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Residents Speak Out on Alternatives to Housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park

The more than 3-hour comment session was the last public hearing on the issue

It was more of the same at the public hearing on alternatives to housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Thursday night. Some residents testifying were , and others .

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Committee on Alternatives to Housing heard testimony from fifty-three local residents, civic leaders and elected officials at the final public hearing.

Those in attendance were commenting on the to the 20-30 story luxury buildings currently planned for the Park. The hearing, held at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, was the third and final public comment session dedicated to the report on how to fund the park’s $16.1 million maintenance budget without constructing residential buildings.

The report, compiled by consultant firm BAE Urban Economics and released February 22, considers eight alternatives: fee-based recreational facilities, event facilities, concessions, sponsorships, fundraising, metered parking, retail or office real estate development and a Park Improvement District fee, which would apply to nearby residential and commercial properties.

The committee is accepting written testimony, submitted to the committee via email, until the end of the public comment period on April 25. BAE will then write its final report, which the committee will consider before voting on whether to recommend any of the alternatives to the full Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation board.

The evening was relatively demure, except for a few bursts of applause that followed especially fiery speeches delivered late in the evening.

Most people who took to the microphone stood firmly on one side of the debate; they either adamantly supported the plan for residential development in the park or vehemently opposed it.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, represented at the hearing by executive director Nancy Webster, landed on the pro-development side. In her testimony, Webster said the alternatives put forth in the draft report will not generate enough revenue to replace the planned residencies at Pier 6, at the foot of Atlantic Avenue, and John St., but could reduce the scale of the development in the park. 

Other commenters, such as Reid Kennedy, a Fort Greene resident, also voiced their support for the construction of residential buildings to fund the park’s upkeep and operations.

"This is an unprecedented opportunity to revitalize the waterfront. The proposed development is minimal," he said. "It's not like it's an Ikea."

Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz was not present at the hearing, but he backed the current plan in testimony read aloud by his chief of staff Carlo Scissura.

"Residential development and a medium-size hotel is the best fit for the park," the written testimony said.

Then there were those who staunchly opposed residential buildings within the park's confines. 

"The draft underscores the fact that operating and maintenance costs could be met without the developments," says Ben Bankson, president of the Willowtown Association in Brooklyn Heights. He said he's confident residents in his area would support a Park Improvement District fee, one of the alternatives presented by the report. "The PID is a fair way to support a park that adds so much value to the neighborhood," he said.

Ray Sloane, president of the Cobble Hill Association, said his organization has and pointed out that there are no high-rises in Prospect Park or Central Park. 

Council member Stephen Levin, who represents communities along the Brooklyn waterfront, voiced a similar opinion.

"Brooklyn Bridge Park should look and feel like a park not a development site," he said.

Levin also drew attention to what he said was the "elephant in the room:" the Jehovah's Witness-owned Watchtower Properties near the park’s border that other residents also cited as an alternative. 

The Jehovah's Witness properties were , but were left out of the draft report.

The religious group is expected to sell the three million square feet of property soon, but there are no definite plans in place. BAE did not fully examine the Watchtower Properties because actual financial information is currently unavailable. Because the buildings belong to a religious entity, they are tax-exempt.

Ignoring the Watchtower buildings was one of the most egregious misunderstandings committed by BAE, the report's author, said longtime Brooklyn Heights activist Tony Manheim. 

"They are called Bay Area Economics, after all," he said. "Maybe that's why they don't understand New York very well."

When the three-hour stream of speakers ended, Regina Myer, head of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation, said she was impressed with the commenters' preparedness but not surprised by their ideas.

"Many of the suggestions were the same as the ones brought up at the two prior hearings," she said. The fact that no new ideas were brought to the table Thursday night showed Myer that "the consultant has looked at everything," she said.

Anon April 08, 2011 at 08:52 PM
The consultant did not look at everything. They did not look at the Jehovah Witness properties despite written testimony by Manheim and the Park Defense Fund. They did not look at the Real Estate Transaction fee that is used by East Hampton to buy open space and put it into a land trust out for permanent open space. They did not look at true revenue from movie shoots (charge $300 to Spielberg to shoot in the park?). They did not consider the full load of parking spaces - if all 1120 spaces planned were to produce revenue for the park and not for the private housing this alone would yield $6 million. Myer is an apologist for housing inside public parks, the Bloomberg doctrine. It is too bad because there are many ways to pay for the park without housing and the community actually came up with a surprising and impressive number of ways. It just falls on deaf ears.
Phyllis May 02, 2011 at 09:46 PM
Private luxury housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park would be a travesty. There are other ways to pay for maintenance than to allow a very few very wealthy people to steal the skyline and the sky from the rest of us. I am so tired of this notion that mere wealth can destroy views and open spaces that regular people...normal hardworking people...seniors and children... should be able to share. This is a precious spot that has needed to be developed FOREVER for the use of the citizens and the visitors to the Brooklyn shore. Giving it to the wealthiest among us is antithetical to the open space notion that those who conceived of the park envisioned. More kiosks, events with reasonable admission fees, support from the merchants in the community who benefit from the influx of visitors...there has to be a better way. There are also THOUSANDS of real estate listings every day of the week because EVERYONE wants to live in Brooklyn. There is no shortage of housing for the rich. They don't need to have our park as their personal playground. They have many other choices!
Michael Brown May 03, 2011 at 01:06 PM
The issue has nothing to do with their choice of housing, or stealing skyline or any other abstract concept one can come up with; the issue is economics and economics alone. The park is a very, very expensive one, and how will the City pay for its upkeep? Do we shift the burden solely on the Jehovah's Witness' properties, if and when they are redeveloped and their payable taxes theoretically increase? To do so, the J-51 program would have to be suspended, and the developer/owner would have a slam dunk lawsuit against the City for shifting the burden solely onto them. Do we look at turning the park partly over to private enterprise, such as movie shoots and parking, as has been suggested? I would posit that that would make the park much less of a public amenity, and reduce public access, as has proven true in the financing of the Randall's Island ball fields. I for one am in favor of the City paying for the park's maintenance out of the general park maintenance fund, but that was not the deal when the City took over the project and so far, the City seems unwilling to bear the cost. Without that concession from the City, I see no other viable, legal, equitable alternative.

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