations. We absolutely support opening up as much public space as possible. This is a step in that direction. We’d love to see all the DOT lots clear, and we believe this is progress in that direction.

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