Temporary Restraining Order from Justice Knipel
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A park advocacy group obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) in state Supreme Court on Friday which prevents Brooklyn Bridge Park from signing off on two controversial residential towers planned for the park’s Pier 6.
Justice Lawrence Knipel’s decision restrains Brooklyn Bridge Park personnel from approving proposals to develop a 315 foot tower and a 155 foot tower. Together, the two towers offer approximately 430 units.
The newly-formed People for Green Space Foundation wants the Pier 6 Request for Proposals (RFP) annulled, on the grounds that the project was altered after the fact to include affordable housing.
The city seeks to include 30 percent moderate- and middle-income housing in the luxury waterfront project, as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.
The litigants also says a supplemental environmental review needs to be carried out because park circumstances have drastically changed since the housing plans were initially made. These changes include Superstorm Sandy, significantly increased vehicular and pedestrian traffic, a change in park finances and overcrowding in neighborhood schools.
Lori Schomp, a petitioner in the legal action along with fellow Willowtown resident Joseph Merz, said in a statement, “Planning must take into account current circumstances, and new consideration must now be given to what Brooklyn needs in terms of park space and services to accommodate park visitors as well as school, traffic and other infrastructure challenges faced by local residents.
She added, “I support the mayor’s visionary efforts on affordable housing; however, putting additional luxury housing—even with an affordable component— in the Brooklyn Bridge Park takes away public green space from all of the people of Brooklyn.”
Martin Hale, chairman of the foundation, said, “The 2000 master plan for the Brooklyn Bridge Park had no housing on Pier 6, and instead included a ‘major promenade and gateway’ where a ‘signature vertical element, such as a water fountain, helps define the gateway.’”
De Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell, however, said the development would both support the park and create badly-needed homes for working families.
"Housing is critical to financing and sustaining Brooklyn Bridge Park, and that's been part of the park's master plan since its inception,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle on Friday.
“What's changed is that this administration has committed to make some of that housing affordable for working families being priced out of Brooklyn,” Norvell said. “In a contest between protecting the views of a lucky few and creating homes for the families that make New York City work, this administration has chosen the latter."
Brooklyn Bridge Park, unlike other major parks in New York City, operates under a mandate to be financially self-sustaining, a mandate written into the Park’s General Project Plan approved in 2005. According to the park Conservancy, development locations were chosen "to take advantage of the existing urban context by concentrating development closest to existing park entrances and maintain the protected view corridor from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade."
Belinda Cape, a spokeswoman for Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corp told the Eagle that the restraining order wouldn’t slow down the RFP process.
“Today’s order allows Brooklyn Bridge Park to proceed with receiving, reviewing, and negotiating responses to the Pier 6 RFP,” she said. “We will continue to work through the RFP process, and towards securing the funding essential to Brooklyn Bridge Park's future while providing much-needed affordable housing.”
Pols urge less speed, more talk
Local elected officials, who say they have been frustrated in their attempts to meet with park officials to discuss alternatives, urged the mayor to take the long view in light of the area’s burgeoning population and inadequate infrastructure.
"This lawsuit is yet another example of why we have urged the administration to stop moving forward at a breakneck speed on the Bloomberg-era plan for housing at Pier 6, and instead begin to work with the community," state Sen. Daniel Squadron, Assemblymember Joan Millma, and City Councilmembers Brad Lander and Steve Levin said in a joint statement. “We have long voiced concern about housing in the park and will continue to do so, especially in light of the continued unknowns at the LICH [Long Island College Hospital] site, which is a stone’s throw from Pier 6 and will have infrastructure and planning impacts on the same immediate area."
They added, “The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation and the Administration should immediately cease any action on this RFP and begin a community-driven process to revisit other viable options to the Bloomberg plan for housing at Pier 6."
Northwest Brooklyn bursting at the seams?
Over the past few years, Brooklyn neighborhoods from Red Hook to Downtown to Williamsburg have experienced rapid residential growth.
When Brooklyn Bridge Park’s original environmental review was carried out almost 10 years ago, for example, area schools were operating at 65 percent capacity, according to exhibits submitted by the petitioners.
Petitioners say that during the 2013-2014 school year, District 13 schools operated at 95 percent capacity, and the closest elementary school – P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights – operated at 142 percent capacity. [Update: According to the School Construction Authority, P.S. 8 operated at 119 percent capacity during the 2013 -2014 school year. The city's capacity numbers, however have been questioned and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina is looking at reforming the process.]
According to the school advocacy group Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions, more than 2,500 residential units have been built in the P.S. 8 zone in the last seven years, and 800 more will be built in the next four years. The group says that the city’s own calculation methods call for accommodating nearly 950 additional elementary school-aged children at P.S. 8 by 2017 – a physically impossible task.
Similarly, with the closure of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) just a block away from the planned park towers, hospital emergency rooms across the borough have become jammed, with patients reporting hours-long waits and babies being born in hospital hallways.
Some residents fear that the massive residential development being planned for the hospital’s 20-building complex will swamp Cobble Hill schools and push Brooklyn further into a health care crisis.
In a twist, People for Green Space is represented by Frank Carone of Abrams, Fensterman, Eisman, who recently represented SUNY in its fight to close the LICH complex and sell it to a developer.
While Carone fought for SUNY’s right to sell the 156-year-old hospital to Fortis Property Group, he argues in his petition for People for Green Space that building a two-tower project just one block away from the LICH site would have a “significant adverse impact” to the area.