Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn Heights Association files lawsuit to halt Pier 6 project

Developer calls suit ‘frivolous’

July 8, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Heights Association filed a lawsuit on Thursday to halt a controversial two-tower development planned for Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Shown: The two towers can be seen above, center and left.  Rendering courtesy of ODA-RAL Development Services - Oliver's Realty Group

The Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) filed a lawsuit on Thursday to halt a controversial two-tower development planned for Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

BHA said in court paperwork that the park, the state and Pier 6 developers continue to act “in defiance of law by authorizing a private $500 million commercial real estate development” at the southern end of the park near the Atlantic Avenue entrance.

Named in the lawsuit are the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC); Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) and its subsidiary, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation; and developers RAL Development Services and Oliver’s Real Estate Group.

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The two residential towers, which would include affordable housing, a priority of Mayor Bill de Blasio — were approved by the board of directors of BBPC on June 7, after years of community opposition.

BHA and other members of a community coalition, including the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund and the People for Green Space Foundation (PFGSF), say the site should be instead turned into parkland and urge that the “long-promised” Atlantic Avenue entrance to the park be created.

“The BBPC is violating the fundamental commitment on which the BHA and the community supported the park’s creation: that real estate development at the park would be limited to only the amount necessary to fund the park’s financial needs,” BHA President Patrick Killackey said in a statement. He added, “We need open space at the park, not needless new condo towers.”

Brooklyn Bridge Park spokesperson Belinda Cape responded to news of the lawsuit on Thursday. “We’re proud of our Pier 6 project and the meticulous, merit-based process that brought it to fruition,” she said. “We’ve exhaustively demonstrated that the Pier 6 development is essential to the long-term funding of the park — in addition to providing sorely needed affordable housing and union jobs in the process.”

Cape added, “We’re confident that we’ve satisfied all legal requirements, and look forward to ensuring that the park will have the funding it needs to serve millions of New Yorkers long into the future.”

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A RAL Development Services spokesperson said, “We’re taking all necessary steps to proceed with union construction at Pier 6, and we’re confident that the court will dismiss this frivolous attempt to block essential park funding and affordable housing.”

Does Pier 6 violate the park’s General Project Plan?

BHA says the park’s approval of the Pier 6 project violates the law that governs development at the Park — the park’s General Project Plan (GPP, or, since it had been previously modified, MGPP for Modified General Project Plan).

The GPP requires that any development must be necessary to support annual maintenance and operations of the park. ESD is responsible for ensuring the park complies with the GPP.

The park has presented figures that purport to show that such financial need exists. BHA and other members of the coalition commissioned their own study that contends that the park’s figures are inaccurate and skewed to create the appearance of financial need, and that developments already in the park will generate a surplus even without Pier 6. BBPC counters that the coalition’s financial methodology is flawed.

The BHA lawsuit says the park’s financial study ignores the exponential increase in Brooklyn real estate values, and rips the park’s financial projections, which, it says, underestimates future revenue by 66 percent.

“BBPC’s predictions of DOF’s impending valuations of its recent real estate developments are markedly lower than the valuations DOF should rationally make, and, as a result, woefully underestimate the revenue in the form of PILOTs that BBPC will likely receive from those properties,” the lawsuit claims.

BHA wants the decision to build at Pier 6 delayed until early next year, when the city’s Department of Finance will begin providing its actual valuations of the four existing park real estate developments, “enabling BBPC to determine if the GPP’s financial need requirement is satisfied on the basis of actual PILOT revenue figures…”

ESD plays ball, but never approved modifying GPP

Since affordable housing would not contribute to the maintenance of the park, the park requested last year that ESD approve a modification to the GPP which would allow development that was not financially necessary.

After ESD did not affirm that modification, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who chairs the BBPC board, said that the city intended to move ahead with the project “with or without the state.”

A letter later released by ESD Chair Howard Zemsky appeared to give ESD’s blessing to the project. The letter concluded that “the current MGPP does authorize residential buildings and does not prohibit the inclusion of affordable residential units. Certainly, as a matter of policy, the state supports affordable housing, particularly in communities where it is in such demand.”

The letter, however, sidestepped the legality of moving forward with the project without the modification of the GPP to allow development that is financially unnecessary. The BHA’s lawsuit will hone in on this discrepancy.

A source familiar with the Pier 6 development says the project closed last week “with all necessary sign off from ESD.”

Other legal points

In the suit, BHA also says that the park violated its own procedures when it selected the developers (RAL and Oliver’s ) for the Pier 6 project when they had not registered with the City’s Doing Business database, as required by BBPC’s Request for Proposals (RFP) and the city.

Individuals listed in the Doing Business Database are subject to lower limits on campaign contributions to city officials.

In between the park’s selection of RAL and Oliver’s in March 2015 and the public announcement three months later of their selection, BHA says, “RAL and its lobbyist each contributed $10,000 to Campaign for One New York, a controversial fundraising vehicle that supports the political agenda of Mayor de Blasio and that is now under state investigation.”

A source told the Eagle that RAL “complied with all requirements of the RFP process.”

The park also violated its own procedures, BHA says, by refusing the requests of its own Community Advisory Council for information necessary to perform its advisory role.

BHA also wants ESD require an updated environmental review due to the considerable changes throughout the area since an earlier review in 2005.

“The dramatic overcrowding that has occurred in local public schools … was entirely unanticipated in 2005,” the lawsuit says. Sub-district 2’s schools are operating currently at operate at 108.34 percent of capacity, and substantial development in the area is expected to drive enrollment to roughly 135 percent capacity, without Pier 6.

BHA is represented by Jenner & Block.

The full legal petition can be found at on the BHA website.


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