Hearing on Alternatives to Housing Yields Diverse Responses; What is a “Perched Wetland”?

About fifty people showed up at St. Francis College yesterday evening to speak (and a number of others showed up to listen) about the draft report issued by Bay Area Economics, the consultants hired by the Brooklyn Bridge Park board to evaluate alternatives to luxury housing and a hotel as sources of revenue to defray the Park’s maintenance and operating expenses. Robert Steel, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and chair of the Park board, got the meeting started, then turned it over to BAE’s Kei Hayashi, who served as chair of the meeting and enforced, with considerable success, the three minute time limit allotted each speaker. There was almost an even split between those who spoke in favor of going ahead with housing as a revenue source and those who opposed it, with several whose position was unclear.

Three political office holders made statements. Two of them, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Council Member Stephen Levin (photo), said they were opposed to housing. Both urged more consideration be given to the Watchtower properties as revenue sources, and Levin also suggested other prospects such as increased film permit and event fees, parking tolls, and the creation of a Park Improvement District that would levy assessments on business and residential properties in the Park’s vicinity. On the other hand, Borough President Marty Markowitz, whose statement was read by his Chief of Staff, Carlo Scissura, said residential development was the “best fit” for the Park of the various possible sources of revenue, because it preserves the maximum amount of open space.

While we do not doubt the sincerity of Messrs. Squadron and Levin, we also note that, for them, since they are dependent on votes from those living near the Park, opposition to housing is the politically safe position. Those who oppose housing, who are concentrated in their districts, tend to be passionate on the subject, and may consider it to be the single issue that decides a vote. Indeed, it has been credited with providing the margin of victory in Squadron’s upset of thirty year incumbent Martin Connor in the Democratic primary four years ago.

Among those who spoke in favor of proceeding with the housing and hotel option were Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy chair Nancy Bowe and executive director Nancy Webster, whose remarks tracked the points made in the Conservancy’s press release yesterday. Webster stressed that the Conservancy supports the current revenue plan but “advocates the least amount of development needed.” While other sources of revenue aren’t adequate to meet the Park’s needs, she said, they could serve to reduce the scale of housing and hotel space required. She also added a note of urgency, observing that the City will not release capital funds for further construction of the Park until it is satisfied that there is sufficient revenue available for maintenance and operations. Bowe began by observing that “everyone wants to know, ‘When will the Park be done?'” She argued, as did Webster, that the presence of housing on the Park’s periphery would not result in “privatization” that would discourage visitors to the Park, noting that the existence of One Brooklyn Bridge Park for some time has had no such effect. Bowe also mentioned the oft-heard argument that residents would provide “eyes on the Park”, adding that they would make it “vibrant and lively 24 hours a day.” Tupper Thomas, now retired, said that when she became administrator of Prospect Park, considered by designers Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux to have been the crown jewel of their career, it had fallen into disrepair. She said if they had the foresight to include housing in the periphery of the Park to generate revenue for maintenance, this would not have happened.

Other supporters of housing generally followed these points. Some, such as DUMBO Improvement District executive director Alexandria Sica and Robert Elmes of Galapagos Art Space, stressed the benefit to local businesses from the increased population and foot traffic the new residences and hotel would generate. By contrast, Sandy Balboza, president of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, which represents businesses along that thoroughfare, opposed housing, arguing instead for a Park Improvement District as well as other alternatives. She also said she supported the “Manheim Plan” respecting the Watchtower properties. The question of the possible use of revenues from these properties, which the Watchtower plans to vacate when they move upstate, was a contentious one. Supporters of moving forward with housing argued that the possibility of realizing revenues from these properties was speculative, both as to amount and timing. Tony Manheim, Heights resident and long-term Park supporter, who opposes housing in the Park, argued that the City was in a position to take the properties by eminent domain, and could use this as the means for negotiating a favorable deal with Watchtower. Another supporter of the Manheim Plan was Roy Sloane, president of the Cobble Hill Association and a long time foe of housing in the Park.

Some neighborhoods were divided on the housing issue. Ben Bankson, president of the Willowtown Association, spoke against housing, arguing for funding through a Park Improvement District. He said Willowtown residents would gladly pay the PID assessment, which he estimated at about one dollar per day. Clint Padgett, a Willowtown Association member, argued that the planned 31 story building near the Pier 6 entrance was “excessive” and would drastically alter “a historic skyline largely unchanged since the nineteenth century.” But Willowtown resident and architect Wids De La Cour argued in favor of housing as the best way to assure prompt completion of the Park and a secure source of funding for maintenance and operations.

Several members of the Sierra Club, including local resident and former City Council primary candidate Ken Baer, argued against housing on the principle that all parks should be funded out of general revenues and, as public amenities, should not be required to be self-supporting. Another point made by Baer, and by several others, is that the design of the Park has become too “extravagant.” Doug Biviano, another former City Council, and later State Assembly primary candidate, proposed eliminating the footbridge from Squibb Park over both the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Furman Street and replacing it with a ramp and a pedestrian crossing of Furman with a stop light, as well as reducing the size of the noise-baffling berm to be built parallel to Furman Street and minimizing other planned “earthworks.” He also suggested, as did one other speaker, eliminating the “duplicate bureaucracies” of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation and the Conservancy, although the Conservancy is privately funded. A particular target of some speakers who advocated cost cutting is the “perched wetland” planned for the outer part of Pier 6. Paul Thompson, principal of the Urban Assembly School of Music and Art, located near the Park, took no position on the housing issue other than to say that he wanted “the Park available ASAP” for his students. He also said he was amused by the concept of a perched wetland, and thought it might provide a good study problem for a physics class.

Written statements on the BAE Draft Report will be accepted until April 25 (note: the deadline was originally April 23), and will be given equal consideration with oral testimony given at the hearing. They should be sent to bbptestimony@bae1.com. A PDF of the draft report, or of its executive summary, can be downloaded through the Brooklyn bridge Park website.

Within thirty days of the April 25 deadline for submission of testimony, BAE will issue its final report. This will be followed by another public meeting, after which the Park’s board will decide what recommendations, if any, to adopt.

Photo by C. Scales for BHB

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  • http://bivforbrooklyn.com Doug Biviano

    To be perfectly clear, I’m just not sure what utility the pedestrian bridge from Squibb Park to BBP would provide except for rhetoric for politicians to say there is bridge connecting the heights and BBP.

    There is no “shortcut” to be gained if that is the intent.

    Once at Squibb, you walk down the hill and you’re in BBP. If you want to connect Squibb (the future skate board park) to BBP, the switched-back ramp and cross walk at Furman would achieve that objective without a $5 million capital price tag (at perhaps at tenth of the cost) and the extra capital reserves for maintenance of another steel structure in the salt air by the river.

    There could be some safety gain in that a Brooklyn Heights visitor would not have to cross Furman like everyone else coming from the points of entry that will more than likely generate most of the visitor traffic — the north and south ends (Atlantic and Fulton Ferry Landing).

    But then again, the same visitor is just as likely to be hit by the BBP rented “Park Rangers” zipping down Hicks and Columbia Heights all day every day.

  • Reggie

    Nice work Claude. If anyone has wondered why there isn’t a “Brooklyn Heights Patch,” here is one instance of the explanation.

  • karl Junkersfeld

    Excellent compendium of the evenings events. Thanks Claude, you da man.

  • Y

    I dont see the point of the foot bridge from Squibb Park either. I actually would make old Fulton a dead end, closing Furman for traffic.

    Make the Watchtower buildings a hotel and conference center. You will have people in that neighborhood all year long supporting local businesses. Water Taxi can run all year long to Wall Street.

  • Winstion Smith

    Y, “closing Furman for traffic”. yet another short sighted idiotic idea. Where would the traffic go? Down Henry street, that’s where.

  • cat

    Any mention of new housing should also include the mention of new schools. If you’re going to bring more families into this neighborhood, you’re going to have to provide the infrastructure to support them.

  • dog lover

    In agreement with Cat. Where in the “plan” is there any mention of improved and additional infrastructure. Both public and private schools are already crowded and overbooked. Parking is horrendous. Or did I missed mention of new schools? Understand that the building addition(s) to PS 8 won’t meet the demand. How about additional Firehouses and Police on Patrol? Also the article sounded biased towards residential housing. Of course many home owners in the Heights and Cobble Hill (constituents of elected officials) would rather have a Park Improvement District rather than 31 story building “drastically altering the historic skyline” and casting long shadows on the neighborhood blocking our view of the harbor.

  • Y

    @ Winstion: Maybe you want to spend more time down there and check out where the cars are mainly coming from and in what frequency they use Furman before you call something idiotic.

    I guess your problem is that you live at 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park and lose the convenience of going straight into your parking garage.

    Closing Furman solves all the issues of people crossing it and the danger of being run over so many have complaint about in the past, especially on Joralemon and Atlantic.

  • nabeguy

    Y, I won’t qualify your statement as idiotic, but perhaps you need to spend more time down there as well, lie around 5:15 on any weekday. Furman Street, for better or for worse, is a major alternate route that people coming off the bridge take when the BQE entrance at Hicks gets backed up during rush hour. Close off Furman, and the back-up will clog the exit lane back to Manhattan. I’ll grant you that the corner turn from Old Fulton onto Furman is a treacherous one, given the sight lines for both pedestrians and drivers, as it’s an extended curve. Perhaps addressing that particular traffic flow problem may be the better solution.

  • John

    Once the JWs move out and the two kid families move into small 2 bedroom condo’s, the population of BH will explode and schooling with become a real issue. Given the protracted time involving in sorting out a park, just how long will it take to sort out a school situation? I’m afraid it will take too long for a decent cohort of kids.

  • T.K. Small

    Infrastructure considerations like schools, police, fire etc. are all important, but the purpose of the hearing was to comment on the draft report of the Committee on Alternatives to Housing, which explains why these critical issues were not raised. Another 800 pound gorilla in the room is what to do with fixing/replacing the BQE.

    Brooklyn Bridge Park and development in the surrounding area should be built right the first time. From my perspective serious issues have not been thought through adequately. I would rather take more time and get a better comprehensive plan addressing more of these legitimate concerns.

    Finally, I think this process has become incredibly divisive and serves to pit neighbors against neighbors. I have seen and experienced the divisiveness personally in my public statements concerning wheelchair accessibility. My integrity and judgment were ridiculed and questioned when I took the position that “Some people will have problems with the gravel.”. I know, that’s yesterday’s news, but it is an example of how this process has unfolded.

    Unless the politicians and community leaders to do something to tone down the hostility, people will not easily forget this battle.

  • epc

    Any attempt to use eminent domain to seize the Watchtower properties would lead to a constitutional battle which the City would likely lose. What the City could do now (I believe. Am not a lawyer &etc…) is create the necessary tax districts encompassing the Watchtower properties so that that’s a known factor if/when they are sold, rather than wait until they’re on the market to say “Oh, wait, we’d like to add a tax levy” or the likely “and they should be landmarked as well”.

    Has anyone supporting an additional tax on BH residents actually done the footwork to gather resident’s signatures on a petition to create a special property tax district to support the park?

  • gc

    Between the air assault, which is clearly getting worse as the weather improves, and the ground assault, which will obviously get worse as the park expands, Heights residents (I have been one for 35 years) can kiss any hope for a bit of peace and tranquility goodbye. I, for one, find all this “progress” very sad!

  • Y

    @ nabeguy: I am down there at least once a day,usually twice. What do I care about traffic backing up out of Manhattan? I am a typical “not in my back yard”-person.

    Introduce an eastbound Brooklyn Bridge toll and people will have the motivation to use the Battery Park Tunnel instead since they are going southbound on the BQE anyway. A great way to keep cars out of this neighborhood. Use 50% of the tolls collected for financing the park.

  • Winstion Smith

    Perhaps we should tax stupid ideas, then from this blog alone we could fund ten parks.

  • Jack Crosby

    GC is on the money in terms of first mobilizing a petition so that BH’s residents views are known.

    I find the suggestion of a park levy on BH residents unfair.

    Why should the River Cafe benefit from the park and not have its lease re-assessed and why should all these tour buses visit the park and not pay a special levy when these operators are directly benefiting from the park? I, for one, am not willing to subsidize a restaurant and tour buses that give little back to the park or the BH community.

  • http://Building Jeffrey J Smith

    The people who attended the hearing and heard what I and several others said heard a series of serious treatments of the
    central issuer of area total use and the direct AND INDIRECT
    effects of the park.

    First of all, no matter what casino, political or RE types tries to say the park WILL be a tax on the security of the heights. The fiction
    that thousands of people will be brought around and through the heights and we will not need more police personnel is an amazine

    Second, no matter what any official, neighborhood asssociations or Bklyn Heights Press luminary says, we ARE going to need MORE FIRE and especially MORE EMS facilities.

    In my testimony I said that if the park has a standard flatline, something which happens with every average population on a hot summer recreation day thatvtakes an available unit away from
    coverage of the Heights. Critical seconds between life and death is going to be lost if finite EMS units are elsewhere.

    Its bone simple logic: If we increase the USE of an area…you want
    more of every public facility.

    Otherwise, you’re services, especially public safety services are
    being spread more and more thin.

    And, dont kid yourselves, that thin line IS often the difference between life and death.

    Is the park worth precious minutes when your child or elderly
    mother is in serious danger? Well without a reasonable increase in public safety facilites to cover the increased population and
    area use, that’s the exact situation you are placing your family in.

    There are manyu other area use issues. Do we get more schools
    for an increased population?

    And, most of all.




    The extensive debt situation had led to the US currency being in danger of losing its reserve currency status, The pension system is in very serious danger. The domestic and internatonal distrust of the FRN is epidemic, municipalities in every state are in very serious economic danger. Layoffs of key public service personnel nationwide is epidemic. There is now talk of a THIRD quantitative

    And it THAT kind of economic situation people want to go foward
    with something to further burden the local economic and public
    safety situation.

    Jeffrey Smith

  • Y

    I think I am in love with Winstion.

  • http://Building Jeffrey J Smith

    And not me? Hmmm-

  • Reggie

    Jack, it does not matter if you are willing or not, your suggestions do not have a legal leg to stand on.

  • http://Building Jeffrey J Smith

    No, it might not have a LEGAL leg to stand on, but if there was enough PUBLIC PRESSURE, I bet someone would “decide” that
    they could come foward with some “accomodation” which would
    help deal with the actuial costs of the park AND the real ripple
    costs to the surrounding communities. LIKE the costs of increased
    police manpower in the 84th Pct INCREASED FIRE/EMS tyo PROPERLY COVER the INCREASED POPULATION in the area…
    I dont want to even commment on things like increased school
    seats for the perm increased population. Funds for which are supposed to appear like majic in this present plan….

    You’d be very surprised first, how deep the pockets of some of these businesses actuialy are, (has there ever been a actuial
    certified assesment of the actuial increased profits of certian businesses due to the placement of this park?)(no there hasn’t)
    second, how sensitive the operators of these businesses are
    to any movement to make an actuial inquiery into their finances.
    Rather than a open public view into thier actuial cash flow situa-
    tion, you’d see how fast certain businesses “find” they could come foward with some “increased contribution” to the public good….
    A lot of these “businesses” have all the treansparency of the
    wonderful federal reserve……

  • Wrennie

    I’m not in favor of putting eastbound tolls on the Brooklyn Bridge. Not everyone in the Heights has an ungodly amount of disposable income; I don’t want to double my cab fare home at night for some toll which I’m sure will be exorbitant. What’s the price of the V. Narrows now, your firstborn child?

  • bklyn20

    First off, I just can’t believe that yet again the BBPCorp people disregarded ordering speakers at the hearing based on the sign-in list. Instead, they took the names from the list and put them all on little yellow cards. They then rejiggered the order of the speakers so that the pro-housing plan people could all speak first — presumably while the press was still there. I understand
    allowing elected officials and their representatives to speak when they come in, but moving people 10 or 15 places later is egregious.

    Re: Biv’s idea about the Squibb Bridge – I’d be sad to see it go, but it’s important to examine any possibilities that lower the park’s budget. I do have concerns about ADA access. I’m not sure I fully understand his ideas. Biv’s suggestion about merging the BBP Corp and the BBP Conservancy is humorously appropriate. The Conservancy is supposed to be “the voice of the people, ” or at least that’s how they used describe themselves. “The people” have voted in two anti-housing plan officials, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Councilman Steven Levin. And State Assemblywoman Joan Millman, formerly pro-housing, has also seen the light. Why is the Conservancy still pushing the housing plan? Yes, they do good programming in the park. But their missive in the blog a few days ago is seriously disingenuous, and misrepresents many of the non-housing financing ideas. The Conservancy is not serving the people of Brooklyn. They are serving their donors — not the same thing.

    Since the BHB printed the Conservancy’s piece — how about printing the Manheim Plan? Tony Manheim has been involved in BBP since its inception decades ago — why not interview Tony Manheim, or print his plan?

    I am not much in favor of the PID, so to me the main omission in the report is that the JW buildings are not studied. Millions of square feet of real estate, not currently on the property tax rolls, not INSIDE the park’s borders — why can’t we wait to work this all out? That would give us the time to figure out the infrastructure solutions needed for these JW buildings or even the two planned 16- and 32- story condos planned now. (The Witness buildings already have their sewer lines built, I bet.) PS 8’s extension will be for naught — not to mention any local middle school or the local private schools — if we don’t figure this out first. And what about water, fire, police (beyond the park’s security force?) Let’s take the time to do it right for everyone and keep a park that is relatively unconstricted by immovable half-empty luxury towers.

    And as for the perched wetlands — it is there for treating the combined wastewater from all the housing and surrounding roads. The technical term is “combined sewage overflow.” In the guise of an exotic environmental feature, we are losing prime park space, all to service the housing’s sewage. How very fitting.

  • Grusha

    We already have public school problem in BH. There’s no middle school and elementary schools are already overcrowded. More families moving in might actually push the issue to the top of the priority list. And for those who see young families as menace, have you been to Forest Hills lately? Once a terrific neighborhood, it now has aging population, no good restaurants, no grocery stores, no park and declining real estate prices. Tranquil indeed.