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Northwest Greenpoint's Quiet Waterfront Awaits New Towers

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Welcome back to Camera Obscura, Curbed's series of photo essays by Nathan Kensinger. This week, as part of a series on soon-to-change neighborhoods, Kensinger visits northwest Greenpoint, where luxury towers are beginning to rise.

[The quiet waterfront of northwest Greenpoint will soon be transformed into a wall of luxury residential towers. All photos by Nathan Kensinger.]

The waterfront community in the northwest corner of Greenpoint, Brooklyn is one of those sleepy, isolated New York neighborhoods that felt like it would always be immune to major change. On a recent summer day, a colony of stray cats wandered these quiet post-industrial streets, watching the occasional truck rattle by. A smattering of small cafes in the area served a handful of customers, who trickled in looking for an iced coffee, an onigiri, or an afternoon cocktail. The few residents who could handle the summer heat gathered at a sidewalk game of dominos or sipped beers next to a fishing boat parked in their front yard. "It's so quiet right now," said Keith Sirchio, standing in front of his apartment on Commercial Street. Sirchio has lived in the area for 14 years, and has seen Greenpoint slowly grow in popularity. "It's already too many people altogether."

This community will soon be completely transformed, as Mayor Bloomberg pushes forward with his plans to redevelop as much of the East River waterfront as possible before leaving office. This section of Greenpoint's coast is currently used for truck, crane and sludge storage, but will soon be replaced by two huge development projects, Greenpoint Landing and 77 Commercial Street. After a flurry of new construction, over 10,000 residents may eventually be moved into the neighborhood, to live in luxury towers rising up to 40 stories. And current residents are not too happy about it. "I think people don't like that it's going to look like Kent Avenue or like Long Island City," said Jen Galatioto, the owner and editor of Greenpointers. "That's not Brooklyn, that's not what Brooklyn looks like, and I don't think people in Greenpoint want that." But with ground already broken on projects in the area, these changes seem unavoidable.

Construction has already begun on a seven-story, 210-unit building located at 1133 Manhattan Avenue, a Brownfield cleanup site that was formerly a Brooklyn Rapid Transit Rail Yard. The building is scheduled to open in 2014.

At 77 Commercial Street, across from the Brownfield site, developers are hoping to create a 30- to 40-story tower with 700 residential units where this warehouse now stands.

The warehouse was most recently used as the "secret" rollout location for Citi Bike, according to Louis Kugel, a Deployment Operations Specialist. "We had about 5,000 bikes here."

As soon as Citi Bike leaves the building, "they're planning to knock this thing down," said Kugel. Much of the Greenpoint waterfront was rezoned in 2005, changing it from industrial to residential.

This empty factory on Commercial Street is now available for rent. "Unless the area is zoned back to what it was, they can do whatever they want," said Jen Galatioto of Greenpointers. "Either way, those buildings are going to go up on the waterfront."

The coastline adjacent to Commercial Street currently contains a series of empty parking lots that have been earmarked for the Greenpoint Landing development, which will construct 10 towers and 5,500 apartments at the mouth of the Newtown Creek.

To cope with storms and rising sea levels, "they going to raise this six feet," according to a security guard near this fenced off site. "Little by little, they gonna fix it up. They already started building. Better to live on a hill."

At the end of Commercial Street, in the Newtown Barge Terminal Playground, a lone skater enjoyed the asphalt. The Greenpoint Landing developers have promised to increase the size of the park, and to improve public waterfront access. 

The waterfront is currently home to an 800,000 gallon storage tank for wastewater sludge, which will be removed before Greenpoint Landing is constructed. "Increasing the population by possibly 20 percent in one small area will have a huge impact on infrastructure in Greenpoint," said Jen Galatioto. "That's a question that I don't think is being considered at all."

Further south along the waterfront, the parking lots continue. "It's a lot of storage, trucks, cranes," said a security guard at this truck yard. "They're going to build. It's a matter of time."

Across the street from the truck yard, at the recently opened Achilles Heel, manager Mike Fadem isn't concerned about being overrun by thousands of new neighbors.  "It's still years from people living there."

"It's really pleasant, calm, quiet. Not that much excitement," said Fadem, describing the neighborhood vibe. "Maybe that's part of why people live here?they don't want to be on North 6th and Bedford." 

Most of the homes in the area are currently three stories or less, like this building on West Street, near the proposed Greenpoint Landing towers. "We don't mind change, but the scale of this is completely out of control," said local resident Keith Sirchio.

Bringing over 10,000 new residents to the neighborhood "will suffocate the community, because it's not a big enough area to sustain the population growth," said Sirchio, who points out that the total population of Greenpoint in 2010 was just under 37,000.

In the meantime, the neighborhood's closest access point to the East River is through a fence at the end of Huron Street, near the southern edge of the Greenpoint Landing site. 

In 10 years, these broken piers may be gone, replaced by thousands of apartments. In the meantime, Greenpoint residents will be attending a Community Board meeting on August 13 to discuss the future of their neighborhood.
?Nathan Kensinger
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