The NY Times Sheds Light on the Opposition to Affordable Housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park

The New York Times has posted an in-depth look at the recent opposition to housing – notably the “affordable” kind – at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6. After the city added an affordable housing component to the park’s long standing housing plan, a neighborhood group including long time Willowtown resident Joe Merz and lead by newcomer Lori Schomp mobilized this year to at least slow down the process. They succeeded in getting a TRO against the current plan moving forward.

The Times piece sheds some light on who Ms. Schomp and her position:

Lori Schomp, 33, the lead plaintiff in the Brooklyn Bridge Park case, moved into the neighborhood in 2013 with her boyfriend, Martin Hale. Mr. Hale purchased a $7.6 million townhouse on Willow Place through a limited liability company, records show; he is the chairman of People for Green Space.

The home that Hale/Schomp purchased was designed by Joe and Mary Merz fifty years ago. Mr. Merz is the co-plaintiff in the suit against the park.

The Times piece continues:

They make an odd couple of litigants — Ms. Schomp, who wants her view of the water on her frequent runs preserved, and Mr. Merz, who lectures softly on social theory, insisting on separating parkland from development.

“There will be those maybe pointing at us, saying, ‘Aha, you don’t want low-income housing,’ ” Mr. Merz said from his sunken living room overlooking a Zen garden.

He and his late wife developed senior housing in Buffalo, he said, and served as conservationists for Prospect Park.

“That’s an old game because you know very well we do prefer low-income housing,” Mr. Merz continued. “But we don’t want it in the wrong place, meaning there’s a right way to build it.”

Ms. Schomp added: “It has a higher calling as a park than as a place for a few people to live.”

Nina Lorenz Collins has lived in Brooklyn Heights longer than Ms. Schomp and presents a different view of the argument:

“It felt very Nimby, like ‘We don’t want poor people in the backyard,’ ” she said recently.

“After two months of those comments, I sent out an email to everyone. I said, ‘You are making me ashamed to be your neighbor, please stop.’ ”

In a BHB poll posted when the TRO was issued, 83% of respondents sided with Ms. Schomp’s position.

For some reason, this lyric from Pulp’s classic 90s nugget keeps repeating in our head as this battle rages on:

Laugh along with the common people
Laugh along although they’re laughing at you
and the stupid things that you do
because you think that poor is cool
Like a dog lying in a corner
they will bite you and never warn you
Look out
they’ll tear your insides out
‘cos everybody hates a tourist
especially one who thinks
it’s all such a laugh

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  • Chester Bumerfo

    The Pulp song is about something else entirely. But it’s a good song!

  • someone

    Where was the strong opposition to the hotel and pierhouse? That is the portion of the park that really should have been preserved as park land. What views are there to be preserved while running at the water at that location? The only view impacted there is from the people living on the south side of 1 BBP. The views onto the Brooklyn Bridge from the promenade or the foot bridge were worth saving.
    My 2 cents: Just build them, the park needs the money for maintenance. It wont make a difference anymore if those buildings will be there or not.

  • ThePopex

    It’s not Pier 6, it’s Pier 1.

  • Taisha Johnson

    Come on, BHB — this argument is not about affordable housing and you know it. Affordable housing is at best a red herring. Joe Merz is a socialist of the old school. Ms. Schomp was a government worker. So what if her boyfriend has a nice house — it is still less expensive than most of the fancy BHA people who are cynically going along with this ill conceived plan because they want to save their power pellets for the library development because they think it impacts their little private enclave more. The 3K petition signers who agreed with them are not against affordable housing either. Rather, like me, they are concerned by: 1) Lack of infrastructure (schools are way overcrowded) 2) Turning Brooklyn into Manhattan (a 31 story skyscraper in Brooklyn Heights? puhlease — just because you are fancy pants promenade people, you should still care), and 3) BBPDC is running a fiefdom with little to no accountability (housing prices are up 4x, the general project plan committed to the least housing necessary to fund the park, ergo the buildings could be 1/4th of the size). Lastly – BHB – I don’t get why you are so biased in your coverage given that 83% of your readers stand in favor of Ms. Schomp and Joe. To skew the debate along affordable housing is shameful.

  • Kate

    Classic Nimbyism.

    I can’t say I’m that thrilled about having a high rise nearby and the attendant rise in traffic and crowds. But – people need somewhere to live. In an already crowded city, building higher is the way to go. I think it’s great that the new construction will include moderate income housing, and it will add to the diversity of the neighbourhood.

  • judifrancis

    We need our parks as parks. Sad that so many claiming to love this park seem so anxious to want less park not more park – particularly now that we know the park is almost fully funded without more housing.

  • Bjorn D’Angelo

    Is it possible to be both anti-affordable housing (not just in BBP but pretty much everywhere) based on pure unadulterated free market libertarianism….if you can’t afford to live here move to another part of the country….. but also be opposed to the hotel, Pier House, and general development within BBP? I don’t know much about city planning or real estate development, but why did they even break ground on BPP if they didn’t have 100% financing to begin with? Same goes for WTC for that matter. They had all the fancy renderings, but only 2 of the 4 buildings have toped out. The other 2 are on hold. WTF??????????????????????????????????????????????

  • The.Swami

    ? Snap Translation: The park didn’t exist before–it was just dingy waterfront– and it wasn’t paid for by these rich snobs. But do they now want to “preserve their right” to a grandiose park experience & water view without low-life commoners cluttering their reality? The buildings don’t have to be and SHOULDN’T BE mammoth real developer wet dreams & blot out the sunset, but why didn’t those local residents stand up on their hind legs & fight long ago? That IS an all too common NYC experience. If they

    The fact of the matter is: middle class people have as much right to enjoy & live in a park setting as they do. If it gets crowded, a new school will be built. “We don’t want low cost housing built in the wrong place.” So what?

  • Remsen Street Dweller

    Sure — and let’s just destroy our hospital while we’re out it to make room for some more people, too.

  • ltap917

    Of course people need somewhere affordable to live that’s why when I was first married we had to live in a less than desirable neighborhood in Queens.
    We had two cars stolen right under the bedroom window in our apartment building. We practically had no heat or hot water during the 3 years that we lived there. Fast forward 40 years later and we are retired and living well but we worked very very hard for that. No one gave us anything. It would have been nice to have lived in a great neighborhood such as Brooklyn Heights when I was first married and had young children. As it turned out we could only afford to live in the Heights when we were in our mid 50’s and only after our children left home to go out on their own.
    The argument that people should be entitled to live where they want even if they cannot afford it falls on deaf ears as far as I am concerned.
    I used to take long walks on Park Avenue and look at all the fabulous apartment buildings and wish that I could live there. I never felt entitled to live in a place that I could not afford.

  • BrooklynBugle

    Thanks for your comment. In the spirit of full transparency, our readers should know that this and many other comments like it under many different screen names have all come from the same IP address.

  • BrooklynBugle

    True but… Somehow appropriate.

  • Joe A

    There would have been no park without the development. What is it that is so hard to understand about this?

  • Joe A

    Thank-you for that information.

  • judifrancis

    Sadly, Joe, no. There was plenty of money to build and maintain the park in 2001 when approved. And even today, it is almost fully funded on a budget that still contains ridiculous costs. These buildings are not needed to pay for the park. Don’t you like the park? Don’t you want more park, Joe? Don’t you think the children of our borough deserve more not less park?

  • Solovely

    So, morning everyone — just some links I’ve read. I have been trying to learn about this… please forgive just this one post.

    There is a lot of history fighting housing in parks… seems like at least nine years?

    And also controversy surrounding the PILOTS model (payments-in-lieu of-taxes) that uses taxes from real estate taxes to pay for the park, instead of going into the City’s general fund. It provides the park stable revenues ( a good thing), but it also means during times of fiscal crisis, that the city can’t reduce / cut funding for BBP, while it will do so… presumably, for other true “city parks”? Is this not true? So while other parks suffer, BBP will always be okay?

    It basically is another way for parks to be funded in wealthy areas, that isn’t already happening through the foundations (like Central Park).

    Also interesting to follow the hashtag #parkequity on twitter
    This seems important to me:

    This is from the WSJ. About park space in Brooklyn compared to other boroughs…

  • Peter Myers

    So the rich don’t want the middle class to live near them. Maintain apartheid. How sickening. Middle class is already priced out of NYC, except for Staten Island and gentrifying far reaches of Brooklyn. We are not talking about addicts, gangs, this “affordable” housing will fill with the kinds of families that lived in the Heights when I was raising my kids who went to PS 8, really middle class people. Shame on the rich trying to exclude them. Wealth and income inequality and segregation is appalling

  • mac

    thinking exactly the same thing…where was their outrage and activism when the ugly hotel and condo were approved for Pier 1?? Classic “it’s not in my backyard so not my problem”?? As someone living in the North Hts losing their view (the previous structures on the sites were not as massive), maybe now I will just return the favor. I don’t care about the affordable housing component, I just don’t like the size of the proposed structures, and as anyone who has had to wait for a 2/3/4/5 train in the last 2 years….adding even more riders without added service is going to push the line over the edge.

  • Jazz

    In the interest of full disclosure, please identify yourself. Seems like you only post on matters regarding this issue.

  • Brooklynbred

    “Martin Hale purchased a $7.6 million townhouse on Willow Place through a limited liability company, records show; he is the chairman of People for Green Space.”

    Anyone know if this is the same guy? :

    “Millionaire businessman Martin Hale, who wrote a list of ways to dispose of his unfaithful wife, has been found not guilty of her murder.”

  • NeighboorHood

    Hmm..I see the BHB is being its usual fair and balanced self with its cherry picking of which negative quotes to highlight. And as if the Times and the BHB going out of their way in trying to falsely turn this into a “rich vs poor” battle by describing the homes some (of a few) of the those opposed, live in: (“sunken living room over zen garden”, “$7 million townhouse” etc), it closes using an entire freaking paragraph to quote a song about the poor rising up against the rich. It’s laughable if it weren’t a serious issue. The very rich real estate lobby, which is once again cynically hiding behind the canard of “affordable housing units”, will be very pleased with your “coverage”, as usual, I’m sure. BTW if you insist on trying to pit neighbor against neighbor in this issue you might point out that hundreds of thousands of people, many of them lower income folks, who enjoy this park now will have that experience diminished, and space that could be incorporated back into an already very crowded “public” park taken away, so that 129 people/families can own apartments in these towers. That’s 129. Because there’s not a better space in all of the 5 boroughs than finite, crowded, limited public waterfront park to build 129 units? (My math is based on 30% “affordable units” of 430 proposed units.) Oh perfect, now the comment section is literally alluding to one of the opposition being a murderer? Seriously? Mission Accomplished Junky.

  • Lucy Koteeen

    Red Herring indeed! Nobody opposes affordable housing. Obviously a city can not exist without all levels of housing and people. This is not about rich v poor. That is just ridiculous and frequently used by real estate interests as a divide and conquer and distraction strategy.
    1. The PILOTS rob the city of general funds and forces everyone else’s taxes higher to cover all infrastructure costs like schools, firemen, police, and all government function. If we all paid PILOTS how would we pay for government services?
    2. Pier 6 is in a flood plain and we will all pay again and again to bail out the buildings and residents so whatever money they contribute to the park will be wiped out many time over by the bail outs. Flood plains should be used to protect upland with wetlands,etc…Stewardship of our riverbanks overrides all financing issues. If they think this area won’t flood in the near future they need to remove their heads from the ground.
    3. With the enormous expansion of population in Brooklyn and throughout the area we need parkland and open space and just good old clean air more than ever
    4. The park usage is higher than anticipated and needs every square inch it can get for park usage.
    5. The park should be incorporated into the Parks Dept and financed by the Parks Dept like any other park. Private funding for a park creates inequality of parks.
    6. The other buildings were protested. The original plan did not include housing.

  • Solovely

    Sorry, I didn’t do it only because I thought everyone already knew… ;)

    I’m Lori … and I’m definitely not against affordable housing, or workforce housing.. I’m for everybody all living together as a happy family… the park visitors are wonderful. I’m for playing in the park and having the space to run and exercise. I’m an idealist,… I’d like the park to be bigger and worldclass (some ideas,

    ( fully acknowledge that one should poke fun at idealists sometimes… things do need to happen in the real world, but thats why we are on this blog, and that’s why this community, is having this conversation, so we can all learn and be a team…) And yes, I was the live in girlfriend of a funny neat guy, and who came with baggage. (OMG! I hope he isn’t the guy who put his wife in an oven! )

    I just like the idea of parks having simple funding structures, and being part of the list of communal shared things that taxes pay for… otherwise its a shell game and its incredibly hard for sunshine to shine.. on leaders’ decisions. PILOTS aren’t a magic source of money.

    And as for other issues, I’ve tried to learn about the library situation… its just there’s so much to learn… and I only have so much time…the future of LICH is terribly important too. I try and find data.. I try and read the legal docs… I try and find the budgets. I’m new to politics (rapidly learning that politics and policy are two different things) and it seems to be so hard, to try and understand, especially when real estate development happens.. who the real winners are? today and in the future?

    I said I won’t post again and so I apologize. I definitely want to leave plenty of room on this blog so there’s room for others to have their say. Gratefully, Lori

  • Brooklynbred

    Wrong. No allusions made here: I asked a very direct question. I did not suggest anything indirectly. Either he is the same man or he isn’t. (Also, “literally” is not really necessary in that sentence.)
    If you have a problem with questions being asked, then it certainly makes two-way conversation quite impossible.

  • Kyle

    No, it is not the same man. The “millionaire businessman Martin Hale” is about 20 years too old.

  • ujh

    Judi, if you and your associates hadn’t filed lawsuits, park construction would have begun a lot earlier than it did. During the interim construction costs went up, requiring the infusion of more money. The politicians have known for years what the plan for Pier 6 is, and those opposed have yet to put a feasible financing plan on the table.

  • ujh

    I just love it when all the politicians line up at every opening of a new section or facility in the park and take credit for what they did to make the park possible.

  • ujh

    Lucy, I suggest you read tomes of data on park planning and studies that have accumulated for more than a decade. You should also familiarize yourself with regulations on new construction in flood plains, which determine what developers, architects and engineers must do. Then you should visit local parks that are entirely operated by the DPR, without any financial support from a Friends group, Alliance or Conservatory, and project what you see onto BBP to get an inkling of what this park will look like in 2-3 years at the most, if it were managed and operated by the DPR. BTW, BB is listed on the DPR’s roster of city parks and is patrolled by the NYPD and DPR’s PEP officers.

  • BobStone

    The outrage and activism began in 2005, when the community’s park plan which including NO private housing, either on Pier 1 or Pier 6, was hijacked by the development crowd, who, as we quickly learned, were enormously powerful and connected (some still sit on the BBP Corp. board). The BBP Defense Fund was formed to oppose development and over the next year, raised about $150,000 in small donations to take the NYS Economic Development Corp. (then the controller of the property), into State Supreme Court and the second department of the Appellate Division, largely on the issue of private development of public parkland, which, sadly, we lost. So an incredibly expensive–to build and maintain–park, was substituted for one that would cost about half to build and which could have been maintained by the NYC Parks Dept. Old hat to many of you with a memory of the last decade, but an answer to the question of “where was the outrage and activism?”

  • BobStone

    The suits were filed with a purpose, not as an idle activity. We felt and continue to feel that the park should have been built earlier, but not with General Project Plan still in place, that broke new ground for private incursion into public space . So far as ” no park without private housing”, it was and is a self-fulfilling slogan: create a park so expensive that huge development becomes thinkable and is now a reality.