Brooklyn Heights

Rampant development and lack of city planning key topics at Squadron’s open house

‘Developers are making out like bandits’

December 3, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State Sen. Daniel Squadron at Wednesday's town hall. Photos by Mary Frost
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Protecting New York City’s open space from development and the lack of enlightened city planning were two major areas of concern expressed by constituents at state Sen. Daniel Squadron’s town hall in Downtown Brooklyn on Wednesday.

“Where are the visionary city planners like Frederick Law Olmsted in the past? Where are the Jane Jacobs of today?” asked Brooklyn resident Kim Fraser.

“Developers are making out like bandits with zoning changes,” said Catherine Thompson. “If there can be $100 million apartments 900 feet in the air, it seems like New York City can afford to complete the 27-acre Bushwick Inlet Park, 7.5 acres to go, which was promised in the 2005 waterfront rezoning.”

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Squadron said he was outraged that the community would not get the open space promised as part of a major residential rezoning at Bushwick Inlet Park – an issue he said had citywide significance.

“It is truly appalling,” he told the hundred or so people gathered in the student lounge at Brooklyn Law School. “With Assemblymenber Joe Lentol, I have introduced legislation to take that property by eminent domain. This is something that’s very rare for me to do — eminent domain has many concerns when we use it as solutions in general.”

However, he added, “The specifics of this case are so overwhelming, and given the city’s resistance to answers it is an important tool to be using here … This open space was literally promised as part of rezoning, period.”

While it is “absolutely unacceptable that the city is failing to keep its promise at Bushwick Inlet Park,” Squadron said, “there’s also a bigger question in there. It’s something that we’re seeing, frankly, in the LICH [Long Island College Hospital] situation and we saw it in Manhattan at NYU’s proposed redevelopment: The idea that open space is a critical part of our life here in New York City. Parks are a key part of our lives here.”

Open space “is not an afterthought or a luxury, though it is too often thought of that way,” Squadron said. “In fact, it’s dangled out as an enticement when you have development or added density or something else that the community is uncomfortable with — and too often that enticement isn’t really, truly public, open space.”

The issue of the sale and development of the Brooklyn Heights Library site was also brought up by many in the audience.

While not part of his district (D-26), Squadron said the library’s development was part of a broader concern.

“That, with LICH, Pier 6, Pierhouse, [a possible Pineapple Walk development], there’s a huge amount of development coming in.” Squadron said the city must “talk about needs – schools, transportation, open space, sidewalk space, retail, libraries.”

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon added that she has been pushing the idea of “hitting the pause button” on the current development situation. “We need to start making better decisions about what the community will look like,” she said.

School overcrowding approaching crisis

The overcrowding of local schools was brought up by numerous attendees.

Constituent Marion Jackson asked, “If you’re going to build an apartment, how do you makes sure there’s a school seat that matches that?”

Squadron described his frustrated efforts to get the city’s Department of Education to focus on the growing crisis at P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights.

DOE “ignored” his outreach 16 months ago, he said, creating the “wrenching” situation we have today. The city’s attempt to patch up a solution is “too little, too late,” he said, though recent conversations may be pointing in a more positive direction.

Two years ago, Squadron passed a bill requiring DOE to use Department of City Planning and Department of Buildings data to plan for school growth.

“I’m not sure that they’re doing that,” he said.

Busting the ‘LLC Loophole’

Squadron also discussed a report he released on Wednesday about the so-called “LLC Loophole.”

Businesses that oversee multiple LLCs are able to contribute — often anonymously — near-unlimited sums of money to political candidates and committees, far beyond the limits set for individual businesses or everyday citizens.

The loophole is one you can “drive a truck through,” Squadron said. His report found that LLCs contributed $20.3 million in 2014, with 586 LLCs giving sums greater than $5,000, the personal and business limit.

Multiple LLCs could be traced to single addresses, but actual LLC ownership information was often obscured, according to the report.

The real estate firm Glenwood Management, involved in the corruption cases against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, took advantage of the LLC loophole. According to Squadron’s report, 22 LLCs listed Glenwood’s headquarters as their home, and donated roughly $2 million in 2014.

Squadron, along with Assemblymembers Jo Anne Simon and Brian Kavanagh, Senator Liz Krueger and others are seeking to have LLCs reclassified and are pushing bills that would treat LLCs either as corporations or partnerships, subject to lower limits.

Gun violence concerns

Responding to a question from resident Nick Ruzzo about steps New York State can take on gun control, Squadron praised the Safe Act, passed in 2013, which he said put New York “at the forefront of states.” Still, because of interstate commerce in guns, New York is “only as safe as the weakest state,” he said.

Squadron has sponsored an assault weapon ban, and said he was in favor of “microstamping” gun shell casings as a way to trace illegal gun use.  He also is pushing for a law requiring safe storage of guns.

“The federal government is doing an abysmal job here,” he said.

Brooklyn Heights resident Jeff Smith pointed to the indiscriminate dispensing of psychiatric medications as a driver of gun violence, and also said that people are buying guns because they feel unsafe. “There’s no trust of the government,” he said.

Smith also said that “gun control is over” because of 3-D printing, which gives anyone the means to manufacture their own gun.

“We disagree a great deal,” Squadron responded. While research on psychiatric drugs needs to be better, he said, “I do not agree that they cause gun violence. There will be less violence if guns don’t get into the wrong hands. One reason people feel so afraid is there are so many guns.”

Squadron added, “I don’t think anyone is talking about taking away lawful, responsible gun ownership. We’re talking about the extreme ease of getting guns.”

Brooklyn Heights resident Jeff Smith.

Other topics

Other concerns discussed on Wednesday included ID theft, Islamophobia, privatizing NYCHA housing, government reform, gun control and renewable energy.

Sen. Squadron said he would follow up on the problem of full Social Security numbers being printed on Medicare Cards, leading to possible ID theft.  

On the topic of Islamophobia, Squadron pointed out that there is “no faith that is out to kill Americans,” merely groups of individuals “with terrible ideology and practices.” He praised the work of the Brooklyn-based Arab American Family Support Center.

He also said the city and state “are now paying the price” for underinvestment in NYCHA housing.

Squadron said the town hall was a “community conversation,” and the input he gets is a “big part of driving my priorities for the year.”

He attempted to boost his constituents’ faith in the power of state government in light of the recent Albany scandals.

“A small number of people can have an enormous impact,” he said. “Don’t feel it can’t be changed. Citizen groups can make an enormous difference.”

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