Red Hook resident unveils plan for new model community on his doorstep

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Alexandros Washburn, the former chief planner for the City
of New York who now leads Brooklyn-based design firm DRAW Brooklyn, has
unveiled a plan to build a mixed used housing and manufacturing development in
Red Hook.

Called the Model Block, the plan aims to transform a vacant warehouse at 145 Wolcott Street into a 210-unit apartment complex with 65,675 s/f of light manufacturing space and 74,325 s/f of commercial space including restaurant, shops, maker space and creative office space.

ALEXANDROS WASHBURN

Washburn has partnered with Washington D.C.-based development firm Four Points, LLC on the project. He also worked with architects Arquitectonica, AE Superlab and Marpillero Pollak Architects on the design, which he has already shown to hundreds of local residents and community groups as part of an ambitious outreach to secure support.

The team used new technology to give Red Hook Houses
residents an opportunity to tour the site with augmented reality goggles so
they could see what the development would look like and used their feedback to
tweak the designs.

According to Washburn, the result is a design that creates a
thriving neighborhood hub that delivers on the core elements of housing, jobs,
environmental cleanup and resilience long identified by community members as
local priorities while providing an alternative to a wave of last mile
warehouses rising in Red Hook.

“This is a site my neighbors and others from across Red Hook
have discussed for years – often at community planning sessions on the ground
floor of my house on Van Brunt Street,” said Washburn. “The Model Block is the
direct result of those conversations.

“We asked our neighbors: what do we need in Red Hook? What
do we love about Red Hook? And how can we get it all in a model block? The top
priorities that emerged were clear: housing, jobs, resilience and the
environment. And the process was clear: doing it in a way that was shaped and
led by the community.

“We are thrilled to unveil this proposal, and we’re looking forward to continuing those conversations with our friends and neighbors.”

Rendering of The Model Block

The Model Block would create Red Hook’s largest new mixed
income housing in decades: 61 affordable apartments in a 160,000 s/f building
with 210 overall apartments. At its highest point, the building would have 14
stories of apartments: the same number of stories as the tallest residential
building in Red Hook, 135 Richards Street/80 Dwight Street within the Red Hook
Houses.

It would also create more than 337 jobs in an ecosystem of
companies, including art manufacturing, restaurant, retail and office space.

According to Washburn, the development plan evolved in the
aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when he began talking to his neighbors. “It was in
the tough weeks and months after Sandy that we said, ‘something needs to
change’,” said the designer, “so we worked with our neighbors to envision a
solution.”

Increasing housing stock for a range of income levels and
the number of good jobs in the neighborhood have been a longstanding local
priority, formalized when a community-driven process led to the creation of the
Red Hook: A Plan for Community Regeneration, also known as the 197-a Plan,
adopted by Community Board 6, passed by the Planning Commission and ratified by
the City Council in 1997. The 197-a revitalization plan centered around more
inclusive housing opportunities, and growth and support for local artists.

The Model Block development team says their plan creates
many more and better jobs than last mile warehouses , which they claim provide
few jobs per square foot of building, but many trucks per square foot of building
on local streets. 

In the last few years, Red Hook’s disused waterfront land
has become fertile ground for warehouse developers.  DH Property Holdings has built facilities at
55 Bay Street (82,000 s/f) and 640 Columbia Street (336,000 s/f); UPS tore down
the Lidgerwood Building near Valentino Pier to make way for a
1.2-million-square-foot last-mile distribution center; Thor Equities signed a
deal with Amazon for it 312,000 s/f warehouse at 280 Richards Street.

Washburn believes the last-mile warehouses that are now the
largest source of new investment in Red Hook provide few community benefits.

The Model Block, on the other hand, constitutes the
neighborhood’s largest addition of income-restricted housing since the creation
of the Red Hook Houses themselves, in 1939.

 Red Hook residents
and Community Board 6 residents would be given preference in the lottery for
half of the affordable apartments, enabling many who grew up in Red Hook to
stay there.

The plan also includes rigorous site remediation in
coordination with the New York State departments of Environmental Conservation
and Health through the Brownfields Cleanup Program.

The Model Block has entered the New York Board of Standards
and Appeals public review process for a variance to allow a range of uses in
character with the neighborhood and community benefits. 

The BSA process includes opportunities for public
consultation and comment, including a meeting of Community Board 6 and a BSA
public hearing.

The development team hopes to complete the BSA process by the fall of 2021 and start construction in 2022 with completion expected in 2024.

Rendering of The Model Block

“Red Hook, a historic waterfront peninsula, has worked for
many years to foster initiatives that embrace the whole community,” said
Florence Neal, Executive Director and Co-Founder Kentler International Drawing
Space on Van Brunt St. and Co-Author of Red Hook’s 197-a Community Plan.

 “We welcome
development that meets our needs of housing, job creation, resiliency,
including social justice and cultural access for all. The Model Block is
exactly the type of project we have envisioned for Red Hook. We welcome this
inclusive vision for a former unused industrial site with its potential as an
urban planning model for more cities rethinking their future.”

“RHI is looking forward to supporting the power of young
people to share their voice about changes and development coming to Red Hook
and chart out a path that has a positive impact in their community,” added
Morgan Monaco, Executive Director, Red Hook Initiative.

“We don’t just want a Model Block, we want a Model
Community,” said Karen Blondel, Environmental Activist and Red Hook Houses
resident. “The Model Block builds toward community goals. Let’s use the
problems Red Hook has today to train our youth in the solutions for the future,
like cleaning up the environment.”

“This project is uplifting — and is just what Red Hook
needs,” said Tiffany Davis, Founder and Director, Red Hook Arts Project. “It
fits right into the community, not overpowering any of the buildings, fits the
structure of the buildings, and the block that it’s on, including the school
right across the street. It really blends in and looks really good.”

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