Brooklyn Heights

Town hall meeting discusses controversial issues in Brooklyn Heights

June 25, 2015 By Cody Brooks Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Speakers at Tuesday’s meeting included City Councilmember Stephen Levin (right), state Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon’s Chief of Staff Ptahra Jeppe (center) and CPN Board President Ted Valand. Eagle photos by Cody Brooks
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A town hall meeting explored controversial issues in the Brooklyn Heights area on Tuesday night, discussing the effects a “condo economy” is having on the neighborhood’s residents.

The meeting featured City Councilmember Stephen Levin and state Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon’s Chief of Staff Ptahra Jeppe, who answered questions that were both emailed to her and asked from the floor. Many topics were discussed, but the buzz in the room was that Brooklyn Heights is falling prey to what one resident said is a “condo economy.”

Levin agreed, saying, “I look at the skyline when I come in the morning. It’s a different skyline than what it was 24 months ago.”

He noted that in 2003, when construction for many of the new buildings began, Brooklyn Heights was thought to be more or less “the back office space for Manhattan,” so there was little concern over the effects of construction on residents. However, ill-conceived zoning left the area with not enough schools, congested roadways and sparse affordable housing, he said.

“We need more school seats, we need better transportation options, we need more affordable housing, and as far as I’m concerned, we need less luxury buildings,” Levin said.

Jeppe told the residents that her office is “heavily concerned about our social infrastructure,” with Levin adding that there will likely be rezoning to lessen the burden on P.S. 8, Brooklyn Heights’ only public elementary school, to facilitate more schools and put more deterrents to unfettered building, noise and tourist influx.

Noise issues were a common complaint that night. Residents complained of constant construction noise and what Levin called a “total free-for-all” regarding low-flying tourist helicopters. He said he was surprised at the sparse regulation, allowing tourist helicopters to fly low, loud and unsafely, which he suggested is due to the successful lobbying of Capalino+Company. Levin said what would be most helpful in fighting against a large group such as this would be to overwhelm Mayor Bill De Blasio’s office with phone calls and emails.

Also on the agenda were renovations. The Brooklyn War Memorial needs $15 million for renovations, according to Levin, but will receive no additional funding this year, and the building remains closed. The Brooklyn Heights Library has had limited operating hours due to an air conditioning issue, which would cost $3.5 million to fix, but Levin said getting quick funding for that will be “a stretch.”

Funding for renovations to the Brooklyn Bridge was discussed as well, with Levin and Jeppe tacitly supporting a tolling system featuring all EZ passes, which was responded to with the moans and rolling eyes by residents. If you do not have an EZ pass when you drive over, you currently get a bill in the mail. Levin and Jeppe reasoned that the Brooklyn Bridge is $200 million over budget for repairs, and tolling is an easy way to replace those funds. Jeppe noted that part of the wear and tear is due to trucks and cars using roundabout ways to dodge tolls for other bridges, putting the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges under further strain.

The seniors in the audience were worried about cuts to Mitchell0Lama funding, leading to a decrease in affordable housing. Levin responded that with new buildings there is no requirement to include affordable housing; if they do include affordable housing, it is likely because they are getting a tax break. Levin and Jeppe pledged their support to obtain more funding for the Mitchell-Lama program, noting that only so much housing can be built before it needs to be managed properly.

Residents hoped for more policing for the 4th of July due to vandalism and loud noise last year. Levin said he was not sure how much he could do, but promised to work on bringing more police for the holiday.

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