2016-02-17 / Front Page

CB 2 Reviews Paragon Paint Variance

By Thomas Cogan

The Community Board 2 meeting for February included the second phase of the Paragon Paint variance application to the Board of Standards and Appeals, which got its own special meeting in January.  The old Paragon Paint building at 45-40 Vernon Blvd., having undergone a rigorous and expensive clean-up to rid the building and grounds of a century and a quarter’s industrial pollution, stands at the center of a grand development plan that would give the nearby Vernon Boulevard neighborhood a waterfront park and three new buildings, the largest of which would contain 28 floors of residences. 

That last building is the chief reason for local objections, which have been lodged by those who see the rise of a 28-story building near the East River behemoths as the start of a skyscraper competition common in Manhattan, which everybody seems to like looking at from a distance (say, the width of the East River) but which many in Long Island City have no wish to emulate.

Other features of the February meeting included a report about money for infrastructure repair in Long Island City and school aid in Woodside.  The executive director of Mt. Sinai Queens had a progress report about the hospital’s new buildings and facilities.  There was an environment committee report on activities in Newtown Creek and with the Smiling Hogshead Ranch.

The Paragon Paint discussion began with the return of most of the speakers at the earlier meeting:  Brent Carrier, the landowner; Matthew Baron of Simon Baron Development; Michael Bogin, an environmental expert from the law firm of Sive, Paget and Riesel; John Donnelly, an architect from the firm, Scape/Landscape Architecture; and Todd Sigaty and Georgina Tarnan, two other architects, from SHoP Architects.  All repeated their January narratives.  Bogin described the massive amount of toxic material that had to be removed from the soil around the building and dug from its walls.  Donnelly spoke of the intertidal zone between the high and low tides of Anable Basin, the East River inlet situated some distance from the rear of the old factory.  The plan, he said, is to put a two-level tidal marsh garden eight and 10 feet above the intertidal zone.  The tidal garden would be visible from the street, because of the way the old factory would be partially razed to allow a corridor 60 to 80 feet wide between Vernon Boulevard and the garden, which would lead some 70 feet down to the water of the basin.  The rise from the basin would have amphitheatre seating and the garden would contain a wide variety of vegetation. 

Carrier and Baron said the wide corridor would make the upland community better by giving it a small but significant waterfront view and an improved view of Manhattan.  Several commercial spaces would be installed in the elegant ruin of the old factory, opening the neighborhood to shopping and dining opportunities, to be enjoyed in view of garden and park, which would be more than 18,000 square feet in size.

Many in the parade of critics and commentators that came to the front of the room at Sunnyside Community Services might have been impressed when thinking about the beauty of the corridor, the park and the garden and what they would bring to the neighborhood.  But more important, they were irritated by the part of the presentation that was hardly presented at all.  They knew that the developers intend to erect, adjacent to the old factory and proposed park, three buildings of eight, 13 and 28 stories. 

The tallest of them got all the attention, since it is both tall and intended to be residential.  The application for a variance submitted to the BSA asks for allowance to put up a residential building in a manufacturing zone that would stand far higher than any other building in the upland area.  If they were denied the variance, the developers could still build as-of-right, but this highest of the trio of buildings could not be residential.

One of the project’s opponents said the neighborhood is “under siege by construction.”  He differentiated between the East River community, which is triumphantly high-rise, and the Anable Basin community, which he said wants no high-rise buildings, even with the inducement of an imaginative and attractive park.  Another man said that such projects “may look nice on their own” but amount to “a collective disaster.”  Yet another continued the theme of tower after tower going up once the first one is allowed, until they dominate the dwindling number of the neighborhood’s low-rise buildings.

There were also voices opposing such opposition.  A man who said he has been in business locally since 1971 looked forward to the “beautiful” building and lauded the already achieved pollution removal, something that Matthew Baron emphasized too.  Countering that, CB 2 Chairman Patrick O’Brien said that the decontamination project was less a saintly gesture than an investment in approval, in the community and with the BSA.

The vote was on a motion to oppose the developers’ application for a variance.  It was delayed, first by the usual confusion about whether voting yes meant no or vice-versa; then by the guidance of the land use committee’s earlier vote—of which there was none, since the land use committee hadn’t voted.  Despite a handful of votes against the motion, it was easily passed.  CB 2 officially opposes the variance application.

Dorothy Morehead of the board’s environment committee reported that all small craft moored to the Newtown Creek wall at the south end of Vernon Boulevard are being removed because of what happened in the recent “Jonah” snowstorm, when one boat, torn loose by a wind gust, pulled down part of the wall.  She said also that at a meeting in Jamaica, she saw old railroad cars that could be used for presentations on the Montauk Cutoff tracks near the Smiling Hogshead Ranch on lower Skillman Avenue.  She also called for approval of a plan that would allow decontamination of runoff water flowing into the Dutch Kills inlet before it reaches its destination.  

The meeting began with a report by Jason Banrey, aide to City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, about the councilman’s announcements of a $40 million plan to upgrade infrastructure and traffic safety in Long Island City, as part of Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s Vision Zero initiative, and an allocation from the mayor’s 2017 preliminary budget of $200 million for schools in Long Island City and Woodside.  Jim Condes, Woodside resident, said he’s lowering the intensity of his campaign against the faults of Access-a-Ride but insists the board lobby the mayor’s office to pay specific attention to it in the 2017 budget.  CB 2 Chairman Patrick O’Brien said the board takes a particular interest in the issue.

Caryn Schwab, executive director of Mount Sinai Queens, delivered a progress report about new construction at the Astoria hospital.  Among the benefits are a new emergency department, on schedule to open next month, and new primary care and specialty offices.  She displayed a timetable showing when the several parts of the plan should be completed this year.

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