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Twilight of the Trainspotters?

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Twilight of the Trainspotters?

By Jake Mooney

Published: June 17, 2007


HEADING east along Second Place toward the Carroll Street subway stop in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, morning commuters walk under a canopy of trees and past a series of compact, ornate front yards, full of lawn furniture and graced with a fish pond, a fountain or similar touches. Then, at the end of the block, just outside the station’s entrance on Smith Street, the commuters do something unusual: they stop, turn and gaze to the south.


They are peering not at the gridlocked trucks on the Gowanus Expressway or the distant tower of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, but, a little closer, at the tar-papered hulk that is the elevated station one stop away, at Smith and Ninth Streets.


After that stop, Manhattan-bound trains head underground on their way to Carroll Street, where canny neighborhood riders know they can wait just outside their station in the daylight until they see the elevated train approaching, then rush underground to the subway platform at the last minute, avoiding a long, dark wait downstairs. This has been the ritual for years, and practiced commuters time their newspaper-reading and cellphone conversations to the approaching trains, and know how to tell between a G and an F train in the distance. (The G has only four cars.)


Like many simple pleasures in New York, the sunny wait for a train may soon be endangered by the arrival of a new building. Several months ago, a developer named Billy Stein and an architect named Robert Scarano sought permission from the city to build an eight-story residential building that could cover up the train watchers’ plaza, as well as tower over the brownstones that predominate in the area.


After local residents complained about the plan, the builders proposed a height of only six stories. Members of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association said at a meeting on Monday that Mr. Stein and Mr. Scarano had recently shown them new drawings of the six-story building, with 46 units, a floor of parking spaces, and a terra cotta facade.

But the fate of the plaza — if such an exalted term can be applied to a few hundred square feet of concrete with a newsstand and a few trees poking through — remained unclear. The only sketch released showed the plaza gone, but Mr. Stein did not return two calls to his office in Nassau County, and a secretary at Mr. Scarano’s office said he had no comment.


The Smith Street building is allowed by right under existing zoning rules, but some residents at the Monday meeting advocated downzoning and landmark protection to prevent similar future developments. City Councilman Bill de Blasio, who said he supported both ideas, also vowed to keep pressure on Mr. Stein. A week earlier, Mr. de Blasio led a rally in the plaza against the Smith Street project.


Outside the station entrance one recent day, toward the tail end of morning rush, all the commotion of recent weeks seemed far away. A light breeze blew, birds sang in the trees, and even the car repair shop across the street was quiet. William Hooks, who lives a short way down Smith Street, strolled up in sunglasses and a yellow T-shirt, smoking a cigarette as he does every morning on his way to the station after finishing his coffee.


“Usually the train’s coming right when I’m down to my last two puffs,” said Mr. Hooks, a 29-year-old art director who works at Entertainment Weekly magazine. “It’s funny, it’s very scientific.”


People are more relaxed and a little friendlier standing in the daylight than they are underground, he said; they chat about the weather or the previous night’s baseball game.


Another commuter in the plaza, Robin Davis, described the wait outside as one of the charming aspects of local life, and one that takes new residents a little while to discover. When Ms. Davis’s fiancé moved in with her, she said, it took him a while to figure out what everyone in the plaza was staring off at.


“I think he thought we were praying to some god or something,” she said.

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I hope they get to keep their plaza and their beloved view. I find it disgusting that everything being built these days in Brooklyn is luxury housing. It's getting real sickening. It's all about the money.

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