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Traffic safety and library branch hot topics at Heights Association meeting

Tom Stewart, Patricia Duffy, son Michael and husband John, who were honored for their outstanding renovation of 265 Hicks Street. Photos by Rob Abruzzese

Eagle’s Mary Frost Cited for LICH Coverage

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The Brooklyn Heights Association held its annual meeting at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Pierrepont Street on Thursday night. Most of the meeting went smoothly, but it ended with some members of the audience shouting “shame on you” and holding up signs that read “don’t sell our libraries.”

The controversy surrounded a plan to sell the building that houses the Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and replace it with a tower. The plan includes housing the library in the new building, but residents are upset with the new plans that include reduced square footage of the branch, the potential height of the new building and the sale of public property to a private developer.

Prior to the commotion about the library, the meeting was fairly straightforward.

There was a brief and emotional tribute to local resident and BHA board member Martha Atwater, who passed away last year after a traffic accident. As expected, this also brought up pedestrian safety, which has become an especially hot topic in Brooklyn Heights since her death.

“In 2013, in New York, a pedestrian was killed by a car every 30 hours,” BHA President Alexandra Bowie said. “We have had an interest in traffic calming issues for a long time. A crash last year claimed the life of our friend, neighbor and board member Martha Atwater and has made us more determined to act.”

Bowie reported that the BHA has applied for and been granted “slow zone” status in the neighborhood. The slow zone won’t be implemented for a few years, Bowie said, but she expressed hope that the mayor’s Vision Zero initiative could speed up this process. She added that she would like to see speed humps, cameras, and better accident investigation implemented as part of the initiative.

“Several of these mechanisms mean more state legislation, and we will work with other groups in obtaining it in the coming year,” Bowie added.

The Department of Transportation has agreed to a study of the intersection at Hicks and Remsen streets, and the BHA will apply for a similar study done on Hicks Street between Clark and Middagh streets.

The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway will also be undergoing renovations sometime around June after a successful letter-writing campaign by the BHA. Bowie explained that houses along Columbia Heights had been vibrating, and as a response, the DOT will replace defective joints and resurface the BQE in the affected areas.

Bowie also thanked volunteers who helped the Promenade Garden and said that the BHA is committed to paying half of gardener Matthew Morrow’s salary. She encouraged everyone to support their fundraisers in order to keep up the garden’s success.

As part of the president's annual report, Bowie mentioned new board members who included Sheila Baltzell, Donald Brennan, Patrick Killackey, Jen Donaker, Phillip Magnuson, Daniel Watts, Inger Yancey and Christina Soto.

BHA Treasurer Daniel Watts gave the financial report. He reported that revenues were $196,000, an increase of $10,000 from the year before, and expenses were $198,000, a decrease of about $7,000 from the year before, which puts the net income of about negative $1,000. That net income was improved from the previous year where the BHA lost about $18,000. Assets remained roughly the same, they dropped about $1,000 to $490,000, and the organization received a clean report from an independent auditor.


Awards Given Out

There were five awards given out by WNET personality and Heights resident Tom Stewart at the meeting.

Clark's won for the Best Diner in the neighborhood, Patricia and John Duffy won for their outstanding renovation of 265 Hicks St., the Alperin Family and Emma Sullivan won for Best Business Contribution, and Ted Zoli won for Best New Addition to the Neighborhood for designing the Squibb Park Bridge.

Tom Stewart presented the Alperin Family, Marissa and David Alperin, and Emma Sullivan won for Best Business Contribution.

Ted Zoli won the award for Best Addition to the Neighborhood for designing Squibb Bridge that connects the Heights to Brooklyn Bridge Park, but he was not on hand so Tom Stewart presented Regina Myer with the award in his place.

A new award was named after Martha Atwater and was given to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s own Mary Frost for her coverage of the Long Island College Hospital (LICH) controversy.

“When [Atwater] chaired the awards committee last year, she asked, 'Who are the local heroes?' That was the purpose behind the new award that now carries her name,” said Matthew Kearney, who presented the award.

“Mary Frost profiled the fate of LICH and stayed on the story throughout its ups and downs,” Kearney said. “Because of the passionate struggle she waged with her words, the fate of LICH was not run off and mistreated. Without Mary's voice, this issue might have failed. Martha would have been so proud that Mary was the first recipient of this award because she truly is a great local hero.”

Matthew Kearney presents Mary Frost with the Martha Atwater Award for being a local hero.


Guest Speaker Clay Shirky

One of the highlights of the evening was guest speaker Clay Shirky, an author, NYU professor and Heights resident who spoke about how the internet has changed our society. He gave an overview of how media has changed culture throughout history and drew contrasts on the major differences that the internet and social media has made to our culture today.

“Culture isn’t a yardstick where we can measure if it’s better or worse, it’s a process,” Shirky said. “The biggest difference today is that there used to be a big gap between professional and amateur media, but because of the internet, there is no big gap between them anymore.

“They used to be more separate, but not for a good reason. They were separate because there was no other choice.”

Clay Shirky spoke at the meeting about how internet has changed our culture.


Questions About the Library

It wasn’t until the question-and-answer portion of the meeting that things took a turbulent turn when the topic of the library was brought up again.

Questions were only taken if they were written. Bowie responded to questions about the potential reduced square footage of a new library by stating, “The size of the library is not our issue. You would have to ask the Brooklyn Public Library.”

After that, Bowie quickly changed the subject when she read off a question about rats in the neighborhood and then promptly ended the meeting without answering any more questions. This did not go over well with some attendees.

“I’d like my question read,” yelled Justine Swartz, who was concerned with the height of the proposed building and pointed out that part of the BHA’s mission statement includes concern over the height of buildings near the neighborhood’s perimeter.

The BHA’s mission statement includes the following: “Major development at our boundaries threatens to wall us in and increase traffic through our narrow streets. The BHA is pushing to limit building heights on our perimeter and to keep out increased traffic.”

After Swartz read off this portion of the mission statement, another audience member yelled, “You represent the community. That is your job and you haven't done it.”

Nidia Birenbaum was one of a handful of citizens upset about the library.

Bowie did address the BHA's stance on the library earlier in the meeting. She noted that when it comes to some issues, like LICH's potential closing, they have elected to sue, but that in this instance the BHA would prefer to negotiate.

“We feel it's important to distinguish the branch and the building itself,” Bowie said. “The library is proposing to sell the building, but to retain the branch. If the project moves forward to sell the building, they will use the money to build a new branch and to rebuild other branches throughout their system. If the project moves forward, the new building will house a Heights Branch library.”

Joan Millman, assemblywoman, Stephen Levin, city councilman, and Marcia Ely, vice president of the Brooklyn Historical Society.

March 3, 2014 - 8:00am


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