Showing off RBSCC’s latest project, a subsidized luxury complex on Knickerbocker and Eldert. — Photo by Aaron Short

It’s the third Wednesday of the month and while you may not have paid your electric bill yet, the mood inside the Hope Gardens Community Center is electric.  That’s because it is time for another Community Board Four meeting, the first of the new year.  

6:45 PM: (6 PM Bushwick time): I arrive a little late, but just in time for the food. Tonight’s menu: meatballs in marinara sauce, chicken sauté, and string beans with almonds. They also have that Mexican orange soda that nobody is touching (everyone is going for the Diet Coke), but it isn’t that bad and eventually it disappears after the other bottles are emptied.

As I am waiting in line, I am standing next to Community Education Council ex-president Abby Bello, who is apparently no longer with the CEC and is now with something called CHS. Adam Schwartz from the Academy of Urban Planning is standing in front of me, and we talk about the replacement for Bushwick’s beloved Harbor School, which is moving to Governor’s Island this summer.  The new school coming to the Bushwick Campus is the Francis Perkins Academy, which will contain close to 70 percent male students and focus on trade skills such as welding.

6:55 PM: With the buffet sufficiently ravaged, Chair Julie Dent calls the meeting to order and District Manager Nadine Whitted opens the public session with a ULURP (Uniform Land Use and Review Process) action for public session. 

7:00 PM: Ridgewood Bushwick Seniors Citizen Council’s development czar Scott Short (no relation) introduces himself, which receives polite applause. RBSCC staff members have taken up two and a half tables at the meeting, and they’re all here to support their project at 803 Knickerbocker Avenue (Knickerbocker and Eldert Street).  Short and architect Chris Benedict begin their presentation for building 24 units of below-market housing on the site, making it the first multifamily passive building in New York City. 

“We’re going to be delivering heat very efficiently. In the winter, the sun can shine right in there because of the nice insulation we have in the building,” said Benedict. “This is going to be a revolutionary building in NYC and this is something that the neighborhood can be very very proud of.” 

Whitted asks when the building will be ready and how expensive the units will be and Short answers that if everything goes as planned, construction will start in June 2010 and finish late summer 2011. Apartments will be assigned through an HPD-sponsored lottery process, with 50-percent preference to Bushwick residents. 1 bedrooms range from $720-$860, 2-bedrooms range from $860-$1000, and 3-bedrooms range from $990-$1190. This receives more polite applause. Short also explains that there will be seven Section 8 vouchers assigned among the 24 units to accommodate residents with lower incomes. 

7:13 PM: Dent closes public hearing and asks the staffers of elected representatives present at the meeting tonight to stand up and introduce themselves. It’s the usual suspects starting with Allison Frost from Vito Lopez’s office, Johnnie Joyner and Alexandra Pena from State Senator Dilan’s office, community liaisons from Diana Reyna, Darryl Towns, Marty Markowitz, Comptroller John Liu and Erik Dilan’s offices. Will Harris, another staff member from Vito’s office is present too, but he is sitting in the U-shaped table reserved for board members because he (along with Margaret Nieves) is a brand new Community Board 4 member. Congrats Will.

One announcement. Alejandro Echezerri from Diana’s office has announced that their offices have moved from South 4th Street to 217 Havemeyer Street between South 5th Street and Broadway. That’s above the Chase Bank building in Williamsburg near the Marcy J stop. No word as to whether they will be able to cash your checks.

7:21 PM: Dent welcomes the new members and dives into her report which covers the proposed New York City Charter Commission, which could eventually eliminate community boards. This has been coming up at a lot of boards throughout the city, and board chairs are beginning to mobilize.

“Nadine and I have been attended meetings and we’re organizing to be proactive to prevent this from going into place,” says Dent. 

She also announces that the DeKalb Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library has reopened on January 19 after roof repairs.

Lastly, HPD has announced new apartments for rent at the Knickerbocker Cluster [pdf], 187 and 194 Eldert Street, 248 Cornelia Street, 309 Shaffer Street, and 708, 784, and 818 Knickerbocker Ave. Applications must be requested in writing and postmarked by Feb 18, 2010.

7:29 PM: Whitted welcomes members back to the board while explaining her argument for the importance of community boards.

“We are the gatekeepers for our community. People who live, work in the community will bring information to us. Whether this is information we can use, sometimes it can be detrimental. Planners, I think we are planners. We approve, we disapprove, we add information to projects such as the one brought to us tonight that impact our community.”

After urging members to donate blood more often, Whitted shares the new community board website.

7:41 PM: We are into committee reports. Civic and Religion Committee Chair Elvena Davis announces the route for the 5th Annual Bushwick Day Parade, June 4, 2010. This year’s theme is Bushwick Youth, Let’s Go Higher in Education.

“We will be honoring highest achievers in high schools and middle schools. We’re going to have the valedictorians and salutatorians marching. With community’s help, maybe we can give a savings bond to the students to help honor their education,” said Davis.

Cultural Affairs Committee Chair Odolphus Wright announces that artists can apply for the Percent for Art program for work on one of six Department of Transportation plaza locations in the city, including one on Myrtle and Knickerbocker Avenues. The Request for Qualification application is due on February 22nd.

Public Safety Chair Barbara Smith, who handles new liquor licenses and renewals, said that because of complaints to the 83rd Precinct, the committee is trying to get a few bars to change their hours so they aren’t open until 4 AM.

“We want to work with them so they can get their business straight,” said Smith. “Don’t think CB4 is against new bars. Everybody wants to get their drink on every now and again, we’re just trying to do it right.” 

7:58 PM: It’s new business and time for the ULURP vote. Martha Brown explains the application and Whitted runs the roll call vote. The two RBSCC tables perk up considerably and grab their pens to keep tally. They needn’t worry. The vote is 38-0-1 and the 1 abstention is a board member who works for RBSCC.

“I think that ULURP passed,” says Whitted. 

8:03 PM: Announcements! We’re in the final stretch.

CB4 member Jason Andrew announces that he and fellow board member Debbie Brown have opened a new gallery called STOREFRONT, at 16 Wilson Avenue, which will feature emerging artists and exhibit children’s art between openings. Andrew receives full board applause.

“Brand new, very exciting, features emerging Bushwick artists."

CB4 member Laura Braslow announces the next Arts in Bushwick SITE Fest. It is all about performance: theater, dance, comedy, music, performance art, and anything else that occurs over a set time. It will be on March 6 and 7 and registration is open now.

Mary McClelland from the Broadway Bushwick Community Coalition announces a new meeting and hopes to tackle the “dog problem in our community.” She’s not talking about the dogs themselves of course, but the owners who don’t clean up after them…

“It’s not improving. It’s getting worse. We have to insist that they have to do something about our problem. It’s toxic waste.” 

Finally we have multiple announcements about places to donate money, food and clothing for Haiti. Assemblyman Lopez’s office will be providing containers for food and clothes, which will go to Haiti via the Dominican Republic (Martinez is leading that effort). Gladys Puglla at Make the Road New York said the group is taking monetary donations for Haiti, Maritza Davila will be working with C-Town and other grocery stores to collect food and Julie Dent says that her Audrey Johnson Day Care Center is working with Doctors Without Borders.

“Today its them, tomorrow it could be us. We have to help our brothers and sisters and need. Thank you,” says Dent.

Let’s end the meeting with an interview with new board member Will Harris for his list of favorite things. Congratulations Will!

Favorite sports team: New York Yankees

Favorite Yankee; Derek Jeter

Favorite New York Moment: Elections of David Dinkins

Favorite Restaurant: Cono’s

Favorite Desert: Dunkin’ Donuts

Favorite Bushwick haunt: I usually don’t get off work early enough to go anywhere

Favorite hobby: Volunteering

Favorite Park: María Hernández

Favorite holiday: Thanksgiving at 319 Stanhope

Favorite service activity: Working with residents in Williamsburg and Bushwick

Favorite political victory: In recent memory? Steve Levin, City Council!