Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn Heights Association’s Pier 6 lawsuit to stay in Manhattan

Judge urges a settlement, castigates attorneys for burying her in paperwork

April 13, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A judge ruled on Wednesday that a case brought by the Brooklyn Heights Association against a two tower development at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park would stay in her Manhattan courtroom. She also urged the two sides to settle. Shown: The two towers can be seen above, center and left. Rendering courtesy of ODA-RAL Development Services - Oliver's Realty Group
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In a stifling Manhattan courtroom packed with spectators from Brooklyn, NYS Supreme Court Judge Lucy Billings on Wednesday shot down Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation’s motion to move the Brooklyn Heights Association’s (BHA) lawsuit seeking to block construction of two towers on Pier 6 to a court in Brooklyn.

Such a change of venue is “not consistent with the law. I’d be reversed in a moment,” she told the park corporation’s attorneys, who subsequently withdrew the motion.

She also lambasted attorneys for burying her in a blizzard of paperwork.

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“I have a half inch of correspondence here. I don’t have time to read letters,” she told roughly a dozen lawyers representing the battling parties. “I did read them, but it’s pretty much academic by now,” she said. “Who authorized a 100-page memorandum? It makes your arguments look weak and it’s a turn off. What’s the purpose of all these affirmations?”

“Maybe they have time to read this in Brooklyn but there’s no time in Manhattan for anything repetitive,” she said, eliciting “ouches” from observers in the gallery.

BHA is suing 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.

Billings urged both sides to come to a compromise in the case before the next appearance, set for April 18 at 11 a.m. Before considering allowing oral arguments, Billings, going off the record, asked if the litigants had some wiggle room in their positions that might allow compromise.

“Could you accept some of the project? Is there some flexibility?” she asked.

Attorneys representing the park said that the park corporation board had determined that income from the entire Pier 6 development was needed to fund the park, and that any compromise would need board approval.

“There’s no indication that anything short of preventing affordable housing and changing the project in a major way” would satisfy the BHA, one attorney said.

Attorney Richard Ziegler, representing BHA, went to some pains to establish the BHA’s point in bringing the lawsuit.

An agreement with the city codified in the General Project Plan (GPP) states that real estate development at the park would be limited to only the amount necessary to fund the park’s financial needs. BHA says that the park, the state and Pier 6 developers continue to act “in defiance of law” by authorizing development that is financially unnecessary.

“Do they really need as much revenue as they say they do?” Ziegler asked the court. He said that real estate taxes have increased dramatically, thus bringing in more income than the park projected, and claimed that the park corporation hadn’t made a case showing financial need for the Pier 6 development.

He also refuted the park corporation’s charge that the community was actually opposed to putting affordable housing in the park. (Roughly 100 of the proposed units would be affordable.) The community began fighting unnecessary development in 2005, “long before affordable housing was a factor in the project,” he said.

Billings, still hoping for a settlement, called a break in the proceedings to enable attorneys and representatives from both sides to conference in her chambers.

The conference concluded, however, with no settlement in sight.

Calling the proceedings back to order, Billings pushed Ziegler to provide the statutes, legal provisions or mandatory obligations the case rested on and to defend BHA’s standing under various regulations. Among other statues, Ziegler listed the NYC Administrative Code, which requires developers (in this case ODA-RAL Development Services and Oliver’s Realty Group ) to register with the City’s Doing Business database.

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 in court paperwork that, “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.”

Attorneys for the park corporation, however, told the judge they didn’t concede that point, saying, among other reasons, that RAL submitted its form on July 21, 2014. Ziegler responded that the form “didn’t find it’s way into the data base until March 2016, indicating a problem.”

The park also violated its own procedures, Ziegler said, under several regulations. In one example, it refused the requests of its own Community Advisory Council (CAC) for specific information necessary to perform its advisory role.

“The CAC was not told about the specific plan submitted to he board until the board meeting. They were kept in the dark on the changes,” Ziegler said. “The CAC requested the park’s financial model to assess the need for the project. They were never given the model.”

After more back and fourth regarding statues and standing, Judge Billings remarked that there were “multiple layers of hearsay” from both sides. She urged both sides to discuss coming to a resolution between now and the next court date.

“I hope the time we spent working on a resolution here was worthwhile,” she told attorneys.

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