Brooklyn Heights

Behind the scenes of the Pineapple Walk vote in Brooklyn Heights

UPDATE: Property values at 75 Henry St. zooming

January 26, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Shareholders of Whitman Owner Corp. in Brooklyn Heights voted Jan. 15 against allowing the board to investigate the sale of their Pineapple Walk property, which includes the Park Plaza Diner, shown above. Photo by Mary Frost

Was a co-op’s vote to reject development on a valuable slice of Brooklyn Heights an example of civic altruism or healthy self-interest?

Maybe a bit of both, residents say.

Neighbors of 75 Henry St. in north Brooklyn Heights called it “miraculous” that the co-op, known as Whitman Owner Corp., voted “no” to a generous offer for Pineapple Walk.

Developer Anbau Enterprises submitted what grew to a $130 million bid to build a 40-story condominium on the site. The offer included a minimum of $120,000 cash for each shareholder and the use of the condo’s amenities. The Jan. 15 vote would have allowed the co-op’s board to explore the offer and also would have opened bidding to other developers.

Many at 75 Henry felt the proposed tower would have added to Brooklyn Heights’ already overcrowded schools and congested streets and transit. A contingent of the co-op’s residents has been actively fighting other local development, such as the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, Pierhouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Pier 6 towers.

After shareholders voted the concept down, neighbors from Cadman Towers to the south and Cadman Plaza North (to the north) sent letters of appreciation. The Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) commended them for the courage of their convictions.

BHA called the 191 to 112 vote, “a dramatic statement that some things, such as what it means to be part of a community, are truly priceless.” Shareholders “placed a higher value on preserving the community’s quality of life . . . than on the cash they would have received.”

Shareholder Beverly Closs told the Eagle, “Our co-op voted to keep the integrity of our neighborhood, and sensibility rules over greed.” Her husband Bill Closs added that he felt the building voted no because of “all of the concerns about schools and quality of life, and the effect of construction on some of our neighbors.”

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Civic-minded altruism alone, however, likely doesn’t account for the lopsided vote.

The co-op’s own property values, lost views and quality of life during construction were also of concern to residents – especially those who live in the south side of 75 Henry.

One resident, who asked that only her first name, Judith, be printed, told the Eagle, “My two bedrooms face the south side . . . For me, it would have been horrible.” She added that she was pleasantly surprised that the vote did not pass. “My son says money usually talks.”

Another resident facing south told the Eagle she was “very pleased with the outcome.” She said she didn’t want her name used because neighbors “might get mad at me in the elevator.”

The proposed condo would totally block the sun from her apartment, she said. “I might sell in a year or two . . . who knows how much the apartment would be devalued?”

Property values at 75 Henry St. are increasing at a brisk pace. In June, a south-facing three bedroom apartment on the 21st floor sold for $1.995 million, according to the real estate website City Realty.

According to StreetEasy, five units in the Whitman complex are currently in contract, at prices ranging from $499,000 for an eighth-floor studio to $1.95 million for a townhouse. A two-bedroom on the tower’s 24th floor is listed for $1.725 million. (None of these face south.)

In August, a two bedroom apartment on the fourth floor sold for $1.452 million, after 124 days on the market, according to the CityRealty website. This property had more than doubled in value since its owner bought it in 2011 for $695,500. Another two bedroom, on the ninth floor, sold for $1.425 million in August.

Still, one-third of the co-op’s shareholders voted to explore the developer’s bid. These include Gilbert Gleit, who told the Eagle he was, “a little disappointed” with the vote.

“I feel the more information we have, the better educated we would be when we have to vote,” he said. Gleit thinks the pre-vote discussion focused on “a lot of extraneous things – Pierhouse, Atlantic Yards, the library. This is important for background information, but not relevant to just getting more information.”

“People were voting for ignorance,” he said. “I felt that was wrong.”

Gleit did say, however, that residents on the south side of 75 Henry St. merited a higher proportion of the payout.

“The people directly affected should get a higher proportion. Studios were getting $120,000, but after the developer upped the bid it might have been close to $200,000. It seems to me the people directly affected should have gotten $400,000, but who knows?”

Madeline Williamson, a broker with Douglas Elliman and a former resident of the Whitman Owner Corp., said she thought the vote was “like sticking your head in the sand. If I was still there, I would have tried to encourage people to explore the offer. How can you make a judgement about it if you don’t know the facts?”

Williamson said she thought that the co-op’s property values might have even increased “if a high-end building was attached to the building, and [shareholders] had access to its amenities. That pulls it into the realm of a new development concept.”

It is not likely that the Whitman board will entertain further offers from developers, at least in the near future. Board president Doug Wexler had said at a shareholder meeting before the vote that should shareholders vote no, it would indicate to the board how it should respond to future offers.

Those on both sides of the issue agreed that the Whitman Owner board did the right thing by bringing the option to the shareholders.

Bill Closs, a former board president in another co-op, said, “I think the board acted in the proper way. They made the correct decision to bring it to us.”

Gleit agreed. The board was “very above board and open, and I appreciate it,” he said. “They do a good job and they’re usually derided for it.”

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Disclosure: This reporter is a resident of Whitman Owner Corp.

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