City scolded on im-port-ant plan

January 6, 2009 at 4:55 pm Leave a comment

Brooklynites last night panned a nearly finalized city plan to bring a beer distribution trucking facility to a pier in Red Hook instead of an earlier city vision that called for more recreational and maritime use of the waterfront.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation plans to lease the unused Pier 11 in the Atlantic Basin, a protected cove off Conover Street, to Phoenix Beverages, a family-owned business that imports and distributes suds in New York City and surrounding suburbs and touted it at Community Board 6 meeting as a way to protect jobs and promote shipping to the neighboring port, where Phoenix will receive its foreign ales.

But many residents favored proposals that the agency rejected in November from NY Water Taxi and other developers that sought to build a beach, shipyard, and shopping. They criticized the Bloomberg Administration for planting an old-school trucking depot in a spot once targeted for more modern uses.

“It’s the same old way of thinking,” kvetched Declan Walsh, a Red Hook resident, one of about 100 people who attended the meeting in Long Island College Hospital. He added that the city had pitted “the new waterfront versus the old.”

But the city’s said its plan is more than the boon to longshoremen and Teamsters of unloading boats and loading 18-wheelers. EDC officials said they still intend to solicit proposals for a cultural space and a marina.

Yet in Red Hook, where worries about increased commercial traffic have become a widespread neighborhood phobia thanks to the Fairway supermarket, cruise ship terminal and Ikea, the proposition of keg-laden trucks rumbling just a few blocks to the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway were met with dread.

“I don’t look forward to seeing new trucks when we’re already dealing with pollution issues,” said Adam Armstrong, another attendee.

In spite of the concerns, the city plans to hammer out a deal by March, an agreement that it says will bolster Brooklyn’s last active docks.

“The Red Hook Container Port is extremely valuable,” said Venetia Lannon, a vice president of the Economic Development Corporation. “We need to see more goods, not less [passing through the port].”

That rationale is in stark contrast to Mayor Bloomberg’s failed quest to drive the shipping company, American Stevedoring, from the piers. Rather than freighters, the mayor once envisioned luxury housing, entertainment, shopping and a maritime-themed center. But this spring, the Port Authority ended up giving a new 10-year lease to American Stevedoring — with the city’s consent.

The fight to control Atlantic Basin is the latest battle in the war over precious maritime infrastructure, which has been in decline as the city spurs commercial, residential and recreational development at the water’s edge. Several years ago, the city allowed one of its few remaining graving docks — a repair yard for ships — to be plowed under to make room for the Ikea.

This time, old school maritime uses won out — much to the chagrin of Tom Fox, the founder of NY Water Taxi, who sought Pier 11 to expand his ferry fleet.

He said Pier 11 was ideal for him because it provides a barrier to open water that protects his delicate vessels.

“Where can we grow?” the ferryman asked.

Fox suggested that Phoenix could use space on a pier near Atlantic Avenue controlled by American Stevedoring, whose workers will be unloading Phoenix Beverage imports wherever the company ends up.

But that idea, which has been repeated by many neighborhood activists, is impossible because the city cannot force American Stevedoring to give space to Phoenix, a flaw in the Port Authority lease, some say.

But those people don’t understand working on a pier, apparently.

“Telling us to put beer there is like telling us to put beer in the Empire State Building,” said Greg Brayman, vice president of Phoenix.

By Mike McLaughlin
The Brooklyn Paper

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Entry filed under: Brooklyn, Go Coastal, Working Waterfront.

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