Brooklyn Heights

Howe’s Brooklyn: The sharp outer edges of Bridge/Park conflict

February 4, 2015 By Sam Howe Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Howe's Brooklyn, Eagle file photo
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Bitter conflict and passionate feelings were clear at the community meeting to air grievances against development at the fringes of Brooklyn Bridge Park. At one sharp outer edge, those who built and manage the park feel it is a unique development, a pro bono publico project that, unlike so many other public works, was created with a self-funding element that demands flexibility in the structure.

At the other sharp edge is an opposing force of neighborhood sentiment in Brooklyn Heights, demanding that no developmental or funding project can ride rough-shod over basic concerns of the residential community.

“They’ve put the cart before the horse,” said one longtime resident who attended the meeting Tuesday night. “No matter how grand and celebrated this park plan may be as a crown jewel, it serves what is essentially a transient crowd of visitors. Planning for impact on long-term neighbors, who are solicited for money to support park activities, has been short-sighted.” 

The story of encroachment on what Brooklyn Heights perceives as sacred is ongoing; it dates back more than half a century to the attempt by Robert Moses to cut the BQE through the heart of Brooklyn Heights. Even those latter-day property owners who accept over-development as a fact of life must admit their home values have benefited greatly from historic preservation efforts.

A new generation of activism — exemplified by the standing ovation Steve Guterman received after his clear, pointed challenge to Toll Brothers and Park management — has emerged to challenge the heftiest of deals that are part of public-private partnerships.  

One specific question not asked or answered: can full financial disclosure be demanded on the entire Toll Brothers project?  Presumably, monies to be paid to the park by this project are in lieu of taxes. Presumably, the solid gold development site was expected to make a profit for Toll Brothers. How much profit?

How much would their profit be cut by potential changes demanded from “Save the View Now”?

Whether it would temper the resolve of opponents or not, the community at large might benefit from a reality check on the levels of financial commitment thus far by developers.  (Yes, developers are people, too.)  It’s a marriage as contentious as something Edward Albee might have written for the stage, but still, there it is: legally binding, physically present, negotiable and ugly. (This writer uses “ugly” to apply to the relationships involved, not to any specific building. Architect Jonathan Marvel is truly marvelous and has done great things for Brooklyn.)

A few blocks south on Pier 6 the issues are also scale of development and financial analysis of future park revenues.  But there is the additional political football that might be called “inflated”: affordable housing. The Save Pier 6 organization has analyzed and questioned finances on proposed building there from the beginning.

There is no doubt that all neighborhood leaders involved worked hard and brilliantly for decades to formulate a unique public park solution to the future of Piers 1-6. There is no doubt that current park planners and managers feel their mission is “Pro Bono Publico,” in capital letters. There is no doubt that tax-paying residents of Brooklyn Heights  cherish the rare landmarks surrounding them — the Brooklyn Bridge, the Promenade, the very history and scale of New York’s first Historic District.

What stands in serious doubt now is whether the outside development that was procured to fund Brooklyn Bridge Park has been shaped and managed well enough, or has ridden rough-shod over some sensitive sacred cows and some long-term planning issues.

Two things readers should note: (1) no matter what happens next, you are damned lucky if you live here; (2) if you have missed meetings or feel uninformed, check out a number of websites:

Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation:

Save the View Now:

Save Pier 6 (and People for Green Space Foundation):

Brooklyn Heights Association:

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