Brooklyn Heights

To see hard-won progress at Brooklyn Bridge Park, look both north and south of namesake bridge

Board: Advances on many fronts

March 3, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Progress on a number of projects was described at a board meeting of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation on Feb. 26. These include the kickoff of construction on the new Main Street Park, shown here. Rendering courtesy of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. and Architecture Research Office
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This year will be a big one at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Board President Regina Myer reported at a Feb. 26 Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC) board meeting, held at Borough Hall.

Myer described progress on a number of fronts at the popular waterfront park. This includes the kickoff of construction on the new Main Street Park section, the start of a residential project on John Street, a pedestrian bridge over a tidal salt marsh at the foot of Jay Street, a traffic pilot project, and work on the Empire Stores and Tobacco Warehouse.

Myer said a “loop road” pilot project, which will ease congestion and increase safety near Piers 5 and 6, was moving ahead.

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She gave more details about the Main Street Park, which will include an interpretive center for children’s programs, restrooms, an outdoor ecology and composting center and a boulder wall. The foundation for the boulder wall has been laid, she said.

Agreements entered

The board authorized several agreements on contracts, including the demolition of Building 56 (the Maintenance and Operations Building) at 268 Furman St., the construction of a boathouse, repairs to the currently-closed “bouncy” Squibb Bridge, special inspection services and maritime repairs (of marine bulkheads and piers).

Four maritime projects are scheduled for this spring, to cost $9.9 million, according to the board.

The board also approved $700,000 for the repairs to Squibb Bridge. Board member Zeeshan Ott, deputy chief of staff for state Sen. Daniel Squadron, asked about the necessity of authorizing the funds “for a bridge that’s a couple years old [and] cost $5 million in the first place.

“We want the bridge open but we want to make sure there’s further work done afterwards” regarding the safety of, and culpability for problems leading to the closure of the bridge, he said.

Myer said, “We’re focused right now on getting the bridge fixed. The goal is to open the bridge as soon as possible. It’s a … vital connection to the park.”

She said the park was working with third-party engineers on ensuring the bridge’s structural integrity, and that the park might pursue financial remediation in the future.

Councilmember Stephen Levin asked if a report would be made public regarding “what went wrong” with the bridge, which was closed after it began to tilt and sag. “The goal right now is to get the work underway, and … get the engineers to sign and seal and assure its safety,” Myer said.

Board member Joanne Witty said, “I’d like to just add that I’m so very glad we have money in the capital reserve to pay this cost.”

Other projects

Myer said the John Street construction site was progressing, with foundation work scheduled for this spring and superstructure work to begin shortly after.

Foundation work is complete at six of the seven warehouses at the Empire Stores, she said; roof, interior and public pass-through work are all underway. The project is expected to be completed in 2016. She noted that Vinegar Hill House restaurant signed a lease this week.

Nancy Webster, executive director of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, said that Conservancy staff “is working hard” on getting ready for another successful season of activities.

“I met Tuesday with the coaches of the soccer league, which will be serving 700 children,” she said. She described the park’s kayak camp, movies and theater, fitness programs and the upcoming Eileen Dugan 5K run, scheduled for April 11. The run attracts 500 participants annually.

Bones of contention

Myers reported that the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) lifted its partial stop work order at the shorter of two buildings going up at the Pier 1 construction site. “DOB has confirmed that the plans filed do comply.”

Community groups have protested the height of the taller building going up at Pier 1, saying its height, now topped with 30 feet of added mechanicals, exceeds an agreement struck with the community years ago. The building partially blocks the view of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Promenade.

“To confirm that the northern building at Pier 1 is 100 feet in height as measured from the base plane, we have had the building surveyed and found that the building does comply,” Myer said.

She said that a temporary restraining order on construction of a two-tower project at Pier 6 would remain in effect until an upcoming hearing set for March.

The board tabled a motion of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council (CAC) to appoint new members “in light of the concerns voiced by directors.”

The board also dismissed a resolution passed by the CAC to halt the construction projects at Piers 1 and 6 pending a reissued Environmental Impact Study (EIS).

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, BBPC board chair, said the CAC resolution was not on the agenda, and would not be discussed.

When Squadron’s appointee Ott asked Glen how a board member gets a motion placed on the agenda, Glen said that “the chair decides the agenda” pursuant to the BBPC by-laws. Ott confirmed through more questioning that there was “no mechanism” for adding the CAC’s concerns to the board meeting agenda.

“That’s correct,” Glen said.

The board also dismissed concerns expressed by dozens of community members about the impact of residential and commercial construction in the park.

Save Pier 6 founder Ren Richmond stated the group’s arguments against building two towers at the southern end of the park. “There’s just no need to put a 31-story building in a park, in a flood zone when there are no school seats and when the park truly doesn’t need the money.”

Save the View Now’s Steven Guterman said the park’s General Project Plan and modified EIS clearly stated that rooftop mechanical equipment and other obstructions would be included in the  maximum height restrictions of the Pier 1 buildings.

CAC co-chair Andrew Lastowecky, Community Board 2’s representative on the council, said board members should study the CAC’s resolution, and that community concerns were “escalating in crescendo.”

“Overcrowding of schools is not a joke. People in this community have already had their children shipped to other neighborhoods for school,” said Lastowecky.

P.S. 8 PTA co-presidents Kim Glickman and Ansley Samson spoke about critical overcrowding at the Brooklyn Heights elementary school. Glickman and Samson said the housing developments in the park alone would add 300 more students to P.S. 8, which has a capacity for only 500 kids and is already overcrowded. They asked for a plan to deal with current overcrowding before new units are built.

Willowtown architect Joe Merz said the Pier 6 buildings “psychologically represent … a blockade.”

Martin Hale, chairman of People for Green Space, affiliated with Save Pier 6, told the board, “We simply ask that you, in the words of the great Spike Lee, ‘Do the Right Thing.’”

After the meeting some community members expressed dismay that the board felt that the official community advisory body had no official mechanism for input. “Not only did Ms. Glen ignore and disregard the concerns raised by us and others in the community, she ignored the CAC and her fellow board members,” Guterman said in a statement.

On Tuesday, BBPC spokesperson Belinda Cape told the Brooklyn Eagle, “The CAC serves an important advisory role and all CAC resolutions are seriously considered for appropriate action by the board. In this case the board chair determined that BBP Staff had appropriately addressed the issues raised, and therefore the resolution was not taken up.”

She also reiterated BBPC’s view that “The Pier 1 development maintains all officially protected promenade views, is consistent with designs presented to the community following an open public process, and will provide critical funding to keep the park safe and well-maintained for millions of visitors for years to come.

She said, “The 2011 Pier 1 Request for Proposals clearly stated that rooftop mechanical equipment and other so-called permitted obstructions would be exclusive of the maximum height restrictions of the park’s General Project Plan. The GPP itself does not refer to rooftop mechanicals at Pier 1.”

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