Friday, May 26, 2006

Williamsburgh Square: How Many Heavyweights Does it Take to Screw a Community?

If you’re going to pitch one of the most outrageous, neighborhood-killing projects in all of Brooklyn (and there are a whole bunch that could claim the title), it helps to use heavy artillery. Quadriad Realty Partners, the folks who’d like to build the hideous monstrosity known as Williamsburgh Square (four towers of 12, 20, 36 and 38 stories on Bedford Avenue at North Third), have done just that. At the top of the neighborhood-violating pyramid is Henry Wollman. He heads the Newman Institute at Baruch College that has advised New York City on restructuring zoning. (Fascinating.) Then comes Herman Badillo, the former Member of Congress, Bronx Borough President and Republican mover/shaker. Also in the mix is Maurice Regan, whose construction firm built the new Bloomberg LP headquarers. A wonderful Village Voice dissection of the Quadriad team also mentions a City Planning Commission member, Richard W. Eaddy, as the project manager. (He told the Voice his name was put on documents “prematurely” and that he has had nothing to do with the development.)

The sales pitch for the Monster Buildings on Bedford is that in return for building big, the developers will toss in affordable housing and goodies like space for a charter school. Wollman tells the Voice it’s a way to “incentivize the private market.”

Since Williamsburgh Square will require big zoning changes, (Paging Mr. Wollman. Paging Mr. Wollman), Quadriad is trying to sweet talk community members by saying, in effect, if you want a park or a school, work with us to get more stories approved. In a different neighborhood and context, developers tossing in amenities in return for building more square footage would make sense. In the context of plotting the murder of Bedford Avenue, it is asking residents to hold the gun and aim while the developer pulls the trigger.

It's all enough to make you wish that someone would lock these people in a room and force them to read Jane Jacobs until they are reeducated, or beam them to another town so that Brooklyn is spared the fruits of their labor.

Still ho-hum about it? Have Atlantic Yards and the wall of tall buildings going up on the North Brooklyn waterfront have already beaten you down? The Quadriad prospectus mentioned in the Voice notes “a series of upland sites” nearer the BQE and into East Williamsburg. “If Williamsburgh Square does work out in some way, it's certainly an idea that should be applied to other parts of the north side and other parts of the city as well,” Wollman told the Voice.

In other words, if Quadriad gets away with this act of planning and architectural violence on the Burg, it will only be a dress rehearsal for bigger and better things to come.


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