By Matthew Taub
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
“The petition is very open-ended,” Lori Schomp explained to a woman strolling through Saturday’s Willowtown Fair. “We’re just asking for the community to be involved. As these decisions are evolving and happening very fast, we’d like the park to slow down so neighbors can have an input.”
And just like that, another initially wary visitor to the Save Pier 6 table was quickly won over.
Though many residents seemed largely unaware, a massive new development is slated for their neck of the woods–on the iconic waterfront no less. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation has formally issued a “Request For Proposals” for two towers within Pier 6, at the park’s southernmost edge.
Ren Richmond is another Save Pier 6 supporter, hoping that any such development can be scaled down.
“If building is inevitable, whatever they build needs to be within the character of the neighborhood. Instead of a 30-story tower, if they could build it the same size as the the existing buildings, it would fit in more. It wouldn’t block the park as an iconic gateway for everyone to enjoy.”
“There’s a long history of preservation and activism in this community,” Richmond added.
Indeed, Brooklyn Bridge Park was only developed in the first place (from formerly vacant piers) after community engagement of civic leaders over several decades. But while the Park was the beneficiary of significant capital investments for its construction, it receives no public funds for park maintenance or operations.
“The park says they need to build this because the revenues they’ll generate will help pay for the park,” Schomp explained. “That’s in the park’s founding documents–it has to be self-sustaining. But what’s been so hard for us is that the corporation will not say how much in revenue they can get from these buildings–not even a range of numbers. Our position is, give us something to work with so we can at least come up with an alternative proposal that meets the Corporation’s needs.”
Together, the two towers offer approximately 430 units. The Park’s managing corporation has asked that any proposals include affordable apartments for middle- and moderate-income New Yorkers, aligning the plan with the Mayor’s affordable housing initiative.
“The residential development…will ensure that the community better reflects the diversity of Brooklyn and provide[s] vital park funding to guarantee the ongoing maintenance of the waterfront Park for generations to come,” a press release from the BBPDC said.
But the Save Pier 6 coalition finds at least some of these motives to be spurious.
“I do not think that there should be additional housing on pier 6,” Richmond said. “[But] if housing is going to be put in, then the money should be used for the park and it should go through local zoning to give the community a say and to make it contextual.”
“People are already coming to Brooklyn Bridge Park from all over,” Richmond added. “This has nothing to do with us being against ‘outsiders’ coming in. It’s about overcrowding and building something out of scale. As we build higher and add more density in this neighborhood and in the city, then our public park space becomes all the more precious.”
While Schomp is a recent transplant to the neighborhood, the Save Pier 6 coalition is a diverse group of old-timers and newcomers. “There’s a lot of people who’ve been engaged on this for a long time, and we’ve benefitted from their advice and insights,” she said.
Schomp, for her part, is also driven by history and personal experience. She grew up in Pittsburgh, where she saw problematic development that, for her, serves as a lesson. “They destroyed so much of their waterfront on the river by development that wasn’t smart in the sixties and seventies,” she explained, “and they were stuck with it, for decades. I think this is the same thing we’re doing here. I think the moment people start to see how big it is, people who aren’t already aware now are going to be upset, and it’s going to be too late.”
“It’s a really beautiful, special spot. We should do creative, wonderful things for it, and keep it for other generations.”
Responses to the park’s request for proposals are due July 21.