Protestors outside the Sunset Park branch.
Protestors outside the Sunset Park branch.
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Demonstrators protest Sunset Park Library sale
by Holly Bieler
Jul 28, 2015 | 0 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Protestors outside the Sunset Park branch.
Protestors outside the Sunset Park branch.
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As the contentious sale of the Cadman Heights library branch to a private developer labors on in Brooklyn Heights, a quieter battle is beginning to take rise in Sunset Park over a sale that some activists say fall along the same lines. If similar in logistics, the Sunset Park project presents a murkier debate. Both projects call for the sale of the public branches to developers, who will raze and rebuild the libraries in the bottom floors of new housing. In Brooklyn Heights that project, long a point of heated debate within the community, is being headed by a private developer, who plans on erecting a 36-story tower of luxury housing atop the new library. However in Sunset Park, the branch will be sold to make room for affordable housing, with non-profit developer Fifth Avenue Committee planning to demolish and rebuild the branch in the bottom floors of a 100-percent affordable, 49-unit development. The library will also be expanded by about 8,000 feet. Some are championing the project as a win-win, with the New York Times an early supporter of the sale in an editorial last year, and politicians like Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and Councilman Carlos Menchaca throwing support behind the project. However some in the community are growing vocal about what they say is a poorly planned project mired in transparency issues, and which they say could lead to a host of negative neighborhood impacts. If it appears a lot more palatable than most, some say they fear the Sunset Park Library redevelopment could still wreak the same negative consequence associated with the city’s more large-sale, controversial development, including that ultimate Brooklyn evil: gentrification. “The same thing that happened in Park Slope is happening here,” said Ramon Acevedo, head of community organization Village of Sunset Park. “We like our neighborhood the way it is, we like that it’s a working-class neighborhood where people can still go home, and this plan called affordable is a guise of displacement.” Dennis Flores of neighborhood organization El Grito de Sunset Park, said the developers’ lack of community participation had added to fears of gentrification. While the sale had been abstractly discussed for years, he said very little input had been sought before a fleshed-out plan was introduced at a community meeting in November of last year. In a statement, the BPL said they had made efforts to engage with the community and would continue doing so moving forward. “BPL and our local nonprofit partner, the Fifth Avenue Committee, have engaged the neighborhood by presenting at community board meetings and hosting a public meeting on the project,” they said. “As we go through the public ULURP process, we will also host community meetings and other engagement opportunities so that residents of Sunset Park can share what they would like in a new branch. Public input is very important to us and will help guide the design of the new Sunset Park Library.” However former state Assemblyman Javier Nieves said the project was so insulated he believed few in the community actually knew about the sale. “They tried to ram this through in the eleventh hour,” said Flores. “And it really did stink like gentrification.” Sunset Park has long been a marked holdout to the gentrification that has overtaken much of the borough. However, upcoming projects such as a $100 million revamp of the Brooklyn Army Terminal by the city have some fearing this historically industrial and still largely working-class neighborhood could soon go the way of Williamsburg or Coble Hill. Acevedo and other opponents at a rally outside the branch on Saturday, said fears primarily stemmed from the development’s rents, which they said were still high enough to invite gentrification. Demonstrators flooded a press conference at the branch held by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman concerning the affordable units earlier this month, chanting “Affordable for who?” Apartments will go from roughly $525 for a studio for the building’s lowest-earning tenants, and cap out at $1,600 for a three-bedroom for the highest earning. The majority of apartments, 17, will go to residents making 60 percent of the area median income, with nine units each set aside for residents at the lowest end, making 30 and 40 percent AMI, and nine at the top making 120 percent AMI. In a Facebook post last year, Menchaca contested fears the new development would spur gentrification, arguing it would instead assuage it. “I see this project as an important step in addressing the need for genuinely affordable housing,” he wrote, adding, “we must also look at affordable housing preservation as an important neighborhood stabilization tool.” And while some opponents on Saturday said they supported building affordable units in the community, they questioned the decision to do so at the proposed location. One of the system’s most visited branches, community members said many in the heavily Hispanic community relied on the library for language classes and other programming, and that it had evolved into an extension of local schools. Protestors on Saturday questioned if an interim library could sufficiently handle the library’s traffic during the estimated two-year construction, with some questioning if an interim library would be provided at all. In a statement, the BPL assured an interim library would be provided, and said they hoped to have a location identified soon. Looking ahead, Flores said he feared a sale would also mean the library could never undergo future expansion. “Whatever could exist there in the future is now a no-go,” he said. “We can’t allow it to be negotiated away at the terms of the developers.” However Flores conceded he was somewhat heartened by the developers’ alterations to the initial plans after community members had voiced opposition. The affordable housing has been cut to 49 units from 54, and the developers have added about 4,000 more square feet of library space. “Because we jam-packed that meeting, their plans have been changing a little,” he said. “Maybe we just need to have more press conferences.”
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Astoria organization lending helping hand to businesses, residents for decades
by Holly Bieler
Jul 28, 2015 | 9 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For upwards of three decades, the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition has been dedicated to preserving the community and offering a broad range of services for small businesses, tenants and seniors, as well as cultural programs, including the popular Waterfront Concert Series, which has brought musical acts to Astoria Park since the 1990s. However, it’s been a transformative last few years for Astoria, with new shops and development popping up as the neighborhood has emerged as one of Queens’ most desired places to live, a shift demonstrated in the coalition’s work. Executive Director Marie Torniali says they have increasingly tacked issues of tenant harassment, once a relative non-issue that has increased in frequency throughout the gentrifying community. “It’s a problem,” she said. “This neighborhood has seen a lot of changes.” The organization works with tenants, seniors and immigrants to help them secure housing, giving them information, and helping them file for benefits and assistance programs including SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), among other services. “Anything that will help people with limited income stay in their homes,” said Torniali. The organization also assists small businesses, working with various other organizations and a local BID to provide directories and brochures and focus marketing efforts on highlighting the community’s assets. While business was thriving, she said small business was also not immune to the changes to hit the community. “There are a lot more businesses and restaurants opening every day, and some unfortunately closing as well,” she said. And while Torniali said she doesn’t view the new development as necessarily a threat, the changes did present some concerns, especially in an area as community minded as Astoria. “It’s always had this neighborhood feel,” she said. “People know each other, they love their neighborhood. I hope it continues.” Some things, however, never change, such as the organization’s perennially popular waterfront series. Kicking off last week with the Johnny Cash cover band “Man in Black” and continuing with a variety of musical acts through August 13, the series has been drawing summertime crowds to the waterfront for decades, and only continues to get more popular. “We’ve had phenomenal weather,” she said of this month’s concerts. “People just naturally come. We’ve built a reputation now and people really enjoy it. It’s a great way to spend an evening.” Despite the long-held traditions, Torniali says the coalition is still looking to expand into new territory. Just last year the organization held its first International Cultural Fest, which included performances from 12 countries. Torniali is currently working on this year’s event.
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Artist Adam J. Kurtz in front of the recently redesigned bookmobile.
Artist Adam J. Kurtz in front of the recently redesigned bookmobile.
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BPL unveils redesigned bookmobile
by Holly Bieler
Jul 28, 2015 | 13 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Artist Adam J. Kurtz in front of the recently redesigned bookmobile.
Artist Adam J. Kurtz in front of the recently redesigned bookmobile.
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For the first time in its 50-year history, Brooklyn’s once-pedestrian bookmobile will showcase an aesthetic more befitting the borough, thanks to the pen of up-and-coming Bushwick artist Adam J. Kurtz. “It’s an honor, and really cool to be connected with an institution like the Brooklyn Public Library,” said Kurtz, a former graphic designer whose illustrations were recently published by Penguin in the book 1 Page at a Time. First approached to partake in the project after a library rep saw him at work during an event at the Highline, Kurtz said it didn’t take more than a month before the mobile’s simple white exterior and green block lettering was swathed in his work. A flurry of whimsical white illustrations set against a black exterior, Kurtz’ design pays homage to both readers and the city in which they live. Doodles include that ultimate of New York City street snacks, the salted pretzel, as well as more literary references such as pencils, a detective’s cap, and Beauty and the Beast’s rose under a glass dome. An uneaten popsicle was the only image that didn’t make the cut, Kurtz said, although a popsicle with a bite out of it, amplifying its popsicle-y-ness, was included in the final design. The bookmobiles are the latest in a string of successes for Kurtz, who despite never having been classically trained has seen his art take off in recent years. In addition to a massive social media following and the success of his new book, sold by retailers such as Urban Outfitters, he’s come out with an array of merchandise, including pins and a calendar. He said his simple aesthetic was in part responsible for his success, and why he was chosen to redesign the buses. “People can feel connected to [the work] because it’s very accessible,” he said. “I don’t draw better than you, I draw about the same. It’s not intimidating. It’s still art, but it’s pretty low-brow.” According to Freddie Rivera, the system’s sole full-time bookmobile driver, Kurtz’ style has translated well to the redesign, eliciting praise since it was unveiled last week. “We’ve been getting a lot of gawkers, a lot of people pointing us out,” he said. “It’s a little out there, which is good, and the kids love it.” Rivera, who has been manning the mobile for 12 years, said he too was an avowed fan. “It’s beautiful,” he said of the redesign. “And much nicer than what we had before.” Kurtz said he would love to collaborate with the BPL on other projects, though nothing had yet been discussed, with the bookmobile project just completed. He said he was looking towards the future nonchalantly, a tactic which has worked well thus far. “I’m really just having fun and seeing where all this goes,” he said.
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