Last night, around 80 Greenpoint residents – kids, lifers, parents, artists and seniors – gathered on the quiet grounds of Newton Barge Playground. Across Commercial Street, a series of large and barren lots extended beyond a low chain-link fence, looking magically forgotten in comparison to Manhattan’s sprawling towers.
In a tailored suit and casual ankle boots, City Council candidate Stephen Pierson gripped a megaphone. “Tonight is about hearing your views,” he said to those wielding signs reading “The Roof Is Too Damn High” and “Greenpoint [does not equal] Midtown.”
“You want our views? Those are our views!” said Felice Wechsler, a Greenpoint resident of eight years, as she motioned to the East River and the skyline. “And I don’t want to lose them; and I don’t think anybody here wants to lose them!” She was referring, of course, to the high-rise towers, of up to 30 and 40 stories, that two substantial developments, 77 Commerical Street and Greenpoint Landing, will soon bring.
Last night’s gathering, organized in part by Save Greenpoint, was meant to remind residents that they could still limit the scope of construction. “I’ll be frank – rezoning the 2005 zoning is a huge long shot,” said Pierson. “But we’re trying to scale back.”
According to Pierson and some residents, the best way to keep development to a minimum is by delaying construction – potentially through Article 78, which allows the court to review government decisions (in this case about the height of the towers) – until Mayor Bloomberg, who oversaw the 2005 waterfront rezoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, is out of office. A future administration, the thinking goes, may be more sympathetic to the community’s cause.
“You never know,” said Pierson. “If de Blasio becomes mayor, he might be more friendly to this idea. He might be able to scale back certain parts. In February of 2008, we scaled back, we down-zoned 13 blocks around Grand Street in Williamsburg. So, it’s possible.”
Meredith Chesney, another Greenpoint resident, agreed that a new mayor was Greenpoint’s best chance at a deus ex machina. “We need to harass all the mayoral candidates,” she said. “They need to know about this. It can be undone. Don’t listen to the people that say this can’t be undone.”
Nearby, a little boy holding a “The Roof Is Too Damn High” poster was overhead saying, “I’m taping this to the tree. Even the tree wants to stay, you know?”
Jennifer Charles lived in the East Village in the ’80s and then Boerum Hill before being priced out of each previously derelict location. “This is one of the last great places and neighborhoods in New York City,” she said of Greenpoint, her current home. “The only way we’re going to win this is if we vocalize each other. We can’t be hoodwinked by a little dabbling of affordable housing,” she said of the proposed 200 units of lower-income apartments proposed for 77 Commerical Street (520 more would be market-rate).
“75 people can turn into 150, to 300, and 600 and we can do something,” said Rolf Carle, a Greenpoint activist, adding that mayoral candidates will pay attention to those kinds of numbers. “I really believe in fighting and not allowing rezoning to smother us.”
Pierson encouraged everyone to rally around Save Greenpoint, where all of the latest information on waterfront development will be kept up to date. “This can be undone. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s a fight worth fighting,” said Pierson. “So thank you so much for coming here. Let’s keep fighting. You’re awesome.”