Borough Hall meeting draws large anti-tower crowd
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A passionate crowd packed Wednesday’s Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation board meeting at Borough Hall, despite it being held at 3 p.m. on a work day.
Many speakers called for a halt to the construction of two luxury towers inside the park at Pier 6, at the foot of Atlantic Avenue, until further study could be carried out.
The park’s Community Advisory Council (CAC) had put forward two resolutions to put the development on pause while revisiting the park’s 10-year-old General Project Plan (GPP).
CAC says that there have been many changes since the GPP was written, including to local population density, traffic, park usage and the environment, and in income expected by other ongoing park developments.
After hearing from dozens of speakers, the board voted down the resolution 10 – 3. It did, however, agree to undertake an analysis to determine if a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) is required.
The analysis would include a look at the impacts of changes in “schools, transportation, traffic and space to determine if a SEIS is required,” said Regina Myer, board president.
“Part of the frustration comes from sticking with a 10-year-old, Bloomberg-era proposal,” said John Raskin, a CAC member appointed by state Sen. Daniel Squadron. “Brooklyn has changed, the local community has changed, the world has changed – but our park plan hasn’t changed and that’s the problem.”
In a recent development, because real estate values have ballooned since the GPP was written, fewer luxury units are needed to fund the park. The city now seeks to include 30 percent moderate- and middle-income housing in the project, as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.
John Dockery, a resident of 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park, agreed that Brooklyn needs affordable housing, “But at what cost? We’re giving up precious green land. What is once lost can never be regained.” He spoke of the current and projected boom in residential development in Downtown Brooklyn, and said that infrastructure, transportation systems, parks and cultural institutions needed to be remade.
“We need great visionaries. I’m asking Mayor de Blasio, Deputy Mayor Glen to be those visionaries.”
Board members and Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy members argued that the park has become wildly successful, and that revenue from the Pier 6 development is necessary to support ongoing maintenance, operations and pier repairs.
Ms. Myer maintained that a “full scale review of the General Project Plan” was not in the best interest of the park. “The plan is the result of decades of planning, and has been a resounding success, with 72 percent of the park built or under construction.”
She added that even with the Pier 6 site developed, only 10 percent of the park would be devoted to commercial or residential development.
Board votes down the resolution
Brooklyn Bridge Park, unlike other major parks in New York City, operates under a mandate to be financially self-sustaining. Figures presented at the meeting (and soon to be available online, according to the board) projected that the Pier 6 development would fill the remaining 10 percent gap in the maintenance and operations budget, and not quite all of the 60 percent gap in the maritime (pier) budget.
Michael Crain, on the conservancy’s board of directors, said that having residential development in the park was a tradeoff.
“I’ve seen what happens to a city park when there’s no funds – it’s not pretty,” he said.
Board member Henry Gutman called the proposal to revisit the GPP “a radical proposal.” He said that Sen. Squadron had negotiated a delay several years ago to look at alternatives to development in the park, “and it did not materialize," a statement which elicited light hissing. "I urge people to bear in mind that the fact that your viewpoint doesn’t prevail does not mean your viewpoint was not heard or considered,” he said.
When he claimed that the only thing that had changed since the project was proposed was the inclusion of affordable housing, audience members shouted, “No!” and “That’s pretty disingenuous.”
Audience members were admonished to “show respect.”
Board member Joanne Witty recapped some of the history of the park and said, “There would be nothing without the housing.”
“The bulkheads were falling down, it cost money to maintain the pier structures. We had to figure out how to pay.” She added that the Port Authority had planned to “load up the site with housing. It’s all about tradeoff and compromise.”
Alexandra Bowie, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said the BHA believes “housing is the best option to maintain the park. Additional eyes and ears in the park will make it safer and more welcoming.”
Park space ‘precious,’ infrastructure overwhelmed
Speakers opposing the development, however, took the position that housing should not take up precious space in a public park; that schools, streets and the park itself, at times, are already overcrowded; and that other major developments are in the works that will further overwhelm neighborhood infrastructure.
“It’s critical not to end the debate and conversation. A whole lot of people care about the park; a whole lot of people have valid concerns and ideas,” said state Sen. Daniel Squadron. “Luxury housing in this and other parks undermines the ability of public space to be truly public.”
Resistance to affordable housing in the park smacks of nimbyism, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, BBP Corporation’s board chair, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday.
“Look at the affordable housing crisis. People are being pushed out. It’s hard to believe people are so against including cops and teachers, the very people who are the backbone of the neighborhood.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, Squadron refuted the charge of nimbyism. “If any housing is built, it should be affordable,” he said. “But we never believed housing should be built in the park.”
Squadron said that a truly “comprehensive analysis” of environmental changes in the surrounding neighborhoods, including development proposed at the adjacent site of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and overcrowding at P.S. 8, was needed.
Emotions in the packed meeting room occasionally ran high, with a bit of shouting from opponents of the towers. When Ms. Glen attempted to cut off Squadron when his three-minute comment period ended, someone on the sidelines shouted, “He’s on a roll, let him speak!”
City Councilmember Stephen Levin said that schools, the environment and finances had all changed in the ten years since the GPP was written.
The Pier 6 development falls into P.S. 8’s zone. “P.S. 8 already had to do away with their pre-K because of space constraints,” he said.
He pointed out that the day after Superstorm Sandy, two floors of 360 Furman St. (1 Brooklyn Bridge Park) were under water. “There was a fire there; there was significant impact.”
And the financial picture “continues to evolve,” he said. “We should only be raising the revenue we need, not just developing for development’s sake.”
Sandy Balboza, head of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, said that reviewing the general plan 10 years later was “a reasonable request.”
When the plan was formulated, “The park was not open, and 360 Furman St. was vacant. Now the residents of 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park have expressed concerns, and now the plan has 30 percent affordable housing. This was not in the original plan.”
He added, “In the original community plan, there was no housing. This was thrown in in 2004.”
David Ramsey, a painter affiliated with Build Up NYC, a coalition of building trades workers, said the board shouldn’t be relying on an outdated environmental impact study in light of environmental change. “Flood zones have been modified since Sandy, and the Pier 6 footprint lies within an area that was under 20 feet of water during the storm.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the park released details of 14 different design proposals submitted by developers. The proposals were submitted in response to an RFP issued in May.
Some attendees expressed frustration with the process, saying that the public was being overridden by commercial interests. “It seems only wealthy developers influence the board,” said Maria Espinal, a construction worker who called for a new EIS.
Another speaker told the board, “This is killing the golden goose, friends.”
A lawsuit has, for now, prevented the board from giving its final approval to a developer. Lori Schomp, a petitioner in the legal action along with fellow Willowtown resident Joseph Merz, said that Brooklyn had less park land than other boroughs. “We need all the park space we can keep,” she said. “Parks need a lot of advocacy.