Brooklyn Heights

Judge: Pierhouse Project in Brooklyn Bridge Park can proceed

June 15, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Knipel ruled on Friday that construction can proceed on the disputed Pierhouse hotel and condominium complex in Brooklyn Bridge Park, seen in the background in the photo above. Photo by Mary Frost

State Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Knipel ruled on Friday that construction can proceed on the Pierhouse hotel and condominium complex in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Justice Knipel wrote that although “the casual passerby is struck with an indelible impression that these buildings . . . are simply too large,” the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC) is within its legal rights to complete the buildings.

The decision disappointed the preservationist group Save The View Now (STVN), which initiated the lawsuit, and the Brooklyn Heights Association, which was instrumental in reaching an agreement in 2005-2006 which would limit the height of the development.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation and developers Toll Brothers and Starwood Capital Group, however, said they were gratified by the decision and look forward to completing the development, which will contribute to the park’s revenue stream. (Formal statements from all four entities are also reprinted in full at the end of this article.)

At numerous community meetings and in court, STVN charged that the two sections of the project are taller than originally promised, partially blocking the view of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. They said the original understanding limited structures on the rooftop to within 100- and 55-foot height caps.

The park says that the developers have complied with all New York City zoning laws and have been transparent about the height of the development since it was planned in 2005.

While the decision by the government to allow the buildings to block some of the view may have been “shortsighted,” the judge wrote, the developers complied with the law and the Modified General Project Plan (MGPP).

The justice’s decision rests strongly on two points. In the first, while an understanding with the community on height limits may have been reached, those limits were not incorporated into the MGPP, Knipel wrote.

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The understanding to limit structures on the rooftop to the 100- and 55-foot height cap was discussed in a 2005 email from architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and in comment 224 of the “Response to Comments on the DEIS” (Draft Environmental Impact Statement).

But the understanding was not incorporated “into the all-important MGPP,” Justice Knipel wrote.

Knipel also ruled that the plaintiffs waited too long to sue, because the action was subject to a four-month Statute of Limitations.

“The instant proceeding [is] clearly a challenge to governmental conduct. As such, the four-month Statute of Limitations governing proceedings pursuant to CPLR Article 78 must apply,” he wrote.

The four-month timer starts to run “from the date a claimant was ‘aggrieved’ by the governmental action.”

While the plaintiffs could have sued at several points earlier, “Certainly the time commenced no later than September of 2014 when the northern building reached its maximum height and a topping off ceremony was held,” Knipel wrote. The litigation did not commence until seven months thereafter, however.

“We are deeply disappointed in the outcome, and strongly disagree with the Judge’s findings, most notably that the agreements reached with the community in 2005/2006 are not legally enforceable. What is the purpose of negotiating and reaching agreements with the public if they are not meant to be binding?” Steven Guterman, founder of STVN, said in a statement.

“Legalities aside, the BBPC certainly violated the commitments it made to our community in 2005 to limit the heights of the Pierhouse buildings, to measure those heights from the ground, and to include any mechanical structures within the maximum heights agreed to,” commented the Brooklyn Heights Association.

“We’re gratified the court agrees that the Pier 1 development underwent an extensive, transparent design review process, maintains all protected views, and complies with all height restrictions imposed on the project,” BBPC said in a statement.

“Toll Brothers and Starwood are proud to be a part of the historic redevelopment of Brooklyn Bridge Park, which has been transformed from dilapidated piers and industrial buildings into an urban oasis with enormous long-term benefits to New York City and its residents,” said the developers.

Brooklyn Bridge Park, developer Toll Brothers and plaintiffs STVN had presented their arguments before Justice Knipel on May 18.

STVN says they are reviewing their legal options.

See full statements below:

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Statement from Brooklyn Bridge Park

“We’re gratified the court agrees that the Pier 1 development underwent an extensive, transparent design review process, maintains all protected views, and complies with all height restrictions imposed on the project.

“Since the park’s inception in 2002, its funding plan has been straightforward: revenue from development sites within the project’s footprint supports the park’s long-term maintenance and operations. Without those sites, there would be no Brooklyn Bridge Park. The court agrees. Our ability to finish the Pier 1 project moves us closer to that self-sustaining goal, and to completing the transformation from derelict waterfront to vibrant open space enjoyed by millions.”

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Statement from Steve Guterman, Save The View Now

 On Friday, Judge Knipel issued his interim decision to deny STVN our request for a preliminary injunction on the Pierhouse.

We are deeply disappointed in the outcome, and strongly disagree with the Judge’s findings, most notably that the agreements reached with the community in 2005/2006 are not legally enforceable. What is the purpose of negotiating and reaching agreements with the public if they are not meant to be binding?

Judge Knipel opens his decision with the following “Beyond peradventure, the vision of the New York Harbor from the Brooklyn Promenade is an iconic, world class view, worthy of the maximum protection the law can afford.” There is no doubt that “the casual passerby walking along Brooklyn’s majestic Promenade is struck with the indelible impression that these buildings, now nearing completion, are simply too large.”

While denying our request over legal technicalities, what is most disturbing in Judge Knipel’s finding is that, despite the worthiness of maximum protection, “When our government had the opportunity to significantly improve the view, a conscience decision was made not to do so.”

This conscience decision by our government defies logic, patriotism and respect for the opinions expressed by the community.

We will be consulting with our attorney, and our legal committee to determine what our next steps will be.

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Statement from the Brooklyn Heights Association

The Brooklyn Heights Association has publicly supported Save the View Now as it has attempted to enforce commitments made to our community in 2005 and 2006 during the environmental review process for the Brooklyn Bridge Park—commitments that we worked hard with others to procure.  We are thus disappointed by Friday’s interim decision that denied STVN’s request for a preliminary injunction.

Although the Judge found that even to a casual passerby it is clear that these buildings “are simply too large” and that the decision to build them “may have been shortsighted”, he was not persuaded that the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (the “BBPC”) has acted illegally.

We disagree with the court’s conclusion that the agreements made in 2005 were not legally relevant and take issue with other aspects of the court’s decision.  Legalities aside, the BBPC certainly violated the commitments it made to our community in 2005 to limit the heights of the Pierhouse buildings, to measure those heights from the ground, and to include any mechanical structures within the maximum heights agreed to; we have not seen a single statement from any individual involved in reaching those agreements challenging any of these understandings.  We also know that common sense alone dictates that if the height of a building is capped to protect a view, you cannot place 30 feet of mechanical equipment on top without blocking the view that was to be protected. As confirmed in Friday’s decision, “protection of views” was one of the three basic principles governing this project from its earliest days. 

Whatever limited information was given to the Community Advisory Council (“CAC”), the BBPC never clearly disclosed that the plans reviewed and adopted in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, the SEQRA Findings and the Modified General Project Plan had been significantly altered and that views that we all thought were to be protected would disappear.   

We salute STVN for all of its efforts to date.

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Joint Statement from Toll Brothers and Starwood Capital Group

“We are very pleased with the Court’s decision and findings of fact that confirm the Pierhouse development complies with the height restrictions imposed on the project which were adopted after years of extensive community review and input.

“Toll Brothers and Starwood are proud to be a part of the historic redevelopment of Brooklyn Bridge Park, which has been transformed from dilapidated piers and industrial buildings into an urban oasis with enormous long-term benefits to New York City and its residents.  We are equally proud that Pierhouse will serve as a model of environmental sustainability while also helping to generate the revenue necessary to sustain this world-class public amenity for decades to come.

 

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