State halts de Blasio’s affordable housing on Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park
‘Pay to play’ suspicions cited
In a stunning development, the state-controlled Empire State Development (ESD) agency told New York City on Monday it would not approve — for now — Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to allow affordable housing at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The decision came after the ESD reviewed a tangled web of connections between real estate developers, a lobbyist with global connections and the mayor’s now-shuttered Campaign for One New York, the subjects of ongoing investigations involving the mayor.
According to sources, the ESD was set to approve this week a modification of the park’s General Project Plan (GPP) to allow the city to include 117 units of affordable housing in the 339 total units planned for two luxury condo towers on Pier 6.
This angered a coalition of local groups — the Brooklyn Heights Association, Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund and People for Green Space Foundation – who called the potential approval a “back room deal between the city and state to permit unnecessary development on Pier 6.”
The scheduled vote was abruptly removed from the calendar, however.
“We take our responsibility as stewards of the General Project Plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park very seriously and we will not move forward with any changes until we are fully confident that all newly raised concerns have been addressed,” said ESD spokesperson Jonah Bruno.
De Blasio spokesperson Austin Finan said the administration was deeply disappointed.
“We worked in good faith for weeks and finally reached an agreement with the state to move it forward. It’s deeply disappointing that ESD has pulled back for completely specious reasons, outside the merits and substance of this project.”
NYC: We’ll build it anyway
The city believes that the ESD’s decision does not prevent it from moving ahead with housing at Pier 6 without the requested GPP modification.
“We can’t keep putting off the vital issue of funding this incredible park, or of building the affordable housing this community needs,” said Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen. “We intend to move ahead with this project, with or without the state.”
Developer Robert Levine / RAL had been chosen by the city to develop the controversial Pier 6 towers only a month after donating to de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York fund, which is under investigation for illegal lobbying.
In 2014, when de Blasio used money from the Campaign for One New York to advance the sale and development of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) to developer Fortis, Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause, told the Brooklyn Eagle that the fund was “a form of dark money, used for the advancement of specific development projects.”
De Blasio has put out that the investigation into the Campaign for One New York is backed by his political nemesis, Gov. Andrew Cuomo — a charge the governor derided on Wednesday, according to the Observer.
According to the New York Times, questions have been raised about the role of RAL’s lobbyist, James Capalino, in another controversial real estate deal, the sale of a Rivington Street healthcare space in Manhattan to a developer.
Capalino, a de Blasio fundraiser, has had dealings with China’s Wanda Group, which has formed a strategic partnership with RAL’s partner China Vanke USA, one of China’s largest real estate companies. Vanke and RAL are partnering in One Brooklyn Bridge Park’s parking and retail properties.
According to the Daily News, Risa Heller, a publicist who represents RAL, Capalino and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp., released a statement from Levine saying he made his $10,000 donation to the Campaign for One New York “in support of the mayor’s policies — in particular, his work on universal pre-K.”
On the topic of the “pay-to-play” concerns linking RAL and de Blasio, an ESD official told the Eagle, “ESD’s role is to determine whether a GPP change should be permitted. As we came closer to making a decision on the matter, we became increasingly concerned by reports of conflicts of interest. It is difficult to understand any objections to making sure the community is heard and that any and all potential conflicts are vetted.”
Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen’s statement that the city will proceed with this development without ESD’s approval of a modification to the GPP has “astonished and dismayed” the Brooklyn Heights coalition opposing the project.
“Doing so would be a clear violation of the plan’s requirement that no housing be built that is not needed to support the park,” the groups said in a statement on Wednesday. “As the lead agency under New York State’s environmental review laws, it is ESD’s responsibility to ensure that agreements reached pursuant to them are enforced.”
The coalition said it was also dismayed at “the lack of city or state response to the expert reports presented by the community that clearly demonstrate the lack of need for any new housing at Pier 6. Financial experts exposed more that $800 million in excess funds for the park, without any building on Pier 6.”
A source within the de Blasio administration expressed frustration with ESD’s apparent stance on the optics of the situation. The state was fully aware of all the players throughout the process, the source said, including the involvement of China Vanke.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation President Regina Myer has maintained that the income from the Pier 6 development is necessary to maintain the park.
“Brooklyn Bridge Park is required to be financially self-sustaining, and we’ve exhaustively demonstrated that we need the funds from the Pier 6 project to meet that mandate,” she said late Wednesday. “Simply put, not moving forward with the proposed development would put the future of a park enjoyed by millions from across the city at risk.”
State Sen. Daniel Squadron, a long-time opponent of the Pier 6 project, told the Eagle on Wednesday, “I have long opposed housing at Pier 6, along with my colleagues and the community. A luxury housing funding model perpetuates imbalances in park access and equity. The recommendation of a developer this past summer added significant complications to an already contentious issue.”
Coalition members tell the Eagle that they expect the excess funds raised from unnecessary development in the park to enrich the city’s coffers, contrary to the GPP’s restriction on allowing only the development necessary to support the park.
Updated at 5:45 p.m. with comments from a de Blasio spokesperson and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen.
Updated at 6:00 p.m. with comments from BBPC President Regina Myer.
Updated on May 20 to clarify that “questions have been raised” about the role of RAL’s lobbyist, James Capalino. Capalino is not, however, under investigation.
Statement from the Coalition Opposing the Pier 6 Condo Development:
Communities and Local Officials Astonished and Dismayed at City Plan for Unnecessary and Unwarranted Housing on Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park in Face of Looming Questions on Back Room Deal by State
Wednesday, May 18, 2016:
The Brooklyn Heights Association, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, and People for Green Space Foundation were astonished and dismayed by the announcement of a back room deal between the City and State to permit unnecessary development on Pier 6. The State’s Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) had previously made clear that it expected the City to work with the community and its elected officials prior to allowing any development to proceed. However, the City never reached out to us or our local elected officials, something that the ESD knew well.
We are equally astonished and dismayed by Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen’s statement that the City will proceed with this development without ESD’s approval of a modification to the General Project Plan. Doing so would be a clear violation of the Plan’s requirement that no housing be built that is not needed to support the Park. As the lead agency under New York State’s environmental review laws, it is ESD’s responsibility to ensure that agreements reached pursuant to them are enforced.
We continue our astonishment and dismay at the lack of City or State response to the expert reports presented by the community that clearly demonstrate the lack of need for any new housing at Pier 6. Financial experts exposed more that $800 million in excess funds for the park, without any building on Pier 6.
Serious questions have been raised about potentially improper and illegal relationships between Robert A. Levine, the potential developer of Pier 6, and City officials as part of an expanding investigation of the deBlasio Administration. We certainly support the investigation of such relationships and believe that this investigation be completed before any additional steps are taken to move this project forward.
We believe the best solution for the park right now is to finish its mission as a park without any new housing whatsoever. We stand by our local elected officials in their letter minutes before the deal was announced yesterday: “No more housing be built on Pier 6.”
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