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Coalition Calls for Broadened Brooklyn Bridge Park Housing Study

Elected Officials, Community Boards and Organizations come together to call for study of the Watchtower Properties

The call for a full study of the Jehovah's Witnesses Watchtower Properties as a possible revenue source to pay for Brooklyn Bridge Park is coming from all corners of local politics and community activism.

In a display of wide-reaching support that is not often seen, every elected official and both Community Boards that represent the area, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council and a strong coalition of community organizations are asking that the Committee on Alternatives to Housing (CAH), chaired by a top aide to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, study all possible alternatives, namely the Watchtower Properties.

"The community is speaking with a single voice," said State Senator Daniel Squadron. "Make good on the process."

In December, the Committee on Alternatives to Housing , which must pay for itself, unlike other city parks. One alternative was the study of the Watchtower Properties, which are said to be going up for sale soon, and are adjacent to the park. If the properties become residential, the now tax-exempt properties have the potential to be revenue-generating.

However, in the first draft of the report, prepared by the hired consultants Bay Area Economics (BAE), the 

The omission was the impetus for the call to action.

"We are pushing to make the process as full as possible," said Squadron, adding that the CAH voted to study the properties, and therefore they should be studied, to maintain the promise of a "transparent" process.

In late April, a letter was sent to Deputy Mayor Robert Steel, Chair of the Committee on Alternatives to Housing, from Squadron, U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez, Borough President Marty Markowitz, Assemblywoman Joan Millman and City Councilmembers Steve Levin and Brad Lander, endorsing resolutions passed by Brooklyn Community Boards 2 and 6 and calls for further study by community organizations. 

"We endorse these organizations' request that BAE’s final report include a comprehensive study of how revenue from the nearly three million square feet of Watchtower properties can be used to fund the park," the letter read.

In a separate letter to the CAH, Councilmembers Levin and Lander say the omission of the Watchtower Properties in the report was a "mistake."

"We believe that the original decision by the Committee to consider these potential revenues was correct," read the letter. "They could serve as a sufficient and appropriate revenue stream to fund the maintenance and operations of the Park without the development of additional housing."

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, Inc., a coalition of organizations that have been opposed to housing in the park for years and headed by President Judi Francis, also sent a letter in support of including the Watchtower Properties in the final report.

"We
 were
 surprised
 they
 [the Watchtower Properties] were 
not 
fully
 explored 
in 
the 
Draft 
Report," the letter reads.

For Roy Sloane, President of the Cobble Hill Association, a group that is a member of the Defense Fund, the omission of the Watchtower Properties was a strong-armed move that originated in the Mayor's Office.

The omission "leads to the disturbing conclusion that the draft report is little more than a carefully crafted propaganda document designed to support the Mayor’s desire for luxury high rise housing," wrote Sloane in a statement.

Deputy Mayor Steel responded to the letter from the elected officials with another letter earlier this week.

"As with all comments received following the release of the Draft Report, the Committee on Alternatives to Housing will review your feedback in consultation with Bay Area Economics, and will carefully consider it."

The final report is expected by the end of the month.

Squadron has veto power over any new housing in the park, and he said he is not taking any options off the table at this point.

"In the end, we'll have to decide what's best for the community," he said.

Michael Brown May 14, 2011 at 06:01 PM
Unfortunately, the space to comment here is limited, but here are some thoughts on using the Watchtower Properties as a funding source for Brooklyn Bridge Park: http://carrollgardensdiary.com/post/5486085279/brooklyn-bridge-park-funding "The basic idea is one of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) zone. However, these are generally reserved for blighted areas, and areas in need of infrastructure improvement (Think the South Bronx or East New York or Corona). The City has resisted using TIF in the past, and I see no willingness to use TIF here. Besides, there are much, much better options for a TIF zone than some of the priciest real estate in Brooklyn. Additionally, focusing solely on the Watchtower properties would not capture the theoretically increased tax revenue from properties in DUMBO or the Heights or on Columbia Street. By treating properties who all have increased tax revenues differently, the City would not be acting in a fair and equitable manner."

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