Brooklyn Heights Association looks at BQX, honors community activists
Experts cast doubts on the proposed BQX (Brooklyn Queens Connector), a streetcar which would connect points along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront, and community members were honored for their service at the annual meeting of the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) Monday night. (See story for details concerning the BQX panel discussion.)
“How does a neighborhood association move forward in the age of Trump?” BHA President Patrick Killackey asked the crowd packing the auditorium at St. Francis College. “It’s easy to feel powerless or paralyzed these days. Facts are up for debate; our values are in question.”
The answer, Killackey said, is community participation.
“North Korean disarmament is not within reach for most of us. But fighting for a pool, advocating for more school space, and pushing for better traffic safety is,” he said.
Not only does the neighborhood benefit from the dedicated gardeners who volunteer on the Promenade, who fight “those miserable helicopters,” who take a stand against swastika graffiti and who support the Muslim members of the community, Killackey said.
“The small stuff of community participation, local politics, is the first step to higher level action and public service. It’s better than the alternative of disillusionment and distrust. In fact, it’s an opportunity to find inspiration and purpose,” he said.
“We’ve got some purpose again, which is an upside to the mess we’re living under.”
Killackey updated BHA members on some of the year’s highlights, including the replacement of the annual house and garden tour, which has been a big money maker in the past, with a new Brooklyn Designer Showhouse event, to be held in September. The Showhouse will give more than a dozen premier decorators the opportunity to transform a townhouse in Brooklyn Heights from top to bottom.
BHA continues to press its case fighting a two-tower development on Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Killackey said. “We recently received affirmation of our most fundamental [legal] arguments.” UPDATE: The NYS Supreme Court has postponed the hearing, which had been set for March 6. The new hearing date before NYS Supreme Court Justice Lucy Billings will be Friday, March 17 at 11 a.m. at 71 Thomas St., Room 203, in Manhattan.
BHA had success putting the brakes on the overdevelopment of 141 Willoughby St. in Downtown Brooklyn, which would have set an unfortunate zoning precedent, but less success with Fortis Property Group’s development of the former Long Island College Hospital (LICH), which is going ahead “without community input,” he said.
Squibb Park Bridge, connecting Brooklyn Heights to Brooklyn Bridge Park, should reopen in the spring, Killackey said, and BHA hopes to partner with other stakeholders to ensure its reopening “is a net positive.” In the same vein, BHA will be installing video cameras on Joralemon Street, the site of muggings and other disruptions during the past warm seasons.
In other highlights, the temporary Brooklyn Heights Library site opened this year, 181 and 185 Montague St. were preserved, and a meeting will be held in the spring concerning the next steps with the BQE cantilever work. BHA has a new website (thebha.org) and BHA took on oversight of the Brooklyn Heights Playground Committee.
Treasurer Kevin Reilly, in his financial report, said BHA suffered a $38,000 loss in 2016, on revenues of over $1 million, for two main reasons: There was no house and gardens tour, and finances took a hit from expensive Pier 1 Save the View Now litigation.
BHA received a financial shot in the arm, however, as international law firm Jenner & Block contributed roughly $800,000 in pro bono legal work toward separate Pier 6 litigation.
With a $447,000 cash balance and membership ranks, dues and contributions up, BHA is left with “good financial flexibility,” Reilly said.
Community Service Awards
As emcee of BHA’s annual community service awards, WNET Channel 13’s Tom Stewart brought the house down when he announced the winner was “La La Land!”
But seriously, “The things that make this neighborhood great don’t just happen,” he said.
BHA honors the community activists, who, often “at great sacrifice to their personal lives, make this neighborhood a better place,” Stewart said.
This year BHA honored Irene Janner, for her outstanding service over the years — at the BHA as treasurer for 20 years and on various BHA committees, on P.S. 8’s PTA, on Community Board 2 and on the Cadman Park Conservancy.
BHA also presented community service awards to the organizers of “Love Our Pool: Families United for a Pool in Brooklyn Bridge Park.” These parents advocated hard for a permanent pool in the park. The winners are: Amy Bieberdorf, Farrah Field, Lee Levine, Nora McCauley, Suzanne Quint, Alexa Suskin, and Ali Watts Sise.
The team fighting the development of Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park was also presented with an award. The winners are: The law firm of Jenner & Block, Judi Francis of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, and Henry Richmond of People for Green Space Foundation.
Martha Atwater Award
BHA presented its highest honor, the Martha Atwater Award, to Seth Phillips, beloved principal of P.S. 8/ M.S. 8, who will be retiring at the end of this school year. When Phillips arrived at P.S. 8 in 2003, the school was shunned by local residents. Phillips turned P.S. 8 around by rebuilding it from the ground up, Stewart said.
He “reinvigorated its academic core,” integrated children with special needs into the school’s mainstream classrooms, established partnerships with other organizations, brought in a school librarian, “worked tirelessly” to get an addition built and recognized and promoted teacher talent. P.S. 8 is so desirable now that the city had to reduce the size of its zone, Stewart said.