Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn Bridge Park leadership derided for ‘broken promises’ at Brooklyn Heights town hall

May 5, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A standing-room-only crowd filled St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church on Montague Street for Wednesday’s Brooklyn Bridge Park development town hall. Photos by Mary Frost

Meeting on development issues draws huge crowd

A standing-room-only crowd filled St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church on Montague Street for a town hall held Wednesday night to update Brooklyn Heights residents about raging development controversies in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

These include two controversial towers at the Pier 6 end of the park – which advocates say are unnecessary to support the park — the mountain-sized Pierhouse hotel/residential complex, which appears to be jutting into the protected Scenic View District, and the partial blocking of the view of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Promenade.

The town hall was hosted by the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) with its coalition partners Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund (BBPDF), People for Green Space Foundation (PFGSF), and Save the View Now (STVN).

Judi Francis of BBPDF moderated, along with Steve Guterman of STVN and Ren Richmond of PFGSF, and numerous officials or their representatives were in the crowd.

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These included Councilmember Stephen Levin, who spoke at length, and representatives from the offices of Rep. Daniel Squadron, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Borough President Eric Adams and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon

Speakers described the state of ongoing litigation, the park’s “broken promises,” and lack of oversight by the park.

‘Broken promises’

“There are two themes to tonight’s meeting,” Patrick Killackey, president of the BHA, told the crowd. “Broken promises, and limited and misleading disclosures by Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp.”

Killackey said that the park’s endorsement of the scenic view-obstructing Pierhouse project and potentially unnecessary development at Pier 6 “was not an accident” but a deliberate decision.

When asked later how BHA “let this happen,” Killackey admitted that the usually vigilant group had been “naïve, and a bit determined to believe in the process. That turned out to be a mistake.”

Councilmember Levin: Board never given important information

Councilmember Levin said it was remarkable how many people were involved in these issues. “Look at this – hundreds of people. It’s galvanized the community.”

In an affidavit in support of the case filed by Save The View Now, Levin, who sits on the board of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC), said that board members were never given important information about decisions made by the developer regarding how the Scenic View District sightlines were calculated.

The Scenic View District is a fan-shaped area extending from the Promenade with sightlines including Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and East River bridges. According to the coalition lawsuit, a 20-foot section of the Pierhouse hotel/residential complex under construction at Pier 1 juts into the Scenic View District.

While the Zoning Resolution mandates that “Point A,” used to calculate the district, be located along the western face of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, the developer chose to locate that point “in the middle of thin air hanging over the BQE [Brooklyn-Queens Expressway],” Levin said, allowing Pierhouse to encroach into the protected area.

“We’re still awaiting the response of [State Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Knipel],” Levin said. “I’m hopeful ultimately truth will prevail.”

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Levin also maintained that housing at Pier 6 was not necessary for the financial upkeep of the park, a stance he said that state Sen. Daniel Squadron and state Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon have maintained for years.

“BBPC is the public entity responsible to you, the public,” he said. “We have one opportunity to get this right.”

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Breaks agreement with community

Martha Dietz spoke of BHA’s participation in the Scenic View lawsuit.

“Those views are as much of a public trust as our landmarked public buildings,” she said, pointing out that the area in question is the only protected Scenic View District in New York City.

“The construction of Pierhouse is violating that protection,” she added, noting it breaks the original agreement with the community. Dietz made a request for donations from attendees to help pay for the legal defense.

BHA VP Martha Dietz

How did Pierhouse get so huge?

Steve Guterman, who leads Save The View Now, which is fighting to save the view of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Promenade, said that planning documents make it perfectly clear the developer would need to be mindful of the views.

“Despite statements from the BBPC that they ‘forgot about’ that promise… we know that the park corp. deliberately decided to ignore the plain language of the General Project Plan, the Environmental Impact Statement and in all the discussions with the community, in order to allow the Pierhouse to be oversized,” he said.

Guterman drew gasps when he added, “In the Environmental Impact Statement, the square footage for the development on the Pier 1 site is listed as 325,000 square feet. The building today is close to 600,000 square feet.”

BBPC seems “to be willing to say anything in order to force  larger buildings or additional construction in the park. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. needs to be reminded this is a park, not a developer playground,” he said to applause.

He gave several examples of BBPC’s failure to enforce compliance with the park’s planning documents. For example, Pierhouse’s two parcels “shifted positions,” allowing the complex to move closer to the Promenade and block views from Squibb Park to the water. BBPC “shunned their responsibility” to monitor the developer’s changes, Guterman said.

From left - Peter LaBonte, Cobble Hill Association; Patrick Killackey, Brooklyn Heights Association; Steve Guterman, Save The View Now

Ren Richmond: The numbers show no further development necessary

Brooklyn Bridge Park is obligated to be financially self-sufficient, but is bound by a community agreement to allow only the amount of development necessary to support the park.

Financial analyst Ren Richmond of PFGSF discussed the park’s move to remove this legal requirement.

“It is a critical change as our analysis shows no further park development is necessary,” he said.

“The park corporation will generate huge surpluses without any further development at Pier 6,” he said, pointing out that local real estate prices have skyrocketed from $700/per square foot in 2005 to $2,000/per square foot in the park today. “And park development has supersized,” Richmond added. “Pierhouse has almost doubled in size; at Empire Stores, 100,000 square feet were added. More park development, plus higher prices, equals much more money.”

Ren Richmond of PFGSF

Richmond said that the community recently hired Max Rosin, a well-known appraiser who has frequently worked as an expert witness for New York City in tax cases.

“He put together a detailed, almost 50-page report using the proper Department of Finance methodology. The findings? The park corporation botched its calculations,” Richmond said. “Rosen calculated $22.5 million per years in underlying tax income. The park is off by an astonishing $9 million per year.

“The park’s analysis is based on pure fantasy,” he asserted.

Empire State Development Corp. (ESD) must approve the modification.

Political donations right before selection?

Activist Jeff Smith

Besides the environmental issues connected with development of the Pier 6 towers — “schools, traffic, pedestrians, Hurricane Sandy, Long Island College Hospital (LICH), the BQE reconstruction, train and water taxis, and the development of Piers 7, 8 and 9” – Richmond pointed out an ethical problem with the project at Pier 6.

The affordable housing component of the project is being pushed by BBPC President Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s behalf.

“There’s apparently a $400 limitation on political donations on companies with business before the city,” Richmond said, as the audience laughed somewhat cynically.

“Both RAL Development and its longtime lobbyist James Capalino made donations to the mayor’s controversial Campaign for One New York in May 2015,” Richmond said. “Just one month before RAL’s selection in June. To repeat: developer donates in May, selected in June.

“That, my friends, is outrageous. And possibly criminal,” Richmond said, as the audience applauded.

Snitch fund?

“You need a snitch fund,” said neighborhood activist Jeff Smith. “If you put ten or twenty thousand dollars on the street, or even $5,000, immediately hands come up from the cracks in the sidewalk.

“You need somebody to come forward with criminal wrongdoing. Then you take it and you bring it to a U.S. Attorney,” Smith added. “You need an indictment and civil forfeiture on the federal level. That’s what’s going to stop this, nothing else.”

BBPC spokesperson Belinda Cape told the Brooklyn Eagle in February, “We’ve exhaustively demonstrated that the Pier 6 project is essential to the park’s long-term financial stability.”

A standing-room-only crowd. Photos by Mary Frost

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Update: Story was updated on May 6 to reflect that another representative from Borough President Eric Adams’ Office attended, not Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna.