Community disasters can be natural or man-made. Last year’s hurricane Sandy was of the natural kind, and we are still dealing with its after-effects. Now, the first new construction in the vicinity of the Red Hook Houses has the potential to be a man-made disaster.
With little notice, a group from Arizona is planning to build a fancy private school on Columbia and Bay Streets. While ‘by right,’ – a real estate term – they are legally allowed to do this, it doesn’t seem right for us.
IKEA and Fairway both took advantage of land availability to build their big stores in our neighborhood. Each have brought crowds from other parts of the city to Red Hook. But they also have brought us benefits in the form of affordable shopping and job opportunity. They have not destroyed the fabric of our community. They have become supporters of the Red Hook community. After the storm, FEMA received donated space in IKEA for many months. IKEA recently hosted our candlelight vigil at their Erie Basin Park. Fairway offers us low-cost dining in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. They have been big boosters of ReStore Red Hook. They sponsor local events, cooking competitions, and are donors to many local charities.
The BASIS Independent School is planning an elite private school in the shadow of the Red Hook Houses. They will be marketing their school to children of the wealthy who live in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. They are here not to offer opportunities to our local youth but to make a healthy profit from outsiders who can afford it. They have avoided scrutiny by changing their business model from a charter school to a completely private school, thus able to do as they please.
By not looking to integrate themselves with the community from the beginning, they are the harbingers of a Red Hook future that is not compatible with our community of today. A future Red Hook that is a playground for the rich, offering beautiful sunsets and views as well as elite schools and no doubt luxury shopping, services and condos.
The population of the Red Hook Houses has been starved for local employment opportunities. We were hoping that our city and state government would eventually initiate a public-private venture promoting economic opportunity. Instead, we are getting a closed-off private school, unaffordable to most in the Houses.
There is only a short time to make your feelings heard to the closest thing we have to local government – Community Board 6. Call Craig Hammerman at (718) 643-3027 and let him know your thoughts. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Do this before December 11, since that is the day that their Executive Board is expected to approve the school’s application to build.