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Hundreds virtually attend Brooklyn Heights Association’s 2021 Annual Meeting

March 3, 2021 Mary Frost
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The Brooklyn Heights Association’s 2021 annual meeting on Feb. 24 took place online for the first time this year, and it proved to be an invaluable lifeline for quarantining neighborhood residents. The Zoom event covered the year’s hot topics, from the reconstruction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to Montague Street’s woes, and featured a panel discussion with candidates for Brooklyn’s 33rd Council District.

BHA also presented its annual Community Service Awards to groups and individuals who have made significant contributions to the neighborhood’s quality of life. Neighborhood favorite Tom Stewart, host at Thirteen WNET New York, emceed the award ceremony.

BHA President Erika Belsey Worth was the face of the BHA for the Zoom; Executive Director Lara Birnback presented the financials and BHA Governors Cindy McLaughlin, Jeremy Lechtzin, Chris Bastian and Jordan Tamagni directed questions to the Council candidates.

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“The BHA was thrilled that so many people logged in to watch the meeting — we had around 320 people for most of the event,” Birnback told the Brooklyn Eagle. “With the upcoming election so important for the future of our city, it was great to provide a platform for the candidates to share their vision and perspectives with the community.”

“It was really nice to know that the images and charts we showed were easy to see — which is not always the case with our usual slide projections,” Worth said. “What I missed most was the applause for our awardees. And I have a sneaking suspicion that, had it been in person, we might have been treated to a few bars of live music.”

Birnback said that BHA would consider a combination of in-person and live-streaming for next year’s meeting. “We’d love to know what format the community prefers —people can let us know at [email protected]

The video of the meeting can be viewed here.

Tom Stewart, host at Thirteen WNET New York, emceed the award ceremony, always a highlight of the annual event. Photo: Screenshot from BHA

Update on the BQE

One of the largest projects BHA tackled in 2020 was the reconstruction of the rapidly-crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The parameters now include the concepts of equity and climate change, Worth said. As part of the 12-member Coalition for the BQE Transformation, BHA hopes to establish a form of governance at the state level that includes community representation. Sen. Chuck Schumer said the BQE “could likely be included” in a list of priority infrastructure projects, Worth noted.

Meanwhile, upcoming “life support” repairs will likely cause substantial disruption to the neighborhood, Worth said. BHA has commissioned a traffic mitigation study by engineering firm Nelson\Nygaard to address the impact of future lane shutdowns.

BHA President Erika Belsey Worth led the discussion of key topics including the response to the organization’s survey on how to rescue Montague Street. Photo: Screenshot from BHA

Montague Street

Montague Street is a casualty of the pandemic, Worth said. The good news is that 1,374 people responded to the BHA’s Montague Street survey and provided “invaluable data.” Respondents “crave new businesses,” Worth said. The most desired business is a book store, followed by restaurants and cafes, a bakery, a butcher, specialty food shops and a fish monger. BHA is working with the BID, placemakers, property owners and potential businesses to revive the street, she said.

Brooklyn Heights Library

Construction of the Brooklyn Heights Library branch should be completed by early summer and the branch will be opening late summer or early fall, Worth said. One condition to the building’s occupancy is that the (remote) affordable housing units have their certificate of occupancy before the luxury units at 1 Clinton can be occupied. That happened last spring, Worth said. There were 80,000 applications submitted for the 114 affordable units in Clinton Hill.

Brooklyn Heights Together

BHA has been distributing cash grants of $400 to those in the larger community who lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Within minutes of launching, donations came pouring in,” Worth said, to the tune of $53,713, twice what BHA anticipated.

Other topics discussed at the meeting included Tree Pit Project, the upcoming Easter Egg Parade, Design Showhouse 2022, and a live, in-person party on the Promenade planned for this fall.

Becky Carpenter, Community Service Award winner. Photo: Screenshot from BHA

Community Service Awards

“We’re so appreciative of the fact that we live in a community where people help each other,” WNET host Tom Stewart said. This year’s award winners included: the Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC), Becky Carpenter, Peter Kendall Clark, and Martin Schneider.

– AAFSC took on the project of distributing the Brooklyn Heights Together funds and asked for no administrative fee or other compensation.

– Opera singer Peter Kendall Clark has performed more than 150 free concerts on the sidewalk in front of his building since the pandemic began, brightening the mood of locals and those who have traveled to see him.

– BHA member Becky Carpenter volunteered her professional design talent to the many BHA projects and neighborhood signage.

– Martin Schneider, who recently died, was a leading voice, along with Otis Pearsall, in an effort to head off Robert Moses’ project in the 1960s to replace blocks of individual homes along what is now Cadman Plaza West with a solid wall of housing units running from Middagh Street to Clark Street.

Eight candidates in the race to represent District 33 in the City Council were featured in a forum during BHA’s annual meeting. Photo: Screengshot from BHA

33rd District Candidates

Brooklyn Heights residents heard pitches from eight candidates running to replace term-limited City Council member Stephen Levin, and had a chance to ask questions. The candidates included: Elizabeth Adams, Victoria Cambranes, Sabrina Gates, Toba Potosky, Lincoln Restler, Stu Sherman, Benjamin Solotaire and April Somboun.

The meeting video remains online as a valuable resource for voters to consult before the election.


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2 Comments

  1. Andrew Porter

    Excellent report as always, Ms. Frost!

    I noted that at least one of the City Council candidates seemed unaware that Brooklyn Heights is Landmarked, which made for uncomfortable hearing when the discussion included upzoning, and replacement of lowrise houses by highrise housing.

  2. Mike Suko

    Seems to me – especially with the benefit of hindsight – that they should have split this into 2 meetings. I loved both halves, but it’s typical of BHA-mypopia that “the nanny will put the kids to bed tonight, so a long meeting is no problem.”

    The Community Service portion was DIVINE, but then there was just plain wrong-headedness when it comes to the BQE and Montague Street. On the former, “coalitions” are fine, but not when they dilute what should be a focus on “ground zero.” And looking to NY State to do the right thing by Brooklyn Heights is nothing short of insane.

    As for Montague, the BHA got to first base – “Let’s shine a light on the problem.” That’s simply not enough. Publish asking rents – if that shames or wakes up this or that landlord, that’s a good thing. (Or is the BHA too much in bed with them & realtors?) Not seizing upon the missing “connector” from the foot of Montague to BBP is proof that they still can’t think even the tiniest bit “out of the box” or they simply have too many conflicts of interest. They’ve had trouble forever serving apt. owners/renters even half as well as brownstone owners.

    I can’t think of a better use for BHA funds than the charitable ones they opted for this past year…. But maybe they SHOULD be morphing into a smaller, targeted version of “Partnership for the City of NY.” A clear – and widely supported – objective – a community bookstore, say, could become a reality if the BHA put some community money into it. Yes, it’s tricky to support a particular retailer, but the BHA is uniquely positioned – lots of smart people, lots of deep pocketed members – to make it happen if it cleared away some of its cobwebs.