Holy Moses! Highway Planners Considering Condemnation of Brooklyn Heights Residences

State Department of Transportation officials studying ways to improve the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which is cantilevered on two levels below the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, then curves to the northeast near Middagh, Willow, Poplar and Hicks streets, are considering a scenario under which widening of the highway would necessitate taking some residential buildings near Middagh and Willow streets by eminent domain.

YourNabe.com: State transportation planners are currently considering several ways to implement a $300-million reconstruction project of the triple-canitlever portion of the BQE under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, plus other portions between Sands Street and Atlantic Avenue — but one scenario calls for homes to be taken near Willow and Middagh streets to accommodate the wider highway.

The article goes on to quote Peter King, DOT’s project manager, as calling this “unlikely”. However, residents in the affected area are understandably concerned. The article quotes Beth Taubner, who, it notes, is one whose home would be taken under the scenario being considered, as saying “This upsets me!” While community leaders, including newly inaugurated Brooklyn Heights Association President Jane McGroarty and Community Board 2 District Manager Rob Perris counseled calm and, like Mr. King, stressed the unlikelihood of condemnation proceedings, Rex Roberts, who lives on Columbia Heights near the Harry Chapin Playground (could that also be affected?–the article doesn’t mention it) is quoted as saying, “Eminent domain was used to create the BQE, so I suppose it could be used to save the BQE.”

There will be a “stakeholders meeting” concerning the BQE project–one of a series of such–on Wednesday evening, June 23, starting at 6:30, at St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street (between Court and Clinton).

Update: YourNabe affiliate The Brooklyn Paper runs the same article, but with maps showing the present alignment of the BQE, a proposal that would shorten the highway by burying it in a tunnel under the Heights(!), and the alignment that would require condemnation of some North Heights properties, and which appears to show the Harry Chapin Playground also affected. These are, however, not the only options being considered.

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  • Ben

    I thought that Robert Moses started this way back when? The Brooklyn Heights Promenade was the result of his plan to demolish houses in Brooklyn Heights it was built as a compromise. I doubt that this will ever happen it must be a slow news day so someone decided to run this half baked idea up the flagpole to see what woulf fly, if anything.

  • davoyager

    Don’t fool yourself. In the name of the almighty car they will kill everything in their path; witness the Gulf.
    I personally would like to see the automobile severely restricted and constrained on the streets we humans walk. Ultimately I think the “car” must die and I hope I live to see the day.

  • Arch Stanton

    The impetus is to make the highway 3 continuous travel lanes wide, in each direction…. right now, there are still bottlenecks where the right lane exits and there are only 2 travel lanes… The extra lanes would be a great improvement. However, It seems to me it would be easier to add the extra lanes to the outside of the highway?

  • ashton

    The Heights is an historic district and it is on the national register of historic places. this is one of the very last things we need to worry about. In terms of a future without cars, I believe the vast majority of Americans would opt to live without cities rather than without cars. Gasoline powered engines may be on their way out, but not cars.

  • Free & Safe

    If our leaders need to raze some homes for the benefit of us all, I say more power to them!

  • George Earl

    As in the so-called “improvement” of any city neighborhood, age of the homes thereon doesn’t make them any more valuable. The condition in which such property is found must be a big part of the picture. As is who lives there and what they’re doing to improve the land they’re on. One of the biggest challenges in today’s society (yes, the one we’ve created) has to do with city transportation and the “need” for virtually everybody to own a car. Biggest, wider, louder avenues are now a “must-have” if we must must have a “car-a-man.” Maybe we should think of better underground city transportation than cars and retaining what years ago were classified as “historic” or “classy” neighborhoods. Sadly, some of the folks occupying those “historic” homes don’t even sweep their own sidewalks.

  • Arch Stanton

    @ Free & Safe,

    Would you feel that way if it was your home that would need to be razed?

  • ashton

    The city’s subways were largely built one hundred years ago. Today we are seeing a new line slowly being built under Second Avenue and another line from New Jersey under West 34th Street. Buildings will need to be demolished for those projects but it is hoped that it will improve the city’s antique public transportation system in another five to ten years. Politicians like to yell and carry on about how more people should use mass transit and yet trains and buses are seriously overcrowded as is. And because needed repairs have been ignored for decades we are now playing catch-up which means totally screwed up service on the weekends. The weekend issues just reinforce to most Brooklynites and other who live outside Manhattan, that at least one family car is a necessity. Otherwise one is at the mercy of the MTA’s dysfuction and shortcomings.

  • Bob Stone

    Not only the North Heights is being considered for the BQE rebuild impact. One of the existing proposals would practically destroy Van Voorhees Park in Cobble Hill and another would cut out the southwest corner of Willowtown, possibly including Palmetto Park (the kinder, gentler alternative to Pier 6). But, as Ms. McGroarty and Mr. Perris counsel, calm (with watchfulness) is probably the best for now. There are lots of Landmark issues, as well as political pressures to be applied as the situation becomes clearer. There will be more proposals put forward; more than enough to drive everyone near the BQE (yes, even Columbia Heights) to distraction. We understand that there’s a meeting of the Community Highway Advisory committee (exact title and acronym escapes me) at St. Francis on June 23, invitation only, but anyone curious about the process probably won’t be physically ejected.

  • Fee & Safe

    Mr. Stanton,

    We elect officials who know far more than you and me about these complex matters. If they deem it necessary to reroute our antiquated highway system, I believe they should make decision. Don’t you?

  • epc

    I think PR bots from the construction industry should lay off the astroturfing. Stick to buying the politicians for now.

  • WillowSt.

    Free & Safe, are you for real?

    Are you one of those people that thought we should have gone to war with Iraq because “the leaders” said we should?

    Are you just waking up from the year 1952, or do you subcribe to totalitarianism?

    I agree with Arch Stanton’s seemingly astute idea: why not extend the road, if it MUST be, on the lanes outside the highway??

  • my2cents

    Wow. This is pretty serious stuff, if it happens. I have to think they could do it without needing to tear down additional buildings.

  • ashton

    in a city where it takes years and years to repair ordinary highways , for example the Harlem River Drive or the Long Island Expressway, think of what it might take to repair an engineering tour de force from sixty years ago -namely the triple cantilever. The road design engineers look at it like an ancient relic reminiscent of the hanging gardens of babylon. They have NO idea how even to begin. So, I would imagine most of them are hoping to be retired by the time something needs to be designed or that some serious accident takes out a section and the reconstruction will have to be done on an emergency expidited basis thereby short-circuiting environmental and traffic safety reviews.

  • Teddy

    I don’t even want to imagine the disruption to the Heights that the tunnel option would create. We all know the BQE needs to be improved to reduce the unusually high number of accidents that occur on that section (including the dangerous on/off-ramp by Congress St.), but it would be nice if homes & lives didn’t need to be ripped up in order to accomplish that. Then again sometimes there are no other options and a small number of people have to suffer for the greater good of the community and region. This happens all the time in other parts of the country & world.

  • http://Robert HeightsGuy

    Eminent domain is a curse. It is wrong for the government to condemn private property, period. Let’s stand up for the rights of individuals.

  • WillowtownCop

    If they think they’re building a highway over Palmetto Park, they’re wrong. I have handcuffs. We’ll chain ourselves to the fences.

  • Homer Fink

    In the words of Rev. Hillis at the first BHA meeting:

    “We have also been too dignified and too respectable. Let us now get up and do some shouting.”

    If you want to help cover these meetings for BHB, help keep up on the issue etc — email me webmaster AT brooklynheightsblog.com

    If you have professional reporting experience and would like to be our lead correspondent, let me know.


  • nabeguy

    It’s one thing to invoke eminent domain on behalf of a developer like Ratner, who is in a position to foot all of the legal bills for opposition suits against Atlantic Yards but this ain’t Atlantic Yards and the city is certainly not in a financial position to go up against its own agencies. I’m not saying that the LPC won’t roll over, but the irony of ignoring a city commission which owes its very existence to this neighborhood is unlikely to be lost even by the neanderthals of the DOT. The city would be shooting itself in the foot, and, as Willowtown implies, feet might not be the only things ventilated.

  • Arch Stanton

    @Fee & Safe,
    I see you didn’t answer my question…
    No, I don’t think just because someone is an elected official they are more qualified to make the right decisions. Just look at that clown who was last in the White House…

    Yes, it is a complex matter, I realize there are factors I am unaware of however, I would like to hear what they are and the logic behind the why buildings need to be removed… I am capable of my own judgment, I don’t simply buy into what some bureaucrat tells me…

    @ WillowtownCop,
    Don’t worry, they already took care of that section in the early 90’s…

    @ WillowSt. Thanks!

  • ABC

    The BQE is falling down. They’ll have to reroute (furman) and then rebuild at the least. If they could get the truck traffic off the BQE, they could do with just the rebuilding. But they’re not going to do that I’m afraid.

    They were floating building a temporary highway out into the east river and raorund the BBP. That would be something to see.

    (It’s clear to me they have no plan and are kicking this thing down the road)

  • nabeguy

    Arch, you’re more correct than you know. I happened to have met a friend of mine at Pier 6 last week who happens to be an marine engineer who worked on the FDR extension and your proposal is completely in the realm of possibility.

  • William Spier

    Teddy’s above comment is well…not worth consideration. The damage done to BH by cutting the BQE into the North Heights would be to a great deal more than a few houses.

    Actually, tunneling under the heights would not be a serious issue unless the subway lines were affected. If they widened the width of the BQE more than a few houses would be affected. Even residences not condemned and destroyed would suffer greatly. I can imagine this proposal costing the state tens of millions in additional claims. The drawing shows a good slice of the north Heights rendered unlivable.

    Nabeguy, you’re a bit hysterical, but your analogy to Atlantic Yards in not unthinkable.

  • my2cents

    It seems sort of silly to me that they are thinking of tearing down houses just to make the curves in the road less extreme. I think people should learn to drive, and it’s their problem if they take the corners too fast. The tunnel idea is interesting, but I can’t imagine how incredibly expensive that would be. Why don’t they just build a steel truss structure on the outside of the cantilever to support the load, and just repave the roads?

  • WillowtownCop

    Why are we doing ANYTHING to accommodate more cars on the road? Doesn’t this seem like a giant step backwards to anyone else? Too many cars are the reason the Gulf of Mexico is being destroyed as we speak. I can’t see any good reason the city or the state or whoever thinks they can get away with rebuilding the damn thing would want more cars on the road. Let people sit in traffic- maybe they’ll think twice about driving next time. I have never had a car and can’t think of any good reason for city people to have one, unless they’re elderly or disabled and really can’t get around any other way. I don’t want to start pointing fingers and accusing people of having blood (oil) on their hands, but if you live and work in the city and are physically able to get around without a car, you have to take a little responsibility for it when the government wants to build a bigger road through your own back yard.

  • Bob

    Back in Moses’ day, the idea was there was too much traffic congestion, therefore we need to build more expressways. What happened, was that it created MORE expressways to travel on, which led to MORE congestion, which led to MORE expressways,etc.

  • epc

    As long as we’re in fantasy land: can we remove the direct exit to the Brooklyn Bridge from the NB BQE? That alone would eliminate a huge source of accidents and congestion since it causes a lane-drop/constriction right at the Middagh Street curve.

    I know it’ll never happen. 80% of the people in NYC could walk and we’ll still be told that auto/truck traffic is far more important.

    Actually, if “smart transportation” interests you check out streetsblog.org. Tends to be cyclist focused but also is the center for “smart” transportation discussion.

  • Teddie Boy Eddie

    Yeah, it’s OK that those other people down the road should have their homes taken away, but don’t touch BH.

  • EZ

    No matter what we choose, we are gonna have to take a big kick in the balls.

    I prefer the tunnel option because I know that kick is gonna hurt really bad for a long while, but maybe afterwords i could have enough of a sperm count to have kids and they will never know ridiculously stupid the BQE used to be before it got buried.

  • DanInBrooklyn

    I agree wholeheartedly with WillowtownCop’s comment regarding driving in New York City.