Continuing ‘Row’ over historic houses – Admirals’ mansions pitted against market

By Stephen Witt

Elected officials were out in force to support the federal government’s transfer of the Admirals’ Row mansions to the city for the development of a supermarket. But local residents and preservationists remain at odds over whether the 10 mansions, built over 100 years ago, should be razed for the supermarket or preserved. The mansions along Flushing Avenue were built between 1858 and 1901, and once housed naval officers and their families. Under the plan, the federal government would give the property to the city, which will have the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC) build and mange a 60,000-square-foot supermarket on the site. The BNYDC has committed to also doing public outreach through an employment center to fill many of the 500 expected jobs the project will create. City Council Member Letitia James, who represents the area, maintains the supermarket will provide local residents from the nearby Walt Whitman, Farragut and Ingersoll public housing developments with a sorely needed grocery outlet along with jobs. “The immediate community benefits of this plan are clear — to bring a supermarket, industrial space and employment center to the site, while creating 500 jobs,” said James at a press conference on the issue at PS 307, 209 York Street. “I have stood shoulder to shoulder with local preservationists on many fights. Unfortunately, all the knowledgeable parties that I have spoken with concur that it would be prohibitively expensive to save the Admiral’s Row Houses. It is clear that redevelopment of this site is the most prudent path to take in a period of scarce public dollars,” she added. Borough President Marty Markowitz pointed out that with Fairway now serving Red Hook, it’s time the residents of DUMBO, Vinegar Hill and Fort Greene have local access to the affordability and fresh, healthy produce a supermarket provides. “The BNYDC plan, which will create jobs and allow more Brooklynites to share the ‘Brooklyn Renaissance,’ is a perfect example of the kind of smart growth that will benefit Brooklyn in the days to come,” said Markowitz. Also supporting the plan were several residents of the aforementioned public housing developments. “It will actually give the public housing developments a central location to purchase fresh fruit and produce, considering all of our supermarkets and other stores were taken away from us with the development of Myrtle Avenue,” said Ingersoll Houses Tenants Association President Ed Brown. “We have no other place to shop in the local community. We have to shop outside the community just for our local needs,” he added. On the other side, Scott Witter, curator of Brooklyn’s Other Museum of Brooklyn, 102 Steuben Street, said the buildings should be preserved. “They are a delightful group of buildings built over 160 years ago. They represent a large segment of American history through the Navy. The history of the buildings is being unraveled as we speak,” said Witter. Clinton Hill resident Schellie Hagan called Admiral’s Row part of American history. “They are beautiful buildings and are recoverable if they were put out to bid. There’s a ton of private money,” she said. Vinegar Hill resident Monique Denoncin said it makes her feel sad to see the federal government purposely let the houses deteriorate. “Employment and a supermarket is always a flag that people wave, but that doesn’t mean that these houses couldn’t have been reused for offices,” she said. BNYDC President and CEO Andrew Kimball said he is told the property transfer is expected to be completed this summer. In the interim, there will be a design team formed to which the Community Board and the local people can comment, Kimball said. Kimball said based on that input, an RFP (Request For Proposals) for a developer will be put out so that by the time of the transfer the project can move immediately into the design and public approval process.

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