BHB Interview: NYC Council Member Steve Levin Discusses Brooklyn Bridge White Flags, the Brooklyn Heights Library Branch and more

Earlier this week, Stephen Levin, representative for the 33rd District of the New York City Council, spoke with BHB in a leisurely 45-minute phone interview while he was returning from a vacation on the West Coast. Council Member Levin, whose district includes Greenpoint, Williamsburg, DUMBO, Boerum Hill, Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Gowanus, and Park Slope, spoke at length about the unexpected appearance of white flags on the Brooklyn Bridge, the Tillary/Adams Street Area Reconstruction, the Brooklyn Heights library branch, public schools in Brooklyn Heights and housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Excerpts follow:

Michael Randazzo, Brooklyn Heights Blog (BHB): Your thoughts about white flags on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Council Member Stephen Levin: Honestly, [this is] the first I’m hearing of it. I was in Omaha this morning, and I checked the New York Times, and I didn’t hear that. It’s concerning obviously because of the security breach. You always want to make sure the Brooklyn Bridge is secure.

BHB: The Brooklyn Bridge Gateway: Tillary/Adams Street Area Reconstruction?

CM Levin: For over a year we’ve been in talks with DOT and the leadership of Concord Village about a lot of these issues from a process standpoint in terms of the timing and in terms of the scale of construction. This is a big project…. All of Tillary Street needs to be safer. It’s an incredibly dangerous, highly trafficked area, so I’m all for safety improvements…. I walk on it, I drive on it, so I think in general a lot of the proposed reconstruction and reforms there are very positive. I think the details need to be worked out…. What they’re proposing in a lot of ways is very positive. There’s a lot of streetscaping, new trees, [it’s] a lot more pedestrian-friendly….

BHB: The concept that the cost of the public good often falls heavily on a specific few?

CM Levin: I think that everyone agrees that Tillary Street is an extremely dangerous intersection. I think it’s good that the city is looking to get a significant amount of federal dollars—they’re using federal resources on a problem stretch in the middle of downtown Brooklyn. What’s the right mitigation measures and the right design that is accommodating to the needs of the neighbors—Concord Village is right next door—for everybody it can be a win, win, win. But it means that everybody has a real seat at the table. I’m confident that that will be the case and I look forward to working with DOT and folks at Concord Village to make sure that happens.

BHB: Affordable Housing Proposal for Pier 6.

CM Levin: I’ve been outspoken about housing in the park for the last five years now. I’m a member of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation board, and I’ve voted against housing in the park at every opportunity…. I think the issues brought up in the lawsuit…around environmental impact are significant because…all of Brooklyn Heights is zoned for one elementary school.… [A]ctually, in this case, it’s a couple of neighborhoods because you have Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO both served by PS 8.

[T]he school is overcrowded. Dock Street is being built now, and they’re building a middle school there, but there’s no elementary school—those kids are zoned for PS 8. They’re building Pier 1 right now—those kids are zoned for PS 8. They’re eventually going to build John Street —those kids are zoned for PS 8. There’s development going on in Brooklyn Heights that’s zoned for PS 8. And then Pier 6, we’re told, is zoned for PS 8….

[T]he number one impact…what they’re [BBP board] seeking to do, is go around the city land use procedure to get approval for Pier 6, because it’s approved by the Brooklyn Bridge Corporation board, of which I’m a member, instead of through the regular land use process, which is called ULURP.

Because …the park is part of a “general project” plan, it’s a different process. General project plans are used for large-scale projects that involve base usage. Barclays Center was a general project that circumvented ULURP, but the majority of land use goes through ULURP…. And issues like “Where are you going to build a school”—those are issues that are addressed in the ULURP process.


  • marshasrimler

    Councilman Levins’s comments about the Brooklyn Heights Library are weak at best..He totally ignores the basic issue which is the sale of public assests and basically says nothing. What a disappointment, He is absent on this important issue which has now been before the public for over a year..There is no leadership here

  • A Neighbor

    Impressive guy. Especially for a pol — lol. Thoughtful, candid. No matter what anyone says, these are difficult issues.

  • Ruth Eiss

    Bottom line, Steve Levin has repeatedly procrastinated about stating his position on the Broojklyn Heights branch library (except he HAS undermined support for it in the interview, unlike the Pacific Street branch.) He hasn’t been responsive to constituents despite a visit to his enervated Brooklyn office and promises by his staff to respond to it. Does he simply lack a spine,
    or have the powers that be gotten to him?

    Ruth Eiss

  • Solovely

    CM Levin always shows up to meetings informed and prepared, and that empowers his office. I appreciated his comments at the city council budget hearings this past spring. Also, I find he looks for new policy solutions to meet the community’s needs, neat guy.
    Agree with other commentators here. It is a tough job.

  • marshasrimler

    not really.. he needs to take a position against the sale of public assests and for a refurbished library

  • marshasrimler

    is talking our of both sides of your mouth a policy solution.. He should be ashamed of himself.

  • ujh

    Marsha, do you know, or have you heard of, any politician who answers a question clearly and unequivocably, who doesn’t speak in generalities, and who doesn’t talk you into the ground?

  • ujh

    Solving school overcrowding is the responsibility of the city administration, the City Council and the Department of Education, not of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation. Two Trees Management’s agreement to include raw space for a middle school (immediately declared as too little under already existing conditions) in its Dock Street building was undoubtedly extracted through pressure from the politicians who represent the residents of Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo and Downtown Brooklyn. These politicians have known for many years that upland Pier 6 contains two development parcels for housing. Besides casting “no” votes, have they discussed potential solutions to the existing and future school needs? Does anybody know how many children will live in the Pier 6 buildings; does anybody know how many children currently live at One BB? Many more dwelling units will be created on the LICH site than on Pier 6; therefore, one or more additional schools will be needed even without Pier 6.

  • marshasrimler

    so.. his flip flopping on this issue is sending a message to his . collegues that it is not really important to him.. perhaps thats why Brad Lander has announced that he finds the destruction plan “creative.” Stephen has given him a green light. Its the Levin two step

  • johnny cakes

    Stop the Condos. Save Brooklyn services for Brooklyn tax payers. Don’t give the real estate developers a free-pass. If you can’t provide civil services to the public, you shouldn’t build more housing. Period.

  • marshasrimler

    you need to call Councilman Levin’s office at tell him that. He has been aware of the Brooklyn Heights Library problem for over a year and has not come up with one creative solution to solve it.. We need leadership not silence from our representatives

  • Quinn Raymond

    I appreciate that the Councilmember seems to at least understand the details of the library issue. I guess he’s hedging his bets– perhaps to extract the best possible deal?

    I’m mostly curious as to what kind of funding he will allocate to the BPL this year.

    Regardless of where each of us stands on building a new library, we should all be pushing him to secure an increase in funding for the BPL, yes?

    Would anyone disagree with that?

    Can we at least form a consensus around that?

  • gatornyc

    Neither has your organization. Often times the best solutions come from outside of government and it is government’s role to implement those solutions.

  • gatornyc

    Because anyone who’s position is inconsistent with your group’s is just plain wrong. Makes sense.

  • johnny cakes

    gatornyc = Real Estate Shill.

  • johnny cakes

    The solution to the “overbuilding” problem is to stop developers from building condos, until government services can catch up. Duh!

  • Mike from Brooklyn

    I did ask CM Levin about support for BPL capital needs but did not press him on this [i.e. ask him to quantify his support].

    My thought is that the reaction of Brooklyn politicians to BPL’s plight is the key element in examining the Library’s past / present situation.

    However you might feel about Johnson / BPL’s decision to sell property to fund capital needs, IMO the stark reality is that there is simply not enough support from politicians to maintain BPL’s aging infrastructure.

    I also thought it telling that CM Levin mentioned that before Johnson BPL was not able to make a compelling argument about capital funds; perhaps the reality is that local politicians simply do not prioritize funding BPL as highly as other needs OR the Library’s leadership has yet to articulate why these funds are so important.

  • marshasrimler

    This is a complicated problem that needs out of the box thinking and leadership and to my disappointment
    Stephen Levin seems incapable of that on this issue.. One must wonder why.

  • gatornyc

    Can you imagine what that would do for rents in the City? The City has plenty of time to catch up to the developments (plans, permits, etc. are filed well before the buildings ever approach completion), it just doesn’t do it.

  • gatornyc

    Thanks for proving my point. I am a shill for nothing and no one least of all real estate developers.

  • Doug Biviano

    We are fighting the privatization and sell off our our libraries. Like LICH condo development, this is a symptom of our elected officials listening to big money interests like real estate developers who contribute and keep them re-elected for life. Our whole plan is to return the power of governing back to you the voter and the neighborhoods. Join our fight and spread the word. We need to do this together.

  • Doug Biviano

    PS8 long ago announced it’s cutting it’s Prek. That’s a blow to parents and children in our neighborhood. When will local politicians bow to the community instead of the developers and at least keep pace with needed infrastructure before blowing out every cubic inch of develop while giving special lobbied for tax breaks like the $35 million at One57 — Rich Door Poor Door that the so called ‘progressives’ approved?

    Join our fight for you the voter and our children at