Krogius to BHA: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Brooklyn Heights resident/writer/historian Henrik Krogius has a thinkpiece in the Brooklyn Eagle this week discussing the Brooklyn Heights Association and the battles it has fought throughout its history. He mentions David Walentas’ quote in last Sunday’s New York Times piece about his son Jed asserting that if it had been up to the BHA, “there would be no DUMBO.” He wonders how the BHA will navigate through the new and evolving “cool” Brooklyn in the years ahead.

Brooklyn Eagle: Just this past year a rift was opened within the BHA membership, when the BHA leadership sued to block the conversion of the Tobacco Warehouse into a theater for St. Ann’s Warehouse — what many saw as one more move essentially directed at the Walentases. St. Ann’s has found a three-year refuge in another building, but the issue is likely to arise again.

Change is happening all around in Brooklyn. The challenge for the BHA in 2012 and beyond, as it protects the character of what [B. Meridith] Langstaff called “a spot that is healthful, high, cool and quiet; a spot that is withdrawn from the great traffic lanes and yet reached by every subway line in the City,” is to become a better partner with the rest of Brooklyn as the borough continues its climb from mid-century decay into perhaps the liveliest part of the city — to keep the Heights cool even as it welcomes the new “cool” of Brooklyn.

What’s your two cents on this issue?

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  • stuart

    very well said.
    the ancients in Brooklyn Heights need to step back and let newer voices and fresher ideas take hold. Among other things, the ongoing feud with Two Trees is absurd.
    The BHA should think about what it stands for, not merely what it is dead set against.

  • AL

    I’ve never forgiven the BHA for not having worked years ago to close the loopholes in landmarking that eventually permitted the building of the monstrosity on Court between State and Schermerhorn. Not only is the building an eyesore, the theater drags the south Heights down. Cop cars and ambulances are routinely parked by the theater in anticipation of that day’s disasters within.

  • Jim Harrington

    With the incessant helicoptor noise which has doomed B’klyn Heights & the promenade i’ m afraid B. Meridith Langstaff would have to be forced to drop the ‘quiet’ from his ‘healthful, high, cool and quiet’ quote. Hopefully this is one thing the BHA will never quit on & it would be nice if the BH Press & Two Trees joined them in this regard.

  • EHinBH

    I dont want the Heights to keep pace or be cool. I came here because I detest W-Burg and the other posers. I want peace and quiet, which is worth the price to live her. I just want a couple of good restaurants!

  • Wrennie

    @EHinBH: I do also really like the quiet and the fact that it doesn’t feel like a hotspot for post-college kids who move to NY for a couple of years to be cool. We obviously do need to do more to attract outside business–if not, eventually everything will be closed, we’ll have no money flowing into the neighborhood, and eventually it’ll go down the tubes and attract the wrong sorts of people.

  • DrewB

    I used to go to BHA meetings, until I realized that the organization was filled fuddy dutties that fear change. They viewed newcomers to the neighborhood as outsiders unworthy of input. And they consistently squashed any ideas that opposed the vision of the board. It is a fiefdom.

    The idea that BH will somehow become Williamsburg is paranoia. The two neighborhoods are fundamentally different. WB has a was traditionally a commercial and manufacturing neighborhood. BH is “America’s First Suburb”. I don’t see Montague suddenly becoming awash in nightclubs and hipster hangouts.

    I will say that I agreed with the BHA position on St. Ann’s at the Tobacco Warehouse, but solely because the process of giving it to St. Ann’s to appease the Walentas seemed underhanded, and stood firmly in opposition to the way the public lands should be transferred.

  • Andrew Porter

    We need more aluminum siding, neon in store windows, big billboards, highrises in place of townhouses here! Yes, all change is good!

    Excuse me, men at the door with nets and strait-jacket… Be right back…

  • ABC

    I agree that there would be no Dumbo if the BHA was in charge of the world back then. But then, there would be bridge-blocking giant skyscrapers filling Dumbo if the Walentas’ were in charge. This is how things work – it’s been a series of checks and balances that work.

    I think, in general, the BHA continues to do great work in the area and frankly I disagree more often with Henrik Krogius’s opinion than the BHA’s. The BHA was right about the warehouse deal btw. 100%.

  • carol

    It seems to me that this so-called grudge match between Two Trees and the BHA is largely a figment of Krogius’s imagination. Many of the projects/proposals/zoning variances that came from Two Trees over the years were opposed by other neighborhood organizations as well. And if I remember correctly the BHA supported the TT project on Court Street where the municipal garage used to be.

    Developers develop and citizens speak their opinions. It’s the way things work in NY.

  • Still here

    Agree with ABC and carol –

    BHA was responsible for advocating the acquisition of the Con Ed lots and Empire Stores and their subsequent conversion to a state park (Fulton Ferry Empire State Park), and well before the arrival of Two Trees.

    BHA joined all the other community groups to stop TT from the wholesale development of this same inter bridge area (including the existing park) in 1997-99. Despite being offered this site by the state gratis, TT lost this battle – which saved us from an empty shopping mall, the destruction of the Tobacco warehouse, an eight story Cineplex, a hotel on what is now the main street park, and a huge parking structure on front from Old Fulton to Washington St – the great wall of DUMBO.

    When TT wanted to re-zone 1 Main, BHA, FFLA, DNA, et al, BHA requested, instead, that the city re-zone the whole area (which would have been as good for TT as for the whole area). However, TT won this battle and other subsequent spot zoning battles for each of their parcels and avoided any comprehensive zoning until it suited them.

    BHA, along with the other neighborhood groups, have opposed several TT rezoning/variance applications for the redevelopment of the dock street site if only to prevent an 15+ story building from being built 70 feet from and overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge.

    BHA correctly fought the conversion of the Tobacco Warehouse to private use by St Ann’s (with TT backing) by what has been judged as a completely duplicitous and illegal process.

    BHA’s stewardship in these matters has been much appreciated.

    Henrick and his cohort, Dennis Holt, as well the Height’s Press, have always supported every TT initiative regardless of the impact on local neighborhoods and with complete indifference to any community concern – they are for unbridled development. In 15 years I cannot recall one article critical of TT.

  • DrewB

    The reason that BHA is constant battle with TT is that they are basically a lobbying group for the north heights, aka the fruit streets. The people there are terrified of development in DUMBO. Again I agree that some of there efforts have been good. But overall they are a stodgy organization with no vision for the future, only a love of the past. They don’t really care about similar development in the lower heights, and advocated for park housing down in that part of the hood. They want the status quo for the areas around them, and damn everyone else.

  • Cranberry Beret

    Funny, I often hear the BHA only cares about the south heights. Go figure. I’m not sure who is “terrified” of development, north or south, but all should be against illegal backroom deals and buying up support for rezoning through promised amenities that may never come to fruition.

  • yoohoo

    STILL HERE has it right all the way. You must know the history of the area to know that It was the spot-zoning of inidvidual properties in what became known as Dumbo that raised opposition to the Two Trees’ modus operandi, and it was not only the BHA that opposed this step-by-step process. The lawsuit re Tobacco Warehouse was justified because the BBP Corp. and other entities didn’t do due diligence in following the law.

    The BHA fought tooth and nail to prevent the Court Street behemoth from rising. The BH Historic District extends south to Atlantic Avenue (north side), but a strip 100 feet wide along Court Street is exempt from the historic district’s height restriction to allow commercial development. After the low-rise buildings were demolished, a developer wanted to build a hotel, but for whatever reason(s) this fell through.


    Glad to see the various push backs to the Krogius bleat. The critical bloggers are right in the important details of this decades long struggle.
    But there remains a profound question raised by Henrik’s unnecessary helping hand to a local real estate magnate who has been tripped up by a series of important negative court decisions. Let’s look broadly at what has gone on.
    In the beginning, when an energetic, imaginative real estate investor envisions a positive future for an all but abandoned, noisy, dirty and derelict industrial wasteland in a strategic Brooklyn location and then proceeds to make his vision come true he obviously deserves accolades even given a few misguided power-plays.
    But when the same entrepreneur uses his financial power and his wide network of political connections to worm around laws, to ignore his neighbors, to evade vital zoning safeguards and to generally ‘game the system’ he brings shame to entrepreneurial capitalism.
    Worse, when he takes on the role of a holier-than-thou powerhouse and directs vicious personal attacks against legitimate groups and resorts to mudslinging smears of individuals as well as entire neighborhoods who dare to stand in his way, he brings shame to himself.
    Does Henrik Krogius really think this developer needs his help?

  • a friend

    When the BHA led the successful campaign in 1969 to stop the City from installing a meat market district along Water Street, and to persuade the State to acquire the property and declare it a state park; and when the BHA went on to promote Fulton Ferry Landing as an Historic District, and then to support the designation of DUMBO and Vinegar Hill as Historic Districts, and then to persuade State Parks to stabilize and preserve the historic ruin of the Tobacco Warehouse rather than tear it down, and then to connect the City’s park at Main Street and the State’s park at Empire Fulton Ferry to a newly imagined park from Brooklyn Bridge to Atlantic Avenue, it was not in 1969 or any time after to spite David Walentas whose restoration and revitalization of DUMBO has been an epochal accomplishment, but rather, and always, to honor the history and the atmosphere of these original waterfront communities by ensuring that their rebirth still kept to the spirit of that history and that atmosphere — just as it had for equally historic Brooklyn Heights.