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Rat Infestations Downside of Williamsburg's Boom, Residents Say

By Gwynne Hogan | May 12, 2016 5:20pm
 Frank Ortiz, 70, says the rats on his block remind him of his time in Vietnam.
Frank Ortiz, 70, says the rats on his block remind him of his time in Vietnam.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

WILLIAMSBURG — The demolition of a North Brooklyn church has left the neighborhood fighting an infestation of rats, residents say.

Pulling down the 50-year-old house of worship at 80 South 2nd St. a few weeks ago has brought vermin so bold they approach resident sitting on their stoops and fighting for scraps in trash cans.

One even crawled into the engine of a car, breaking its fan belt, residents said.

"Just to walk to the corner store you have to walk in the middle of the street," said Bianca Charon, 34, a resident of South 2nd Street who said rats have taken over the sidewalks.

Frank Ortiz, 70, a Vietnam veteran, said two rats jumped out of his garbage can recently when he was taking out the trash.

"It's bringing back memories," Ortiz said, recalling rats in the war whose squeals would warn them that the enemy was nearby.

Rats have always been down by the East River, a mostly industrial area. But when construction began at the Domino Sugar Factory, residents started noticing the rodents moving farther up the shoreline towards residential parts of the neighborhood. 

The church's demolition, which started earlier this month, has made the infestation even worse, residents said.

"If you go to the garbage at night it's like a circus for them, three or four rats in your can," Charon said. "This is insane."

The link between rats and demolition work is no secret. The city requires contractors to provide proof of extermination before a demolition starts.

"Of course, when you shake the ground, they're running out of it," said Bennett Pearlman, owner of Positive Pest Management, an exterminator whose company is often hired to bait demolition sites.

The site at 80 South 2nd St. was baited by Precise Pest Control Inc. in December, months before demolition work began, according to a document provided by the Department of Buildings dated Jan. 4.

The developer of the project, Three Two One LLC, didn't return a request for comment. Yativ Corp, the contractor involved, declined to comment.

The property still belongs to the Brooklyn Diocese and Saints Peter and Paul Parish, which recently made headlines when "hipsters" stole a Jesus statue from its grounds, still operates a convent and several other nearby buildings. 

The Diocese approved the church's "reduction" for financial reasons in a December memo.

The property was leased to a developer for the next 49 years, a Diocese spokeswoman said.

"We're mindful of the rat issue that happens when construction occurs," spokeswoman Carolyn Erstad said.

"We also want to note that there's a lot of construction going on in that area…. beyond the church lot."

The parish held its last service in early April, NetTV reported. A former school owned by the parish will undergo renovations to become the future home of the congregation. 

No new building permits are on file with the Department of Buildings, so it wasn't immediately clear what the developers planned to do with the property.