Southern Brooklyn

City Planning Snubs Southern Brooklyn Waterfront

Repairs to the Plumb Beach bike path is one of the only local suggestions that made it into the waterfront planning document guiding the next 10 years of development.

The city’s new so-called “comprehensive waterfront plan” ignores the needs of Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods, said Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo, and she plans to tell the Department of City Planning that we demand more.

“What they’re pressing right now [in Brooklyn] is Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Red Hook and the Gowanus Canal,” Scavo told Sheepshead Bites. “Look at the things they’re pushing over there. The ‘up-and-coming waterfront’; but what about the one that’s been here for years?”

“Compared to other places, we didn’t get much of anything,” she added.

The Vision 2020 proposal is designed to steer the development and zoning agenda of New York City’s 500-plus miles of waterfront, targeting places for revitalization, development and preservation. It’s currently in its draft stage, and the Brooklyn Borough Board – made up of the Borough President and Community Board chairs – will hear a presentation tonight from the Department of City Planning.

But Scavo said she and others are unhappy, and Borough Hall will send a simple statement at tonight’s meeting.

“Borough Hall is going to say there’s not enough for Brooklyn, and we want… Well, there’s a whole litany of things,” she said.

Within the confines of Community Board 15, seven crucial proposals and a list of requests from local civic groups were submitted by the board to City Planning in March. The seven developments are:

  • To create a continuous promenade along Manhattan Beach
  • Along Emmons Avenue from Shore Boulevard to Knapp Street, to create both a visual corridor and a walkway which would allow all residents the opportunity of enjoying the waterfront.
  • Erosion has taken sand from Plumb Beach and narrowed the mouth of Sheepshead Bay causing Kingsborough Community College’s Maritime Program to face constant problems with boats mired in the sand. Boaters have to maneuver the accumulation of silt and sand to navigate from Sheepshead Bay through the narrow straight beyond Kingsborough and along Plumb Beach. Sheepshead Bay has required dredging for many years to maintain the recreational use of the Bay for so many individuals.
  • This past winter, the bike path at Plumb Beach has fallen into the sea. The Belt Parkway Eastbound can fall prey at any time during a severe storm. Plumb Beach has needed sand replenishment for many years and a long term solution must be created to avoid future erosion of this pristine neighborhood beach.
  • Gerritsen Beach area suffers from severe flooding due to eroded sea walls and bulkheads. To maintain integrity, these sea walls and bulkheads must be inspected and either repaired or replaced when necessary.
  • The Sea Wall along Manhattan beach must be repaired. The Sea Wall is crumbling and the potential for disaster is real.
  • Both Manhattan Beach and Gerritsen Beach border waterways. Many of the streets ending at waters edge are “Dead End Streets.” Most residents have usurped these dead end streets, erecting fencing and blocking a visual corridor as well as a place to access the waterfront. These street ends could create both visual interest and pedestrian access to water views.

But, in the most recent Vision 2020 draft, only one vaguely-worded suggestion draws from Scavo’s list, alongside another project with an uncertain future. Here’s what City Planning included in Vision 2020:

  • Brigham Street Park – Explore opportunities for enhanced public access by integrating into adjacent Plumb Beach
  • Plumb Beach – Mitigate against continuing erosion through sand replenishment to enhance natural habitat; re-build bike paths

Meanwhile, in Manhattan and Northern Brooklyn, Vision 2020 advances a slew of sporty additions to the waterfront, including new greenways, expanded esplanades, recreational facilities like boat launches, new public piers, markets, art galleries and rooftop parks.

The message is clear: if it’s not Manhattan and it doesn’t overlook Manhattan, a waterfront is worthless.

“Look at the new waterfront; look at Manhattan,” said Scavo. “Any of these waterfront areas they’ve got ideas left and right. What about us? Manhattan is not New York City and they can’t forget about us.”

Getting local ideas into the Vision 2020 proposal is far more than a cry for attention to our neighbors to the north, Scavo said. With Sheepshead Bay filling up with sand, and Plumb Beach emptying of it, vital economic and infrastructural resources are at stake. If safeguarding and rebuilding our infrastructure is included in the city’s 10-year waterfront plan, it’s one less stumbling block to getting the job done before it’s too late.

“You’ve got to take care of the problems [like those at Plumb Beach] yesterday. Not tomorrow, yesterday,” she said. “If we get in the proposals to City Planning, it’ll hasten the officials in getting it done.”

Comment policy


  1. Scavo is correct on most points. However, I believe it was the City not the residents who erected the fences at the end of the dead end streets in Manhattan Beach. We have not had use of the Esplanade for over 30 years and it has been falling apart for 50 years. It’s about time for the City to repair it and make it usable once again. I miss not being able to walk on it. However, it should continue and connect with Brighton Beach, but I doubt that many Manhattan Beach residents would be in favor of that.

    However, the City did offer CB 15 one thing, ferry service which they did not want. Could the omission of their current needs be in retaliation for this?

  2. I don’t remember being able to walk “safely” on the esplanade even 40 years ago. I thought much of the damage was caused by a storm in ’47. (Maybe the BLizzard of ’47”) But I came across some documents which indicated that even in the early 40s there was concern about its future safety. It’s right up against the rocks there.

  3. I heard from my neighbors that it was Hurricane Donna in 1960 or ’61. In the late 1970s you could still walk to Brighton Beach on the dilapidated Esplanade with a little rock climbing after West End Avenue.

  4. I guess I’m not old enough to remember there ever being a walkway on Esplanade. I can see the time line of Plumb Beach eroding away from neglect (like many things in South Brooklyn). It seem the city’s solution for fix South Brooklyn (like all problems here) is a band aid to cover the problem. Note how long these black bags of sand will stay Plumb Beach.

  5. Donna was as terrible, or perhaps even worse than the northeaster we had in March. Could have exacerbated the condition that the Esplanade was in already. I remember in the early 1970s huge pieces were missing and rock climbing skills were already a prerequisite for navigating it. I don’t think I even bothered with it after I was in my early teens, except perhaps to cross as the rocks were a nice perch for watching ships.

    I wish I had thought to take photos back then. It looked like it had been bombed.

  6. I lived on one of the beach blocks south of Oriental in the 90’s, and walked my dog the length of the Esplanade every day for almost 8 years. He and I were good rock climbers. You could walk on the sand when the tide was really low.

    At some point, the owner of the first monstrosity that was built on the water (I believe he was from the Sasoon clan) built a fence (and his own bulkhead) to stop people from walking past his little castle. There was a legal battle between him and the M.B. community in the courts for years. First he was ordered to take down the fence – but ultimately he won – big money always wins. I had several heated encounters with him after this, ’cause I continued to walk my dog across his property – big dogs always win as well!

    Ultimately, the homeowners who had beachfront property were offered (by the city) the adjacent property that was the Esplanade, and the rest is history.

    One day I will dig up my photos from that time and send them to Ned.

  7. Actually most of it was quite walkable into the late 70’s. You just had to watch where you stepped to avoid the huge chunks that were missing, but it was quite walkable except for the two blocks between West End and Brighton Beach. Sometime in the late 70s or early 80s dirt was piled up by a bulldozer between Corbin and about Beaumont St. A narrow dirt path was made above the mountain and was in use until the entire Esplanade was closed. Why the dirt was piled there, I do not know.

  8. My recollection from the early 70 was that it was extremely lopsided, with broken slabs that created steps. At some points it was so slanted that walking was rather difficult. We would climb up on the rocks at several points because the slant was dizzying.

  9. I saw the dirt path once in the 80s but by that time I had little curiosity about testing its worthiness. Not that I was adverse to that sort of thing in general, just a matter of having the truly interesting walk on it it seemed tame by comparision.

  10. I remember only about three places where you had to walk on the lopsided pavement. Most other places you could walk around them. Thee were even a few makeshift concrete patches that allowed you to do that. I guess people doing construction in the area would fill the holes with the leftover concrete from their jobs that they needed to get rid of anyway.

  11. Of course, we would have walked on the rocks rather than go off to the right. We were teenagers at the time.

    I think you’re right that the filling was done with leftover concrete. And it took some time before some holes were filled.

    At once point someone fenced it up at Ocean Avenue, but I didn’t remember whether the fence stayed up or not. I do remember a police officer telling me that some people were afraid that kids were going to fall off the rocks and drown, or otherwise hurt themselves.

  12. I remember going there and walking around roughly 30 years ago. Some toppled rocks made for a sure footed adventure. During low tides a small little beach would become accessible, between Manhattan and Brighton beaches. We would go there often at night to hang out, drink some beers, smoke some weed, and generally just have a great time with a small bunch of friends. One night my friend’s girlfriend invited her girlfriend to join us, simply reaching up to give her a hand down to the beach led to a year long relationship. I wish I still knew her, but….we were young….and it was a long time ago.

  13. Surprisingly I got to be pretty good at negotiating those rocks. I could never climb a fence, but rock climbing became almost second nature to me.We were running a coffehouse in the basement of the Methodist church on Voorhies in the mid-seventies and used to go there, or the beach itself afterwards. After the cops knew us and didn’t bother us, which was really strange. They only asked us not to do anything in front of them that would give them a problem. They’d shine a light to let us know they were coming. We did this even in the winter, and they were impressed that we had built a wind shield for the fire.I know people that even at our age are still doing things that we died years ago. I guess they never stopped. And I guess it is possible that we catch our second wind now.

    And F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong. There are second acts in our lives.

  14. The point is well taken. It would be a tremendous resource to be able to walk on a rebuilt and maintained Esplanade from Manhattan Beach to Brighton Beach. Even if this was accomplished, who would maintain it? Would it be physically closed at night? What about the quality of life for the homeowner’s that own the waterfront homes? I have seen the property damage of the waterfront homes first hand which was caused by vandals. Who do you think had to pay to fix the damage? There are many other quality of life crimes that occurred as well. Just look at what happens at Holocaust Park in the evenings. That park is visible and illegal activity STILL goes on, imagine what happened on the Esplanade? I lived in the apartment building at the end of Corbin Place for 4 years (1994-1998); my apartment faced the Esplanade. I could write a book on what went on outside of my window everynight.

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