Three Potential Brooklyn Cannabis Stores Showcase the Uncertainty of Marijuana in New York State and City

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

Brooklyn’s Community Board for District 2 made local weed history in their meeting on Wednesday Sept. 13 by bringing three marijuana stores up for approval and passing them all without any contest. However, despite the support from the community, there is still not a clear path toward licensing for any of the stores in front of the council due to a state-wide restraining order on all licenses pending a lawsuit against the Office of Cannabis Enforcement. Still, the hearings were indicative of one truth: legal marijuana is coming to New York, even though the specifics of how is not quite clear yet. In the community board, chairperson Lenny Singletary emphasized the importance of understanding how to deal with the new applications and predicted that there would be much more to come.

“The reason I wanted Mr. Smith [Health, Environment & Social Services Chair] to go through these is that these are the first cannabis applications that have come in and it’s important for us to understand how we process this,” Singletary said. “I would imagine that we’re going to see an increase in cannabis applications, especially given the state regulations where they’re going to heavily fine illegal applications, as well as passing monetary fines along to the owners of the buildings that are allowing this to take place.”

The Office of Cannabis Management is currently being sued due to OCM’s Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary program, a program that only permits licenses to those who fulfill two requirements: a prior cannabis conviction, or that of a close family member, and having owned a legitimate business for at least two years. With the lawsuit pending, New York Supreme Court Justice Kevin Bryant declared a temporary restraining order on all CAURD licenses in New York City in Aug. 2023. The three proposed locations, Pura Vita Enterprises Inc at 288 Flushing Avenue, Are We Good Enterprises Inc at 154 Vanderbilt, as well as YRM Dispensary LLC at 436 Albee Square W, are now in limbo. The owners are unable to continue moving forward with establishing their businesses, despite starting the process of working towards a license. According to Andrew Cooper, professor of the business and law of cannabis at Hofstra University, as well as a practicing cannabis, psychedelics and healthcare attorney, this leaves the owners of these stores in a deeply uncertain situation.

“These people committed everything. I mean, built teams, and they got people around them who could help them. They spent their time and days going around looking at space, talking to landlords, and negotiating with a lot of predatory lenders. We got plenty of those,” Cooper said.

“Now they’re just stuck in this weird abyss.”

The production, distribution and recreational use of cannabis was legalized in New York State in 2021, with the passing of the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act. Later on, the OCM established the CAURD in order to prioritize those who had been harmed by the prohibition of cannabis in the state — now, four service-disabled veterans, represented by law firm Feuerstein Kulick, are suing the OCM because they believe that the conditions are too narrow and therefore unconstitutional.

According to a similar lawsuit filed against the marijuana legislative agency in March 2023, the original MRTA law passed in 2021 outlines that licenses should be open for all and that the CAURD program is in violation of that. That lawsuit was filed by the Coalition for Access to Regulated and Safe Cannabis, a group that seeks to expand access to all applicants and does not agree with the priority afforded to CAURD applicants.

“Rather than perform the tasks required by the MRTA – which would promote a safe and regulated cannabis industry for medical patients and adult-use consumers alike – CCB and OCM have improperly assumed the role of the Legislature to impose their own policies over those of New York’s elected officials and, by extension, their constituents. This unconstitutional overreach violates the separation of powers doctrine,” lawyers for CARSC wrote. “New York’s Legislature required CCB and OCM to open ‘the initial adult-use retail dispensary license application period. . . for all applicants at the same time.’”

All of the applicants under review by the community board had gone through the initial stages of the OCM’s CAURD application process. During the community board meeting for District 2, Brendan Smith, Health, Environment & Social Services committee chair, walked the board through the various steps that the applicants had to go through before coming in front of CB2, and are different from the unlicensed smoke shops that have exploded around the NYC area. Cannabis shop owners must have security details at their locations, and they must check the identification of anyone who enters the premises of their stores, according to information shared by Smith during the CB2 meeting. Furthermore, Smith said that the stores have already gone through stages of community discussion prior via the OCM application process.

“There has been an awareness at our committee about the prevalence of smoke shops about unlicensed illegal cannabis businesses throughout the community. What was important for this conversation was to focus the conversation on the applicants in front of us and their circumstances,” Smith said during the meeting. “Keeping in mind, these three applicants went through significant licensing processes with the Office of Cannabis Management to ensure that the protocols were adhered to and to ensure that they comply with different levels of compliance from the Office of Cannabis Management.”

Despite MRTA passing in 2021, the city has only managed to pass a handful of legal cannabis stores, though illegal ones have popped up like weeds on the corners of New York City. Currently, there are four legal marijuana dispensaries in New York City, and an estimated 2,500 illegal ones, though the number might be higher, according to numbers released by the state in April. Cooper said the reason that the cannabis rollout has taken so long is the stringent requirements that OCM has outlined in order to prioritize justice-involved individuals.

With pending lawsuits, the path forward for these three stores is uncertain, regardless of whether or not they have been approved by the community board or not. Until they receive a final walk-through from the OCM, the stores are unable to sell any of the marijuana that is piling up in warehouses in the state, according to Cooper. Since the identity of marijuana license applicants is kept private, none of the store owners were able to be reached for comment.

Internet Geoguessers Come Together to Comb Brooklyn Parks

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

Social media personality Trevor Rainbolt, known by his handle @rainbolt, has a knack for finding things. He has racked up over four million followers across TikTok, Twitter and Instagram by using Google Maps, public data, and even archival pictures to find locations of pictures and videos. However, rainbolt recently got stumped by an image a woman sent of her and her mother during her childhood and shared the image with his Twitter followers to see if someone might be able to find out where it was taken. From there, people pointed out that the New York City Parks Department might know more. Ian Lefkowitz, NYC Parks Deputy Director of New Media, said the picture was brought to their attention by interested community members.

“Essentially, we found out because we were tapped in by interested citizens,” Lefkowitz said. “There were a couple of comments saying ‘Maybe NYC parks knows.’ Obviously, it was already gaining a lot of momentum on social media, and came to our attention and as with every question we get on social media, we do our best to answer.”

Originally, some Twitter users believed that the picture might have been taken in Trinity Park, such as Art Seabra (handle @_artseabra)

who used  NYC’s Trees Map to narrow down all the parks in the city to a particular species, the London planetree. In a video posted online, Seabra then attempted to use Google Maps to match the cityscape in the background of the photo to the area surrounding Trinity Park.

However, other people disagree. According to Lefkowitz, the park is now thought to be Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge, and have checked their records to confirm. Lefkowitz said one of the reasons that the area was so hard to find is because the park was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy and no longer looks like how it used to in 2009, when the picture was taken.

“There were a couple of people who said, ‘No, I believe this is Owl’s Head Park.’ One one of them actually pinged us and said, ‘Hey, can you check your records?’” Lefkowitz said. “I actually think those benches [in Owl’s Head Park] are exactly that area. The reason why it is so hard to find was that the area was impacted pretty heavily by Hurricane Sandy. It no longer looks like this.”

Ryan C., @RhinozzCode, an open-source investigator who declined to share their last name, said that the trees in the original picture were definitely not all London planetrees, and therefore could not match the location in Trinity Park. Ryan C. was one of the people who messaged the NYC Parks to dig a little deeper into the origins of the story. Over Twitter direct messages, Ryan C. said the little details of Trinity Park did not quite match up with the original photo, even though the big picture might.

“i’m an open-source investigator by trade, so i use the principles that i learned years ago often, and one of those is a two-part observation step…where you observe ‘big-picture details’ for easily ruling out locations and “fine details” for confirming them,” Ryan C. wrote via Twitter. “my major issue with rainbolt’s initial investigation was his reliance on the fact that the trees were london planetrees, and i concluded two of them were not.”

Lefkowitz said he was glad that people were getting involved in NYC park history.

“There are a couple of things that are very, really profound about this. One is that it’s just a demonstration of the impact that parks make in people’s lives, from the original photo to the chase, that hundreds of people were doing to track it down,” Lefkowitz said. “The photo shows that parks are these moments that last a lifetime. When your loved one is gone, you remember the time you spent in parks. It sounds corny, but you can see that the proof is in the photo.”

The identity of the woman and her mother in the original picture remains anonymous, and rainbolt declined to comment on the story.

DEC Air Pollution Initiative Committee Updates Community

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

The NYC Department of Environmental Conversation held an update on their Statewide Community Air Monitoring Initiative via Zoom on Sept. 6 to let Brooklyn community members know how the agency’s data collection was going. The Zoom included a presentation held by DEC as well as a question and answer portion to field any questions from the public.

This will be the last meeting held as all data has been gathered and will now be analyzed by Aclima, the company that provided the technology for measuring air pollutants on the project. As this portion of the project is completed, the DEC is set to announce the beginning of their remediation efforts after the analysis of the data is finished during the spring of 2024, according to the DEC website.

Randi Walker, researcher and a part of the Division of Air Resources for the DEC, said Brooklyn has particular concerns in terms of air pollution, including reducing emissions from cars and other automated road vehicles as well as monitoring potentially hazardous sites such as oil storage facilities, dry cleaning locales and raw material processing plants. The program focuses especially on disadvantaged communities within the city, as is the case in Brooklyn, according to Adriana Espinoza, DEC Deputy Commissioner for Equity and Justice.

“I would just say that the Climate Act requires that disadvantaged communities are prioritized for greenhouse gas emission and coal pollution reductions in New York state,” Espinoza said during the presentation. “So I think that will be carried out through all of our sort of programs and processes as the law requires.”

Katherine Walsh, Transportation Chair for Community Board 7 and Sunset Park resident,  said she appreciated the DEC’s meetings, as it allowed the community to get involved and have their concerns heard.

“It’s critical that we take as many aggressive steps as we can on climate action and air quality, specifically, right, because that affects so many, so many of us and our neighbors,” Walsh said in an interview. “What they’ve been doing along the way, where they’ve been hosting these community, public wide meetings has been really important and really helpful to get the word out.”

Walsh expressed frustration that the Department of Transportation had not come to any of the meetings, and voiced her concern in how this would affect the remediation efforts in reducing air pollution from trucks and cars.

“Here in Brooklyn, the State Department of Transportation has a huge role, if not the most important role in making sure that we can mitigate the impacts of all this air quality work from transportation and from trucking,” Walsh said. “The fact that they have not come to any of the community mediators is a huge concern to community members and to community groups, because we have, we never see the State Department of Transportation, at any of the important meetings that we’ve had.”

Community member Jeffry Sanoff said he was disappointed that there were large areas of the map left blank, shown in swaths of white, that were not included in the study. Most of the area covered by the DEC data collection initiative were in North Brooklyn and along the water in the southern part of the borough, and Sanoff pointed out that there were large portions of Eastern Brooklyn left out of the study.

“We’re all one Brooklyn. We’re all one Brooklyn, like the borough president said,” Sanoff said. “So this study should include areas that are in the white area, too.”

In response to Sanoff’s remark, Espinoza said there were 12 factors in determining the area of study. According to Walker, some of those factors include high levels of benzene and particle pollutants from fine particles above PM 2.5, when air is deemed unhealthy, as well as proximity to a highway such as the Bronx Queens Expressway, which starts in the central part of Northern Brooklyn and then moves closer to the water as it heads South.

The Brooklyn Borough President’s Office has supplemented the meetings by creating a quarterly community advisory committee open to the public, and Espinoza urged all attendees of the Zoom to sign up for those meetings if they were interested in learning more.

Residents Launch Last Minute Effort to Save Park Church

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

An abandoned notice board in front of Park Church. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

The fight to keep Park Church on 129 Russell Street in Greenpoint alive has been ongoing for years ever since the Metropolitan New York Synod, a chapter of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, announced Dec. 2021 that it would pull funding for the church due to declining membership. Currently, MNYS is in the process of selling the building, originally built in 1907, to GW Equities LLC, led by developers Avraham Garbo and Berish Wagschal. On Thursday Aug. 31, activists and community members gathered in a Zoom public hearing in front of Judge Richard Latin to halt the sale and attempt to repurpose the building for community use. In a statement from MNYS, Robert Lara, Assistant to the Bishop and Officer of Communications for the synod, said that the decision came after considerate deliberation.

“The Metropolitan New York Synod Council approved the sale of the former Messiah Lutheran Church building, where Park Church Co-op operated, following careful evaluation,” Lara said in an email. “This decision was made due to declining worship attendance and safety concerns with the building’s structure. The sale proceeds will support the growth of viable congregations, particularly those serving marginalized communities, in alignment with the synod’s commitment to anti-racism. ”

Other community members disagree. Jeremy Hook, a long-time Greenpoint resident working to keep the church in place, said that the sale of the church would be incredibly detrimental to the community, and that the synod is behaving like a developer rather than a religious organization.

“It’s ironic that they identify as Lutherans when you recall where Lutherans come from, what the 101 Lutheran theses actually were about, which was Martin Luther saying, ‘Hey, the Catholic Church is just kind of acting a whole lot like a business here and just about making money,’” Hook said. “And I would say that there’s a bit of a similar thing going on with the ELCA.”

According to Hook, the Church was not just a spot for religious worship, but a place for Greenpoint residents to gather, organize events and create a community space. Community members at the hearing gathered and shared their favorite stories and events over the years, including dance parties, Drag Queen Reading Hour, drives to give out free food and shelter as well as birthday parties for children.

Kaki King, a Greenpoint resident and the creator of a silent disco event at McGolrick Park, said at the hearing that there were many spaces for adults to hangout in the area, such as bars and restaurants, but almost none for children. According to King, the church was a place for her family to hangout in.

“Some of my happiest memories of raising my children are definitely from the inside of the park church and I truly hope that our words are heard and that something can be done to help the sale or in future events, you know, preserve the community spirit that is very strong in this in this community,” King said.

As the sale moves forward, this is a last-ditch effort to halt the process, according to Hook. Community members submitted a request for a hearing to the Attorney General’s office, and were approved by Assistant Attorney General Colleen McGrath, who wrote in a letter that Attorney General Letitia James had no objections to the sale but was open to hearing the dissenting voices of the community. According to McGrath, the sale is valid according to New York state law, so there could be no objection to the transaction on that front, but still wanted to raise the concerns of Greenpoint residents.

However, the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau has received a number of complaints objecting to the proposed sale of the Property due to its perceived negative impact on the Greenpoint, Brooklyn community, where the Property is located,” McGrath wrote.

GW Equities have not announced their plans for the church, but have several large-scale projects under their belts, including 13-story residential and commercial development in Downtown Brooklyn. Greenpoint Assemblymember Emily Gallagher said at the hearing that the church was affordable and accessible for all types of community members, and that Greenpoint had enough large developmental projects.

“We have quite a lot of luxury and high end housing that is being developed in this community that is not providing for the same number and diversity of people. So I’m here to ask you to think about justice, rather than nearly law, and see if we can preserve something that is such a vital space for our wonderful community,” Gallagher said. “We really do not have many free spaces in this community where people can meet and gather and have important discussions, especially in the long winter months.”

Other community members do not see the church sale as a loss. Stefan Rysek, a longtime Polish resident of Greenpoint, said that churches were valuable to the community, but did not oppose the residential project.

“People need some kind of mental help from the churches, for example, the Polish churches,” Rysek said. “You know what? I’m not against the apartments being built.”

Park Church had a declining congregation for years, a national trend as Gallup reported that church membership in the United States dipped below majority for the first time in 2021. Churches across the country are closing their doors because there are not enough people to create a significant congregation. Hook, who describes himself as allergic to religion, said that he understood the difficulties MNYS must have faced in keeping their parish open, but advocated for keeping the church as a secular community space.

“In fact, the problem that I will address tomorrow is that, you know, I acknowledge that the congregation itself was shrinking, at the end of the day they probably only had about 15-20 tiding congregations,” Hook said. “So I understand that it must have been a lot of trouble from that end. But the building simultaneously was thriving as a community center.”


Jeremy Hook speaking at the Park Church Hearing

Katie Denny Horowitz, Executive Director of North Brooklyn Park Alliance, speaking at the hearing.

Council member Lincoln Restler.

Fifth generation Greenpoint resident and community activist Kevin LaCherra.

Small Haitian Restaurant in Park Slope Continues to Beat the Odds

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

Edgina Desormeau, owner of Bonbon Lakay, a Haitian restaurant in Park Slope, said her business started as a side hustle in 2018 that she ran out of her apartment. Since then, Bonbon Lakay, which means “Homemade Treats,” in Haitian Creole opened in Park Slope in 2021 and has survived the COVID Omicron wave of 2022, two rounds of flooding, as well as the usual hurdles that small-business owners face.

Currently, Bonbon Lakay runs a Pay It Forward program to raise money for people who need free meals and to fundraise for other business expenses. Despite the difficulties of owning a small business, Desormeau said that her customers, as well as sharing Haitian food with New York City, means the world to her.

“Our customers continue to be so excited about our business, no matter what our menu looks like, no matter what our product offering looks like,” Desormeau said. “They really truly energize us. I’ll have a bad day, and then a customer will walk in and remind us why we started.”

Desormeau said she originally started selling wholesale Haitian goods like peanut butter, cookies, fudge, soda and crackers because she missed the foods she grew up eating. She was born and raised in Haiti, but moved to the United States when she was 11, and said she always knew that her work would be connected to the place she grew up in. After a trip to Cap-Haitien, often referred to as Okap, she said she was having difficulty finding the treats she loved as a child, and decided that she needed to do something about it. According to Desormeau, she started selling wholesale Haitian goods on top of her advertisement job until it became unfeasible.

“This business was taken over my apartment, like I would be blocking my neighbor’s doors with like 40 cases of peanut butter,” Desormeau said. “We really outgrew the space and it became this thing where it was like, ‘Okay, if I can’t get into a physical brick and mortar to do this right, to do this the way it’s supposed to be done, I don’t want to keep doing it.’”

Desormeau said the Pay It Forward program grew out of people coming in after the Omicron wave and asking for free food. According to Desormeau, Bonbon Lakay did what it could, but the restaurant was already low on resources from paying for the damages caused by floods and the losses incurred by the pandemic and did not always have the bandwidth to give food or goods away.

“As we’re coming out of Omicron, we’re getting this stream of people coming in asking for free food, and we did what we could give them free food, but at the end of the day, we’re a business, you know, we’re not a soup kitchen,” Desormeau said. “I was grabbing lunch with a friend in Manhattan, and this restaurant had a Pay It Forward board where any meal that you purchase, they would match and they would give a meal for free. I see this board, and I’m like, ‘This is an aha moment. Why not create our own Pay It Forward board?’”

Despite launching the board in May of 2020, Desormeau said that Bonbon Lakay did not promote the initiative until the end of 2022 into the beginning of 2023 when a customer suggested that Desormeau put the board online. From then on, Desormeau said the board became about simultaneously helping our neighbors who might need a free meal, but also about helping Bonbon Lakay stay in business.

“In looking at how 2022 unfolded for us and thinking about the year forward, there was a moment at the end of 2022 where I genuinely did not know if we would make it to 2023,” Desormeau said. “I’m like, ‘Okay, we’re finally going to put this on the website, we’re going to encourage people to pay it forward.’ And we’re going to be candid and say, ‘Hey, our pay forward board was initially born out of folks asking us for free food, and now it’s not only now a way for you to sponsor us to pay it forward, but it’s also pumping that much needed cash flow into the business.’”

Desormeau also launched Operation Soup Joumou at the end of 2022 to raise funds. Soup Joumou, a soup associated with Haitian Independence Day on January 1st, is symbolic to Haitian people as it was solely reserved for French slave masters in Haiti, off-limits for enslaved people. When Haitians gained independence in 1804, the soup became a way to celebrate a free Haiti, and the tradition continues to this day. Desormeau said the goal of Operation Soup Joumou and Pay It Forward was to raise $100,000, which Bonbon Lakay has still not managed to do. Still, Desormeau said the two initiatives managed to bring in new business and money, and Bonbon Lakay continues to survive. According to Desormeau, her customers make the struggles of keeping Bonbon Lakay open worth the effort.

“It’s always sweet and motivating to hear [customer’s] stories. We sell a cookie here called Bonbon Amidon. This older gentleman was telling me how he ordered Bonbon Amidon from us, and, this is an older man probably in his 40s 50s, he was telling me how he cried eating Bonbon Amidon,” Desormeau said. “To be completely honest with you, I have moments where I’m absolutely not hopeful and I’m ready to quit. Then a customer walks in and it makes me feel like it’s day one of the business all over again.”

Curbside Composting to Arrive in Brooklyn in October

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

Curbside Composting is coming to Brooklyn stoops Oct. 2, according to a schedule released by the Mayor’s Office. The program, which includes free bins for all Brooklynites who sign up before Oct. 13, is a part of a larger rollout to make composting mandatory across all five boroughs. 

Gil Lopez, an urban ecologist, compost applicator and educator for Big Reuse, said the program is important in making composting accessible to all New York residents. 

“The great thing about the brown bin, and the reason that I’ve been wanting to mandate compost forever, is until everyone in New York City, undocumented or documented, has access [to composting] and they don’t have to do anything special to get it, there is inequity built into our system,” Lopez said. 

Informational sticker on acceptable forms of waste to be disposed in the brown bins. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

The program began Oct. 2022 in Queens and resumed services in the borough in March after a winter hiatus. In 2024, brown bins will start to appear regularly in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx. The Curbside Composting initiative, sponsored by Park Slope Councilmember Shahana Hanif, is just one part of the Zero Waste Act initiative passed by the City Council in June of this year. 

The Zero Waste Act is a five-bill initiative that also includes annual reporting measures on the 11,000 tons of waste created in New York daily, community food scrap collecting centers, new construction of recycling facilities, as well as the city’s general efforts to withstand climate change. Under the new legislation, composting will be compulsory by the year 2025, when fines will be imposed on NYC residents who decline to sort out their organic waste. The fines will increase after each violation, starting at $25, then $50, and finally $100 for every following fine. According to Michael Whitesides, the communications director for Councilmember Hanif, the plan is to reduce the carbon footprint of the city and expand composting access to a broader range of people. 

“We’ve also really been focusing on getting multilingual outreach. A lot of the areas that we have composting right now tend to be white, wealthier, mostly English speaking communities,” Whitesides said. “The Councilmember has been really involved in trying to get some translated materials, not only about what is composting but also how to sign up for brown bin. We’re not just going to communities that already have access to curbside compost but really doing our work to expand it citywide.” 

The composting collection will be handled by the Department of Sanitation of New York and will be picked up on the same day that recycling is gathered. According to Whitesides, DSNY is putting in the work to let Brooklanites know about the brown bin rollout, including putting up flyers, doing social media outreach, and knocking on people’s doors. On Twitter, DSNY shared that more than 23,000 people have signed up for a brown bin in Brooklyn, and urged more people to participate in the program. 

According to an email response by Vincent Gragnagi, the DSNY press secretary, the compost will be sent to one of five locations across the city: the DSNY’s Staten Island composting facility, the Department of Environmental Protection’s waste management location in Newton Creek, an organic processing facility in Massachusetts, and Nature’s Choice composting plant in New Jersey. Gragnagi said the curbside composting initiative makes it easier for residents in the city to do their part in combating climate change, and in turn, also allows the city to reuse the organic material collected from community members. 

“We all share the goal of making it easy for New Yorkers to do the right thing and compost — and that is exactly what universal curbside composting does,” Gragnagi said in an email. “The goal of the procurement is to ensure that material collected in our curbside composting program goes to a variety of facilities, each of which will process the material and turn it into something beneficial, either renewable energy and fertilizer, or compost for parks and gardens” 

Whitesides said that composting organic material alone can reduce the city’s environmental impact by a third of its current carbon footprint. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, composting will reduce t

Gil Lopez speaking at an worm composting educational event for Big Reuse at the Park Slope Public Library. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

he amount of organic waste going to landfills, which produce a significant amount of harmful methane gas. Pilot composting programs in cities such as San Francisco have managed to reduce the amount of trash going to landfills by 80 percent, where the municipality has managed to compost 255,500 tons of organic waste each year, according to the Public Interest Network. According to Lopez, though the fight to increase composting has been active amongst grass-roots environmental circles in the area since the 1990s, this is NYC’s first large-scale initiative to enact mandatory food waste processing. 

Katie Cunningham, a Park Slope resident, said she wanted her neighbors to do their part to reduce methane gas from landfills by composting their organic material, and hopes that the brown bin program will increase the number of people who take the time to do so. After 15 years of living in the area, she said she has just started composting because of the readily available service, and in part, she said because the sign-up process to get a brown bin delivered to her home

 was so simple. 

“I’ve only been composting recently, I hate to admit. I’m excited that they’re invested in expanding this program and bringing it to Brooklyn,” Cunningham said. “The sign-up process is straightforward, you just go online and order the bin that you need. I’m hoping it will motivate more people in the neighborhood and more people in Brooklyn to start composting.” 

Lopez said many residents in cities assume that they are far away from the harm occurring to forests, oceans and other ecosystems and that New Yorkers should do anything they can to reduce their environmental impact. According to Lopez, composting is a big part of that. 

“We are part of the ecosystem. Period. We never separated from the ecosystem,” Lopez said. “People assume that they are not a part of the natural world. If that were true, we wouldn’t be experiencing the tripartite climate catastrophe that we’re in right now … We live in a world where everything is connected, and there’s no way you can sever that connection, no matter how big, bad, rich or elected you are.”

Thomas Leeser, a Park Slope resident, said he is glad that composting is coming to Brooklyn, and that he has been composting since he moved to the area three years ago. Leeser said that he had no issue with the program being mandatory, as composting is good for the environment. 

“It’s a good thing, you know, I’m happy that it’s happening,” Leeser said. “We should all do our part for the environment.”

On the Record: Halil Kaya

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

Despite the gray weather in Downtown Brooklyn, Halil Kaya was smiling inside the ice cream truck parked outside Albee Square. After selling five strawberry smoothies to a large family and one rainbow sprinkled cone to a mother-daughter duo, Kaya stopped serving and said he loves selling ice cream because of how happy it makes people. 

“I just love to make people happy, you know? To see the kids happy. That’s the best job I want to do,” Kaya said. 

Kaya, whose favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate vanilla twist, said it can sometimes be hard to stay positive in such a hectic area. According to Kaya, Albee Square is bustling with people from all over Brooklyn, and people can be rude and abrasive when he’s working the window. 

“Sometimes people like to give you a hard time about the ice cream, or the prices, but otherwise I like it,” Kaya said. 

Because of this, Kaya said he wanted people to spread positivity, and remind people to stay polite during ice cream rush hours. 

“Just be polite to others with whatever you do. You should just try to make people happy everyday. Yeah, just be polite,” Kaya said. “Share the happiness.”

On the Record: Siyuri Zen and Ange Musoni

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

Siyuri Zen and Ange Musoni in McCarren Park

Taking a deep breath can be a luxury sometimes, according to friends Siyuri Zen and Ange Musoni, who met up to spend quality time together and relax in inflatable bean bags at the entrance of McCarren park.

“It’s kind of a friend’s date, we met when we were working, so we were always in spaces of working and being on a schedule so we don’t often get the time to catch up and get to know each other, so when we have those days, it’s really nice,” Musoni said.

The pair met working for a security company at Yankee Stadium, but have since switched to other roles at different companies. Now, their schedules can be conflicting, so they said that they appreciate the time to hangout. According to Zen and Musoni, carving out time for leisure is important. Zen said that it’s rare for her to be able to take some time to slow down her breathing.

“Relaxation to me is a moment to take a deep breath, it’s like being in a situation where you don’t have to take shallow breaths, if that makes sense,” Zen said.

According to Musoni, relaxation can be a way for her to access parts of herself that she does not get to on a regular basis.

“For me, relaxation can be a way to tap into certain parts of yourself that you don’t get to tap into everyday in your routine. I’m personally learning how to just be by myself alone, and relaxation plays a big part of that,” Musoni said.

DOT to Move Forward with Compromised Redesign Plan of McGuinness Blvd

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

The NYC Department of Transportation announced Aug. 16 that they would move forward with a compromised plan of the McGuinness redesign in Greenpoint after years of meetings with elected officials, community advocates and residents.

The new plan, one of three potential candidates for redesign of the street, includes adding a protected bike lane on each side of moving traffic and removing a lane for cars and other automated vehicles. Construction is set to begin in September, according to the DOT.

Marisa LaScala, a parent at PS 34, said she is happy that community efforts to make McGuinness safer have finally paid off.

“I have a kid that goes to school at one of the schools right off McGuinness, and it’s really frightening seeing the way cars whip around the turn or creep into the crosswalk, so anything to make that a little safer is just such a load off,” LaScala said. “I like the idea of taking it down to one car on each side, I think that would be a big step forward in terms of safety.”

The push to renovate the street, which gained traction in 2021 after a beloved local teacher Matthew Jensen was killed on the road, has embroiled Greenpointers in a controversy for over two years. Two competing factions, Make McGuinness Safe in favor of the redesign, and Keep McGuinness Moving in opposition, have clashed over whether or not McGuinness needs a revision. Kevin LaCherra, a local activist and coordinator for Make McGuinness Safe, said that the road is too dangerous to stay.

“In the wake of Matt’s death in 2021, we came together, led by the parents of PS 110, and we said ‘This is not an acceptable situation,’” LaCherra said. “McGuinness Boulevard has been killing people since the moment it opened, the moment they widened the street and built a highway through Greenpoint. That status quo has been hurting people for 70 years, and has been killing people for 70 years. Dozens and dozens and dozens of people have been killed.”

According to LaCherra, the efforts to modify the street has been a long and difficult fight, but he is pleased to see the proposal going forward, even if all the proposed safety measures by officials and local community leaders were not met. Averianna Eseinbach, a Greenpoint resident involved in Keep McGuinness Moving, said traffic flow on McGuinness needs to be kept in motion, and that there were other ways to reduce accidents that do not remove any lanes of traffic,

“We do need to preserve four lanes on McGuinness to prevent gridlock because it’s such a major artery in Greenpoint. This region has thousands of businesses that rely on McGuinness. It’s the only North-South artery in the area, and yet businesses were left out of the conversation,” Eseinbach said. “I like raised crosswalks, that would definitely improve pedestrian safety. More red light cameras, and rumble strips at the foot of the bridge.”

LaCherra said these efforts are not enough to prevent deaths, and that there have been two years of conversations with various factions of the Greenpoint community on the best way to reduce deaths on the boulevard.

“The reality is that the sort of things that Keep McGuinness moving are proposing are either things that have already been publicly adjudicated, or are things that we are also asking for, they’re just insufficient to tackle the scale of the problem,” LaCherra said. “We’re all in favor of raised crosswalks, raised crosswalks would be great, but they do nothing to disincentivize the massive amount of traffic coming onto the boulevard off of the outer highway.”

LaScala said she does not understand why anyone would be opposed to the redesign, and that she is proud of the way that the neighborhood fought for a change on McGuiness.

“I actually can’t really understand why someone would look at this and say they would be against it,” LaScala said. “It was really inspiring to see the way that the neighborhood came together. I went to the rally, I saw other parents from my kids’ schools, parents from other schools. It just seems like people can really come together and make their voices heard, and actually affect change.”


Fire Ravages Nine Business in Heart of Satmar Neighborhood in South Williamsburg

By Oona Milliken | [email protected]

Storefront in the aftermath of the fire

Smoke rose over the cars on Brooklyn Queens Expressway Aug. 20 after a fire engulfed nine stores on Lee Avenue in South Williamsburg. 10 New York Fire Department firefighters were injured in their attempts to control the five alarm fire.

In a press conference, Laura Kavanagh, NYC Fire Commissioner, said that the call came in at approximately 9 a.m. and though fire department personnel arrived at the site in under four minutes, the fire was serious by time FDNY appeared on scene. According to Kavanagh, while members of the FDNY were injured, one firefighter sustaining life-threatening red-tag wounds, no other people or animals were hurt.

John Hodgens, Chief of Department for FDNY, said in a press conference that the situation on Lee was quite advanced by the time the call came in and that up to 200 fire department and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel were needed in order to control the fire and secure the site. According to Hodgens, most of the stores were closed, so firefighters had to break through the metal roll down gates of each storefront.

“It takes a lot of staffing, a lot of hard work, it’s not an easy task. Our other members have to go in and search to make sure there are no victims and start opening with tools the fire that is hidden above the ceiling [and under the roof],” Hodgens said. “It’s a very labor intensive operation, and they did a great job. Unfortunately, a couple were injured, but they are doing well.”

Hodgens said the 90 degree heat on Sunday added a further challenge to fighting the fire, as well as the sizable amount of smoke from the burning street block, but that the fire was under control as of the early afternoon. To ensure that the fire did not spread to the multi-unit dwelling next door and that no residents were hurt, Hodgens said that fire department personnel secured the wall bordering the fire and evacuated all residents. In accordance with FDNY protocol, an investigation led by a fire marshall will soon begin in order to determine the cause of the fire.

Carlos Masri, a South Williamsburg community member, said Lee Avenue is considered to be an economic and cultural hub of the Hasidic community, and that the damages to the area will be considerable.

Local community members gather around the site of the fire on Lee Avenue

“This will affect [the community] very much. This was one of the main centers where people will come here throughout the holidays, or before shabbat. It’s the main hub of this few blocks, and this is one of the major strips. There are restaurants, dry-good stores, all kinds of stuff. It’s like a little mall within the community,” Masri said.

Masri said many Hasidic families right now are out of New York City for the summer while their children attend summer camps, which also might be one of the reasons that all stores were empty at the time of the fire. However, with the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah fast approaching in September, Masri said that the community will feel the effects of the loss more strongly.
According to Masri, having strong local businesses is important for the Hasidic community because they are in compliance with Jewish laws and cultural norms.

“It’s a unique neighborhood because everyone is shopping locally,” Masri said. “Because of traditions and rules, it requires you to shop locally in accordance with Jewish laws and Hasidic culture so that’s why it’s really important to have

FDNY personnel on the scene

local stores. It’s not like you can go out to any other place.”

Lincoln Restler, New York City councilmember for the district, said the fire is a tragedy for the South Williamsburg community, and that he is saddened by the incident.

“This is the street that everybody in South Williamsburg comes to shop for all their needs. To have a devastating fire like this, that destroyed nine beloved local businesses, it breaks my heart,” Restler said. “There are many dozens of people who worked on this corner who don’t have jobs, and there are nine small business owners who poured their blood, sweat and tears into building out great small businesses for our community. In a flash, it’s all gone.

Restler said that the city council will work with the business owners and community leaders to rebuild the Lee Avenue shopping center.

“It’s going to be a long road, a long process, but we’re committed to working as closely as we can with each of the businesses affected to help them get back on their feet,” Restler said.

Fill the Form for Events, Advertisement or Business Listing