Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Scene from 'Hoffa' ? Nah, It's
Lunchtime at Northside Piers

Anyone craving a little testosterone-fueled labor movement action should head over to Kent Avenue between North 3rd and North 5th weekdays at noon: for the past month or two, the boys from Laborers Local 79 and their brothers from Carpenters Local 926?? have set up shop daily across from Northside Piers and a block south at the Austin Nichols site, complete with now-familiar (nonunion) inflatable rats, and (as anyone attempting to work from home will attest) a bunch of very loud whistles.

Actually, the unions have a small group of picketers at both sites throughout the workday, but when the air horn squawks the lunch signal, things really heat up. Dozens of laborers congregate around a small "roach coach" serving lunch on the Kent Avenue curb, but many of the workers immediately join the dedicated picketers - chanting, singing, and encouraging passing drivers to honk their horns (on this stretch of Kent Avenue, most drivers have their horn-honking hand on a hair-trigger anyway, so most are happy to comply).

And then there's the whistling. A non-stop, 110 decibel din that lasts 30 to 40 minutes. Mixed with the frequent air horn blasts from passing trucks, it's vaguely reminiscent of the ">exploding head sequences from 'Scanners' (minus the exploding heads of course).

As someone who regularly hires union labor, we're on the side of the Locals on this one. Still, we don't envy the 'scabs': with the building lots backed up to the East River, there's nowhere to go at lunchtime without passing through this gauntlet; and we suspect that's exactly what the Brotherhood is aiming for. We're guessing the nonunion guys are mostly brown-bagging it.

So far - to our knowledge - this hasn't boiled over...although moments before we began shooting this morning, a passerby pointed out where someone had just "accidentally dropped" something out of an upper-story window of the Austin Nichols building, smashing the rear window of a car parked below.

Labor Brawl Scene from 'Hoffa' (1992) [YouTube]

Monday, September 29, 2008

Quit Bitching and Start NAGing:
Williamsburg Town Hall Meeting Thursday
(yes, you can still watch the debate!)

nag town hall2

For those of us who love to complain (we admit it!) about the state of the neighborhood...and also you curious types who adore Williamsburg but wish you could move beyond friend-requesting the 'Burg on Facebook or gossiping about Billy on Williamsboard, here's your chance to actually get involved and make your voice heard:

The good folks at NAG - that's Neighbors Allied for Good Growth - have organized a town hall meeting this Thursday, October 2nd at 7 pm in the basement of Holy Ghost Hall - at 159 North 5th Street (betweeen Bedford and Driggs). We're pretty sure that's a church hall, not an underground music venue...but around here of course, you can't be sure.

But seriously, pick your personal meme:

- Will the daily L Train mosh pit get better or worse?

- Where's my rezone-guaranteed new open spaces?

- What's happening with McCarren Park Pool?

- Will Kent Avenue get a bike lane or will bicycle/truck death racing become an Olympic Sport?

Now we know what you're thinking: "But Sarah Palin's national TV implosion is Thursday night!" The NAG folks PROMISE the meeting will end with plenty of time to get to Zabloski's or Hugs or Matchless - or wherever you plan on watching the VP Debate at 9 pm. Think of the Town Hall meeting as a local tailgate party - with issues you can actually do something about.

Link to NAG's Town Hall Meeting Announcement and Blog [nag-brooklyn.org]

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mile High Club: Blogging at 38,000 Feet

From the "because we could" department: we're writing and publishing this post from 38,000 feet above Cleveland, from an American 767 outfitted with pay-per-use 'broadband' wi-fi from gogoinflight.com.

$12.95 gets you unrestricted wireless web access on your laptop or mobile (we tried both and this is being posted from our iPhone, now that the Powerbook is out of juice). We Speedtested the connection at just over 500KB down and 200KB up...which isn't blazing, but feels great for normal photo-heavy pageviews, and adequate for streaming YouTube videos and Internet radio over Flycast. We actually downloaded that app and a couple others, and listened to the Monday Night Football game over an ESPN Radio stream. Couldn't get the iPhone AIM client to connect, but iChat worked perfectly!

Gonna leave it at that for now...we discovered Blogger on mobile Safari wipes a post in progress if you leave the app and return, and we don't have the heart to retype this on the iPhone keyboard.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

T-Shirt of the Day


A little off topic, but wanna bet a variation of this shows up on Caf├ęPress Wednesday morning?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Carpet Bomb: Western Carpet
Warehouse Next to Fall?

western carpet 2

Pure speculation here, but in a week where two of our previous outlandish predictions have either come to pass - or at least been seriously discussed - we'll go for it.

We think the half-a-city-block Western Carpet warehouse at 149 Kent Avenue / 202 Wythe is soon to be on the market as a prime development site. Either that, or this summer was a really good season for carpet sales: a peek inside the cinder block beauty reveals that the massive warehouse is nearly empty, and in our estimation has been for some time.

The carpet importer actually occupies two handsome mustard and ketchup-hued buildings facing North 5th Street, and appears to be consolidating operations to the slightly smaller structure on the south side of the block. The massive lot - facing the Northside Piers and Edge developments - is zoned for six-story residential/retail, and would be a logical addition to what's quickly becoming the Northside's condo row.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

North 5th Street Pier:
A Good Sign

north 5th st pier sign 1

No official (or unofficial) updates on the possible opening of the North 5th Street Pier, but two Parks Department signs were installed Monday - one at the corner of Kent Avenue and North 5th, and a second, hiding in the trees about half-way down the dead end approach that runs along the north side of the Northside Piers / Palmer's Dock low-rise building.

While officially off-limits to the public, a friendly security guard allowed us to walk all the way down to the foot of North 5th Monday. Tower 2 is well underway - maybe seven floors so far - and the Pier's approach takes you along the north side of that site, which is set back from the public walkway by probably 30 feet, well behind a neat, secure fence. With the addition of a simple sidewalk shed, the public walkway to the pier would be FAR more safe and secure than virtually any of the other new builds in the neighborhood - sites that often have pedestrians stepping over concrete hoses, dodging swinging gates, and often walking in the street to avoid active hazards.

What DOES still appear to be an issue is the barge-based crane which is secured very close to the north side of the pier itself. And the problem - potentially - there is that that crane is setting bulkhead panels for the Edge development next door - NOT Northside Piers. So the idea that the Edge's crane is holding up Northside Piers' final certificate of occupancy (and the opening of the pier to the public - see yesterday's post) is certainly a curious one.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Boxed Lunches: Cargo Container-based
Restaurant Docking on North 6th?


We've been watching this one develop for some time now, and finally had a chance to speak to the man behind the curious arrangement of cargo containers at 59 North 6th Street. You'll recall that last spring, a sign appeared, touting a flea market on the lot that never actually occurred.

In January, we noted that the number of freight containers was steadily increasing on the lot we dubbed "Williamsburg Container Port".

Over the summer, we watched as someone brought a crane in to rearrange the steel boxes just-so, then began painting them and cutting huge panels out of the sides - one of which was hinged-up to create a makeshift, if not somewhat precarious, canopy. Finally, in the past month or so, the two cans closest to the street have been populated with brand-new restaurant-grade kitchen fixtures: refrigerators, stainless prep tables, deli cases, etc.

So when we saw a gentleman working in one of the containers last week (still separated from the street by cyclone fence), we had to ask: "Are you opening a restaurant?" To which the gentleman said yes, it should be open in a "couple weeks".

We didn't press. Frankly, this seems so unlikely, we were a little frightened to dig deeper. We'll keep an eye on things at the port and promise to unpack this one as soon as we can.

More views of the future portside eatery here, here and here.

Northside Piers' C of O Contingent
On Public Waterfront Access?


Following up on our Friday rant regarding the fact that in the forty months since the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezone was ratified, none of the promised public waterfront access components has been realized, NAG (Neighbors Allied for Good Growth) offers this tidbit:

the following have to be true before any market-rate building gets its final certificate of occupancy:

* The required on and off-site affordable housing must be built and occupied.

* The full esplanade must be built with two entrance/exits (based on the mistake at Schaefer Landing of only allowing one)

* The "upland connections" (the privately-owned driveway on North 4th Street) must be publicly accessible.

A visit to the DOB website shows a succession of temporary certificates issued for 1 Northside Piers - most recently on August 14th [pdf]. The C of O states that there are 10 outstanding requirements for obtaining the Final Certificate of Occupancy, and refers back to the BISweb site for details.

NAG: Getting to the Waterfront at Northside Piers

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Tropical Storm Special:
Fun With Falling Debris


Wondering how to spend a blustery Saturday night in the midst of Tropical Storm Hannah? We proudly present THINGBLO: the game for poorly-secured construction sites!

Click on the gameboard above, print it, then grab a beer and a bingo marker and post up near your favorite high-rise project. Works best in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Carrol Gardens; also fun in Midtown, Downtown, or anywhere close to the Trump SOHO.

Whenever something flies off the vacated jobsite (who wants to work in a hurricane, right?), mark the appropriate square. When you have five in a row - if you're still alive - shout "THINGBLO!" and run like hell back indoors.

For those not lucky enough to live near a construction site (are there any open units in your building?), you can tap up the Gothamist Newsmap and play along at home.

Good luck!

Friday, September 05, 2008

North 5th Street Pier
Remains Off-Limits For Now

north 5th pier

More than three years have passed since the Department of City Planning's Greenpoint-Williamsburg Rezoning Proposal was officially adopted, and in that time, the Land Use and Waterfront Plan has made an incredible impact on the two neighborhoods - particularly Williamsburg. Walk anywhere in Northside Williamsburg between Bedford and the East River, from North 14th to the Bridge, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a block that's gone untouched by new development.

Everywhere you turn, the neighborhood is dotted by recent demolitions, active (and stalled) construction sites, and newly-occupied residential buildings. In the 11211 zip code, according to permits aggregator site Everyblock, in the forty months since the rezone was approved, 129 applications for new buildings have been reviewed by DOB, and perhaps even more telling: in the same period, 239 demolition permits have been processed in the 'Burg. A modern day Rip Van Winkle, having awoken in the Bushwick Inlet weeds and taken a walk down Kent Avenue would conclude we were in the midst of a real estate gold rush, not a mortgage meltdown.

What does all this have to do with the North 5th Street pier? Simply put - in its first three years, the rezone has been a boon to developers and property owners. But a key component of the plan, designed to provide some benefit to the little guy (you know, the folks who live here) - the Waterfront Access Plan - has so far (beyond meetings and renderings) GONE ENTIRELY UNREALIZED.

Before the commenters jump all over us, pointing out last summer's opening of East River State Park, recall that that parcel had been held by State Parks long before the rezone was ratified. As we understand it, that park would have happened either way. Don't get us wrong - the park is great (when it's open, and if you don't have a dog, or a skateboard, or a tripod, or forget to dismount your bike...). But its not part of the rezone.

All the benefits of the rezone touted to existing residents (and exhaustively fought for by community groups): waterfront greenway, additional open space, enlarged parks, visual corridors - have all languished while builders run roughshod over the neighborhood streets and sidewalks (and morning sleep) of local residents.

Opening the East River pier at Northside Piers to the public will be the first little giveback to the community, and that's why we've grown impatient. The pier has been complete with shiny railings, decorative lighting, and even a funky sculpural "shade structure" for months now. Several inquiries of Toll Brothers staff have produced the same general story (paraphrasing):
'The ball is in the city's court now. NYC Parks has to take over operation before it can open, and the insurance people are concerned about the liability of letting the public pass through the potentially unsafe Tower Two construction area en route to the pier.'
We reached out to Phil Abramson at the Parks Department Press Office. His assistant regarded us skeptically, then told us to email him. Which we did - three times since August 20th - and received no replies.

A well-informed source says that the interested parties (the city, Parks, even Toll Brothers) all want the pier opened - at least on weekends - asap; but that Saturday construction hours, plus a barge-mounted crane that would be easily accessible from an unmonitored pier - are likely to keep the jetty off-limits until at least November.

And so for now, we're left where we started - dodging cranes and concrete pumpers on nearly every block; awaking at 6 am to the sound of pile-drivers and semi's full of rebar parking under our windows; and awaiting delivery of some small payback from a rezoning plan that's obviously been a jackpot to developers.