River Café to Re-open as Pizzeria–Update on the real story

In a surprise move, The River Café announced today that they will be re-opening as an upscale pizzeria, adding to the already crowded pizza scene in Fulton Ferry. Along with Grimaldi’s, Juliana’s and Ignazio’s, the River Café would be the fourth pizzeria in a one block radius. However, the restaurant plans to distinguish itself from the rest by offering an unusual assortment of toppings, most of which are drawn from the restaurant’s previous appetizer menu. The choices will include sea scallops, Wagyu steak tartare, fois gras, rock lobster, oysters, truffles and caviar. In a nod to former River Café chef Larry Forgione, a free range chicken topping will also be on the menu.

Reached for comment, River Café owner Michael “Buzzy” O’Keeffe said, “Hurricane Sandy damaged us way beyond our initial observations. This way, we can re-open sooner with a pizza menu, and who knows, if it’s successful we can keep it on.” Frank Ciolli, the owner of Grimaldi’s, did not seem worried, saying that “we don’t really see $50 and up pies as our competition. There are enough tourists for all of us.”

Here’s the non- April fool’s story:  We understand that the River Cafe should reopen, in all its former glory, in the next two months (around June) and we are pleased to announce that Brooklyn Ice Cream is poised to reopen on or before May 1st.

 

 

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FFLA and our co-plaintiffs settle with the City, securing public process and the addition of new parkland

Today, the Fulton Ferry Landing Association and our co-plaintiffs, the Brooklyn Heights Association, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Preservation League of New York, have signed an agreement to provide for the expansion of Brooklyn Bridge Park, thereby settling our litigation with Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp (BBPC), New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corp, and St. Ann’s Warehouse.

As you may recall from earlier posts, both Federal and State Courts had ruled that the Tobacco Warehouse and the Empire Stores could not be developed for private uses without undergoing the legally necessary conversion process, which includes public input and the requirement that parkland of equal value would be added to the park.  Today’s agreement secures nearly 40,000 square feet of new parkland for Brooklyn Bridge Park, provides for the preservation of these Civil War era structures which lie within our historic district, and ensures the process related protections and greater accountability we sought.

The agreement requires state legislation to ratify the conversion and National Park Service (NPS) approval. Should the legislation pass and the NPS approve the conversion of parkland to development land, it will permit the redevelopment and adaptive reuse of the Empire Stores and the Tobacco Warehouse.  The Empire Stores, long included in plans for Brooklyn Bridge Park as an important revenue-generating component of the Park’s operation and maintenance budget, will be redeveloped as a mixed use commercial and retail development. The Park Corp has agreed to expedite all steps necessary to maintain and preserve the Empire Stores from damage; these steps are to be completed in consultation with historic preservation organizations.

In addition, the agreement defines the process through which BBPC officials can seek to obtain the legally required approvals for the reuse of the Tobacco Warehouse.  This  much loved structure will be made into a theater space, outdoor  public garden, and a community room for use by organizations, schools and the general public.  As most of you know,  St. Ann’s Warehouse was conditionally designated as the developer of the Tobacco Warehouse, until the lawsuits put this on hold. BBPC has now agreed   to establish an advisory committee to assist in the programming and design of the public spaces for the Tobacco Warehouse while the public regulatory process proceeds. The committee will include members of the four groups who litigated, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council (of which we are also a participant), and other community organizations.

The Park Corp has also committed to reopening the Tobacco Warehouse to public programming as early as this summer (once the state legislation is signed into law), and the special advisory committee will have an active role in programming decisions at that time.  We have long been strong supporters for public access to the Tobacco Warehouse, and the agreement will allow for it to remain open to the public until such time (and if) the conversion process is completed.  While we regret that if the conversion occurs only a portion of the Tobacco Warehouse will remain open to the public, we are also supporters of St. Ann’s and their performances. Should the conversion be finalized in the prescribed process for which we litigated,  we wish them well and  look forward to taking our seats in the audience in the years to come.

This settlement was largely a result of the favorable verdicts we obtained in Federal and State court, reaffirming the Tobacco Warehouse and Empire Stores’ status as designated parkland and specifying the full and open process by which these properties could be developed.  These verdicts will have a significant impact in enhancing protection for public parkland across not only New York State, but the entire country.

We believe the results have validated and vindicated our participation in these lawsuits. We not only prevailed in court but also succeeded in negotiating a settlement which expands Brooklyn Bridge Park, underscores the importance of public process and participation,  and provides a way forward for all of us to work together.  We also want to offer thanks to State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman for their efforts in bringing this settlement to a successful conclusion, and the tireless efforts of our pro-bono team at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

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New B25 Bus Routes Proposed

Our neighbors in DUMBO have carried out an aggressive campaign to eliminate the B-25 from running down Main St.  This campaign was heightened by the DOT Fulton Ferry traffic calming effort because it has increased the number of buses traveling on Main Street. You may have  seen articles in the press about DUMBO’s issues:   http://www.brownstoner.com/blog/2012/03/dumbo-residents-bemoan-dangerous-b25-bus-route/ and http://secondavenuesagas.com/2012/03/19/the-way-we-share-the-streets/

DUMBO residents have proposed an alternate route for the bus. It would bear right from Cadman Plaza West onto Prospect Street, then left on Adams, and left again on York back down to Front Street.  Unfortunately, we do not believe that this serves our community well, for several reasons:

1) The new route has to have a new layover area. The spot that was suggested, on Old Fulton Street in front of Sam’s auto body shop, is subject to safety and/or engineering concerns, and is likely to be dismissed by  the MTA, if not DOT. The stretch of Front Street in front of the Police garage may have the same issues, and in addition may not be long enough. The stretch of Front Street by the public parking garage and outdoor lot could be a good future site for a layover, but the imminent construction activity associated with the new foundation for Dock Street Dumbo eliminates it from consideration at this time. That leaves us with the stretch at the bottom of York Street, alongside the Witnesses’ outdoor lot. Anything further east on the route would be totally inappropriate, since the line would either terminate too early on its westbound travel, or conversely,  if it were placed near Tillary Street eastbound, the ride would terminate within minutes for any passengers who boarded in Dumbo or Fulton Ferry.

2) Westbound travel: If we assume that the layover is at the aforementioned location on York Street, it means the following: Any passengers bound for Fulton Ferry or Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 1 have to first travel through Dumbo on Prospect/Adams/York – not a desirable delay. In the past, if the bus was going to turn on Front Street into Dumbo, passengers could get off at the Hicks Street stop in front of the Anchorage, or they could choose to stay on and go around until reaching Old Fulton/Everit. With the new Front Street layover in place, passengers can no longer terminate their ride at Everit, but they have a new stop under the Bridge not far away. If the layover is on York Street, the distance from the Park and Old Fulton Street in general is further. Not desirable.

3) Eastbound travel: The new route eliminates the Everit Street stop, so residents and park visitors would have to either walk to the York street layover to begin travel, or up Old Fulton Street to Hicks Street. While the distance up to Hicks Street may not be far, that bus stop is not desirable and is currently avoided by many today because it abuts Xcell Motors (auto mechanic) and requires walking past Sam’s, where cars very often partially block the sidewalk, as well as move in and out of the garage. The elimination of the Everit Street stop is a serious concern for us.

We have suggested our own route change to the MTA, which would reduce some of the congestion on Main Street, and bring needed bus service to the center of Brooklyn Bridge Park, near Pier 5. (Pier 5 is scheduled to be completed later this year).  This is how it works: during peak hours, alternating buses would travel either the current route into DUMBO, or continue on Old Fulton, turn on Furman until the Montague Street turn-in, then (after a layover) return northbound on Furman to Old Fulton and Everit.   For those of you who are familiar with that area, the stretch of pavement on Montague Street behind the MTA building is currently being used as a temporary bike and pedestrian path, but we believe it could easily be moved closer to the river, where the path immediately to the north exists now.

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Responses to the Pier 1 Development Proposal

It was a pleasure to have residents join us in discussing the various designs to the Pier One proposals — and it quickly was apparent that there was no universal acclaim for any one of the proposals.  We appreciated the thoughtful commentary and  input given towards our official response.  Accordingly, we have published that response below.

In addition, we have also posted the letter written by the Park Community Council (PCC), a group of community and civic organizations that started in 1996 with the express purpose of providing regular meetings for community members to constructively dialogue  about issues of concern regarding Brooklyn Bridge Park, with a goal of identifying issues on which a consensus could be reached and advocating for those. The PCC today includes members and residents of Boerum Hill Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Concord Village Owners Association, DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance, Fulton Ferry Landing Association, Lower Atlantic Ave Development, Brooklyn Boathouse and others.

The third link below is the response made by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council, which was initiated last year under the auspices of the Park Corporation and elected officials. It has a large and diversified membership comprising 28 organizations and individual contributors, appointed by the local electeds and the Park Corp for the purpose of  providing community input to the Park Corporation on park related issues.

FFLA Response to PIer 1 Proposals

PCC letter re P1 RFP 12-20-11

CAC REPORT ON THE PIER 1 HOTEL

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The Revised DOT proposal for Fulton Ferry Traffic Calming and Two Way Furman Street

On Tuesday, Jan 17th, the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) made a presentation to the Transportation Committee of Community Board 2 (CB2) which included a slightly revised plan to calm traffic in our neighborhood  incorporating some input from our community meeting in July, as well as additional changes;  its rationale for converting Furman Street into a two way street; and a separate traffic calming plan for Atlantic Ave by Pier 6.   At the bottom of this post you will find DOT’s revised Fulton Ferry plan, some of DOT’s additions, and detailed schematics  of the specifics for Old Fulton St from Furman to Hicks St.

Before and during the meeting, we raised our questions and concerns with DOT, which we share with you below.

 Two-way Furman:

While we still believe that this will increase traffic in our area, particularly in conjunction with the proposed changes at Atlantic Ave, we are  pleased that DOT has agreed to the following mitigations:

Moving the yellow center dividing strip on Furman St so that the west side no longer has three more feet than the east, thus allowing for more generous space for larger vehicles and buses to make the turn at Old Fulton

Expediting the removal of Furman St and Old Fulton St west of Front St from local truck routes, and working with its partner the NYPD to enforce the same.

Creating a “no parking” zone on the south side of Old Fulton adjacent to 8 Old Fulton.

Old Fulton Street Traffic Calming: 

At the suggestion of residents and FFLA, DOT has told the Parks Department  that we have requested that trees be planted on the widened sidewalk on the west side of Front Street, . Ultimately, it will be our responsibility to follow up with Parks on this by officially requesting trees in the spring.

We believe that the B25 bus layover planned for Front St. under the Bridge leaves residents, workers and visitors to DUMBO, Fulton Ferry and the Park short of their destinations and would be better used for residential parking, since we will be losing some spots due to the traffic calming plan.  Moreover, until 2011, this community never had four buses laying over at one time, which we believe may represent an operational failure on the part of NYC Transit and needs to be addressed. DOT’s response is that they feel it is the most central location for a bus drop-off that is in reasonable distance from both destinations and that currently DUMBO riders either have to walk to Old Fulton St to begin their B-25 trip or  get on the bus in DUMBO and then wait through the layover at Everit and Old Fulton St to continue their trip. DOT says it has worked hard to come up with a workable solution and  that it is not its position to question how NYCT runs its operations. Fellow residents: please tell us how you feel about this, remembering that the line will still start at Everit Street, but end at Front St. 

A group of our residents worked hard in the fall to prune, weed and clean up the islands on Old Fulton by Front St. to open the sightlines for pedestrians and vehicles, and we have indicated multiple times that we want those islands to remain green, as they are, and not paved over with large sidewalks. DOT believes this issue remains unresolved until it can be convinced that the community will continue to maintain these sightlines. (DOT has, however, indicated that some of the islands will be extended into Old Fulton Street by about 2 feet.) Since the islands were originally conceived and constructed at the behest of FFLA to create green spaces to separate pedestrians from traffic, we ask any resident willing to do some gardening to come pitch in once winter ends.  We also ask that if you agree they should stay as they are, without any additional removal of vegetation,  write chrones@dot.nyc.gov and cc us at fultonferry@gmail.com

We have been told by DOT that the traffic calming and the pedestrian plaza on the north side of Old Fulton is temporary. We wanted to know what recourse we residents have if we feel there is a problem.  DOT’s response was that they would work with local stakeholders on any issues that could emerge with the project post implementation.   That means that the onus is on us, the residents, to document issues if and when they arise starting this spring.

Separately, DOT has agreed to the following points:

Currently,  cars turning left on Old Fulton from Water St consistently stop again at the traffic signal for Old Fulton eastbound in error, causing back-up and honking.  We asked whether this traffic signal could be moved further down Old Fulton, closer to the river.  DOT will  have its signal engineers look at it and perhaps move or louver it, but not until spring when the rest of the work is planned.

DOT will work with FFLA on a means to prevent buses, limos and trucks from driving over the pavement on 8 Old Fulton, potentially by shifting the double yellow line a little more towards the west or using flexible delineators.

DOT will monitor the situation with the traffic signal on the side of 8 Old Fulton because it is placed on a very shallow catch basin and residents have expressed concern about flooding/icing.

DOT will address the conflicting “No stopping” and “No standing” signs on Furman Street, preferably by making them both “No Stopping.”

We noted the  two traffic lights facing Furman northbound, wondering if they are redundant.  DOT assures us the redundancies are a back up system and intentional.

BELOW IS THE MOST RECENT SUBMISSION BY DOT, ALONG WITH THE  RELEVANT SCHEMATICS 

If you have comments, please respond here or to fultonferry@gmail.com

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MD-994_R-2012 (3) 1 (1)

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A Second Resounding Victory in Returning the Tobacco Warehouse to the Public: State Court Declares City and State Officials Violated Public Trust

On Monday, the legal efforts of  FFLA and  the Brooklyn Heights Association to preserve the Tobacco Warehouse as a public amenity were fully vindicated in a sweeping ruling from the New York State Supreme Court.  Judge David Vaughan ruled that City and State officials violated the Public Trust Doctrine by transferring the Tobacco Warehouse to a private entity, and forbade officials from taking any further action on the historic structure without the explicit approval of the State Legislature.  Judge Vaughan wrote that the Bloomberg Administration’s plan, which had the help of State officials, “was a nullity because it violated New York’s public trust doctrine.” The Court found that “the undisputed evidence before the court demonstrates that the Tobacco Warehouse was dedicated parkland, as it was used as outdoor recreational parkland as part of Empire Fulton Ferry State Park,” and that the State’s “original intent was to designate the Tobacco Warehouse for public use is manifestly unambiguous.”  He derided the Administration’s arguments as “conclusory” and devoid of legal support.

This is the second major court decision in our favor, as our pro-bono attorney Jim Walden of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher noted:   “Since two separate courts have found the government’s actions unlawful, we hope the Administration will finally appreciate that it put the interests of a private organization over the public interest, and it failed in its duties to protect a vibrant and important public structure.” 

The Federal (see earlier story ) and State decision together mean that should Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation wish to develop the Tobacco Warehouse , it cannot do so for private purposes, nor can the Park Corporation use it for anything other than outdoor public recreation.  To change the Tobacco Warehouse’s status as parkland,   the administration must first apply for a federal process called conversion, based on the standards of the National Park Service and then, given the State ruling, it would need to ask for State legislative approval.  Fortunately, one of our State representatives, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, has said,  “According to the state judge, a municipality cannot take dedicated parkland and convert it to non park purposes without the approval of the state legislature.  And there’s no way I’m approving that.”

Judge Vaughan’s full decision can be read here:  State Opinion

By happy coincidence, on the same day that Judge Vaughan issued his decision, St. Ann’s Warehouse announced it had found a new home in DUMBO on 29 Jay Street. We are thrilled that St. Ann’s will remain in DUMBO and hope that 29 Jay might become its permanent home.

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Pier 1 Hotel and Residential Develoment RFP

To view the design guidelines for Pier 1 development, scroll to page 33 (page 32 has the Brooklyn Heights Scenic View District map).

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December 8, 2011 · 9:51 pm