Battle Royale at Borough Hall: BBPC Board Shoots Down Pier 6 Opponents

As witnessed yesterday by an overflow audience massed in Brooklyn Borough Hall Community Room, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation Board of Directors turned a deaf ear to impassioned pleas from John Raskin, New York City Council Member Stephen Levin, New York State Senator Daniel Squadron and many others regarding future housing development in Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6.

With a resounding 10 to 3 vote against a motion by Mr. Raskin to revisit BBP’s General Project Plan [GPP] and to conduct a new Environmental Impact Statement [EIS], Raskin’s fellow board members made it abundantly clear that they are opposed to any revisions of the long-agreed upon design for the park that wraps around the Brooklyn waterfront.

With this action, the controversial plan to build two towers—with heights up to 31 and 15 stories tall located near Atlantic Avenue and Furman Street—appears intact, much to the dismay of a determined coalition of local interests united under the banner of opposition to additional BBP housing.

Energized by the People for Green Space Foundation’s recent success in convincing State Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Knipel to issue a Temporary Restraining Order [TRO] preventing BBPC from approving Pier 6 proposals, Wednesday’s protesters were disheartened by the board’s vote to dismiss Mr. Raskin’s motion urging a review of the park’s GPP, a resolution recommended by BBP’s own Community Advisory Council.

With a virtual who’s-who of Brooklyn Heights luminaries arguing both sides of the issue, including Judi Francis of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, Nancy Webster of the BBP Conservancy, Alexandra Bowie of the Brooklyn Heights Association, Alan Washington of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, and Lori Schomp of People for Green Space, in addition to a bevy of local politicians headlined by Senator Squadron and Council Member Levin, comments were often vocally punctuated by remarks from the snarky, anti-development crowd.

Senator Squadron, who during opening public comments affirmed his opposition to housing in any city park, stated to much applause that “Brooklyn Bridge Park has been wildly successful –beyond anyone’s expectations… That very success, however, is one reason to re-evaluate the [Pier 6] proposal. The assumptions of park use from ten years ago have frankly proven insufficiently ambitious.”

“This GPP was devised under a very different real estate market,” said Senator Squadron, who then questioned the need for additional housing to sustain the park: “What are the true financial needs for a sustainable park for generations [to come]?”

Mr. Squadron’s comments were amplified by Council Member Levin, a BBPC board member who justified undertaking a new EIS by citing pressure on P.S. 8, the area’s single public elementary school, to accommodate an anticipated surge in population as a result of Pier 6 housing and other Brooklyn Heights residential development.

Mr. Levin also raised concerns about the impact on Pier 6 housing in the event of another storm of the magnitude of Superstorm Sandy, given that BBP is located in a federally designated flood zone.

In refusing to review a plan that is almost a decade old, Raskin implied that BBPC board members were unwilling to acknowledge that “the community has changed, Brooklyn has changed; the world has changed – but our park plan hasn’t.”

Henry Gutman
, a BBPC board member who stated that his experience with the BBP plan dates back decades, cleverly opened his comments opposing Mr. Raskin’s motion by addressing a group of children seated before the the board to protest of Pier 6 development plans.

“We’re glad that you love the park,” said Mr. Gutman. “you’re the reason… that a lot of us have been working on this for a long time.”

Addressing the audience, Mr. Gutman continued: “The debate over the financial model for this park started in the 1980’s and there are lots of people with strongly held views that conflict with each other… [W]e’ve been debating this issue for at least a decade.”

“The fact that your viewpoint doesn’t prevail doesn’t mean you weren’t heard, and that your viewpoint wasn’t considered.”

Mr. Gutman went on to praise Ms. Myer and her staff for responding to the opposition’s concerns, stating that BBP will consult with “world class environmental” advisers concerning “all the issues people have referred to.”

“I think everyone on this board agrees that we should do the right thing and do it in the right way,” said Gutman, who added—to a chorus of catcalls—“the only thing that has changed… is the inclusion of affordable housing”–affirming that Pier 6 housing plans always included towers that would dwarf the surrounding park. “It [the larger Pier 6 tower] was 31 stories when approved,” he concluded.

Illustrating the animosity generated by a plan—despite universal agreement about the park’s success—BBPC board member Joanne Witty, who opposed Mr. Raskin’s motion, responded sharply to comments by Ms. Francis that were critical of where BBP housing has been placed. “I live at 77 Columbia Heights; [a] hotel and Pier 1 housing is going up in front of my house,” snapped Ms. Witty.

To refute the opposition’s contention that the park’s plan is out of date and that the outsized scale of BBP’s success warranted a GPP review, BBP President Regina Myer paraded experts to support the corporation’s belief that not only is the plan not obsolete, but reviewing it at this juncture, with 72% of the park complete, would be unprecedented.

In response to demands for a new EIS, Ms. Myer proposed a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement [SEIS]. As outlined by Susan E. Amron, the City’s chair environmental lawyer, BBP would determine if there are grounds for an environmental review, followed by a determination as to whether a SEIS—far more limited that an EIS—was warranted.

This admission by Myer and BBP management of a need for some form of environmental review puzzled Lori Schomp of the People for Green Space Foundation.

“I’m confused because now [BBP management] is talking about doing an environmental impact statement… Is it an EIS or is it an environmental assessment? What are they really committing to?”

I’m obviously disappointed” by the outcome, admitted Ms. Schomp, who appeared worn down by her efforts.

“I think the community had some persuasive things to say before and after [the board’s deliberations]. I’m happy that the [BBPC] board was listening.”

UPDATE: Belinda Cape, a spokeswoman for BBP, sent BHB the following correction:
“At the Board meeting, Regina [Myer] announced that further environmental review will be conducted to find whether a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is warranted.”

Photo Credit: Claude Scales

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  • miriamcb

    As I mentioned earlier, it was such a frustrating meeting. Ms. Witty was condescending, Mr. Gutman’s use of the children seated before him was politicking, and the overriding tone of the meeting distrustful and catty. Really, the neighborhood has very little agency.

    I was standing near the exit with my daughter and when the children walked into the room with their signs “Save Pier 6″, one of the BBP Conservancy board members said out loud to the officers on hand that signs were not allowed in. I don’t think he thought it would be a good photo-op if he was seen taking the signs away from the children, so it stood.

    There is so much distrust and dysfunction between the board and community that I can’t imagine anything productive can really come of these meetings without a lot of energy and a lot of fighting.

  • Frenchbull

    Bringing children in was not very clever

  • gatornyc

    And parading in children wasn’t politicking in the first place?

  • MONTague

    I agree with you on many points. There seems to be an inflexibility on both sides. I’m for the housing in the park as it’s the it reason why there is and will continue to be a park, but at the same time I think a 31 story tower is way out of context.

    The crux here is should be one issue, a new school. That’s where the administration is failing. Let the development proceed but the DOE and Mayor’s office needs to commit to building a new school or partnering with a developer to do so. LICH would be the perfect place for that and hopefully Levin will see that as ULURP proceeds for that site.

    Oh and for the kids, what no ones reporting is those same kids were than watched over by their nanny’s…

  • miriamcb

    Yes, it was. But at some point it should stop. It didn’t need to be continued in board comments.

  • miriamcb

    I’m not sure about the nannies bringing the kids in to the meeting. Many of the kids I saw were there with their own parents (I talked to many of them since we were right at the door). In any case, it just showcases the high temperature around this whole thing.

  • Remsen Street Dweller

    LICH is the perfect place for a full-service hospital to serve our current and ever-growing population.

  • marshasrimler

    The board was dismissive of community concerns. The Board is controlled by non-elected .well connected elites who have power way beyond their numbers. This is brought to us by the same real estate/bloomberg poodles. Ashkanazy, Guttman, Collins etc. that bring us the Library destruction plan.The facts on the ground have changed dramatically with the closure of LICH and the possibility of over 1000 apartments a few short blocks away….we are living in a different universe than we were 10 years ago.. The General Project Plan needs to be revisited.

  • Frenchbull

    Children were used as pawns
    Sounds like it backfired
    How about the children that might live in the lower income apts? Don’t they deserve a nice playground too?

  • gatornyc

    That’s a very fair reason to bring your daughter and if the Board members had commented about your daughter that would be one thing.

    But the kids with signs that were told to sit in front of the first row of seats so as to be directly in front of the Board members was a calculated, political publicity move. It works both ways. If the anti-housing crowd is going to use the kids in this manner, then it is not out of bounds for the Board members to comment as they did.

  • miriamcb

    I agree that it was not very good adult modeling to use the children in politicking. The board conservancy directed the kids to the front of the room. It just seems as though both sides are being petty.

    For the record, I’m fine with housing as long as the infrastructure in the neighborhood is able to support it and the buildings are contextual as mentioned in other comments. I’m not anti-housing – I’m pro good-planning. I think the park should be planned responsibly and I don’t really see the harm in redoing an impact study to get there.

    I’ve also heard around the neighborhood that the park board has not released the actual financials around running the park to date? Is this right? Or is there somewhere I can be pointed to? I’d like to know that the revenue we’re talking about in housing is matched to expenditures well.

  • heights res

    Private development has no place in a PUBLIC park. Full stop……

  • Guest

    If you stayed till the end of the meeting you would have seen a long and detailed presentation about the park’s financial situation. That presentation is available on the Park’s website today.
    If what you really care about is school overcrowding, then why are you using up all of your energy to fight against a building that will support the park financially? If you kill this building, PS 8 will still be over burdened and now your park will be financially insecure. Wouldn’t a smarter move be to use all of this impressive community organizing to advocate for increased school capacity? Why is Steve Levin fighting this building? He should be fighting for more schools! If you are not anti affordable housing and are not NIMBYs and are not just fighting to protect the views from the south side of One Brooklyn Bridge Park Condo, then you are going about this fight the wrong way. Redirect your energies towards something constructive. We need more schools! Make your voice heard!

  • guest

    LICH will have to go through ULURP. During that process, all of the impacts of the LICH project will have to be addressed. It is not BBP’s job to solve the problems of LICH, just as it was not any other project’s responsibilities to solve any issues created by BBP. Stop pretending that there will not be ample opportunities to address LICH’s issues as that develops. Right now we don’t even know what the plan for LICH will be!

  • marshasrimler

    I believe in comprehensive community based assessment and planning .Obviously you do not.

  • guest

    What does that even mean Marsha? Because I have a news flash for you. NYC is ALWAYS changing. Every community is always changing. There’s always a BBP or Jehovah’s Witness, or a LICH or an Atlantic Yards or a Brooklyn Public Library, or some sort of large impactful project that is looming. If you honestly feel that you can’t make any decisions on appropriate planning for the whole community until you’ve taken ALL of these things into account, then you will spend your whole life planning and incorporating new information and you will never allow anything to be built. What you are saying is just a better sounding rationale to be NIMBY. There needs to be planning, but there needs to be balance. There needs to be a time when you stop planning and let things happen. Then you need the plans for things in the future to take into account the things you’ve already permitted to happen and respond to them. BBP has already had a robust planning stage, it’s now in the execution stage. LICH is about to enter the planning stage, it should take BBP into account as it moves forward. Any suggestion otherwise is just a clever way to be opposed to all development ever.

  • Frenchbull

    Well you’re a little late
    The private funding has been in mix for mayb 10 years? Since beginning of park plans in order to help fund the public piers

    Not that I am defending developers

  • johnny cakes

    Hurray. Hooray.

  • Solovely

    Hi everyone,

    Would love to chat about this… thoughts?

    Park Corp’s 12 million per year operating budget is (according to them) 92% funded? They plan to set aside an additional $4 million per year for future capital maritime needs ($200 million over 50 years).

    What are they going to do with this $4 million per year? set it aside and invest in the stock market? My understanding is that they have over $40 million in cash right now? (That’s 3 years of operating expenses) And whatever the assumptions are behind the expenses are.. are conservative…very conservative, Park Corps says so.

    Why can’t the Pier 6 sites be left green for now, and park development one or both – when and if – the park needs the money? Why the hurry? Why can’t the Park Corp invest in keeping a green Pier 6 as part of their “investment portfolio” and invest in Brooklyn?

    Brooklyn has been the fastest growing Borough, with the least amount of park space, see WSJ pic,

    Population, percent change, April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013

    Kings County, NY 3.5%
    Queens County, NY 2.9%
    New York County, NY 2.5%
    Bronx County, NY 2.4%
    Richmond County, NY 0.8%

    Here’s the most recent Park financial model, Oct 2013

  • johnny cakes

    Balance is the key concern here. Things aren’t in balance. The growing community needs more hospitals, schools, and public services.

    These factors are being ignored by powerful people who aren’t acting responsibly. Common sense is needed here. Not greed.

  • johnny cakes

    Rules can change. And they need to.

  • JM

    All good questions, Solovely. I was also at the meeting and for someone that has just bought an apartment to raise a family in the neighborhood, the constant admonishments by the board to look at the past were both disheartening and extremely cynical. Circumstances change — Sandy, recently overcrowded schools, LICH conversion and increased real estate prices that makes the former financial model obsolete. I would gladly take two 11 story towers of affordable housing rather than an enormous midtown skyscraper. I wonder if any of these board members have ever tried to get a seat at a picnic table on a weekend.

  • Frenchbull

    I’m ok johnnycakes with changing rules for sure
    31 stories length of football field is ridiculous
    Greed is setting in, if it was ever at bay
    Just think the kids bit was silly

    It’s about rebalancing public with private
    Agree that there needs to be more flexibility

  • Lady in the Heights

    Question? Is the new building proposed for Pier 6 really zoned for PS8? As far as I knew, the boundary for PS8 was the north side of State Street. Does anyone have definitive information about this. It seems like the school would be zoned for PS 29 because it is actually closer to 29 than 8.

  • miriamcb

    Here’s the problem with written communication. Upon first read of your response, I am left to feel like I need to defend why I didn’t stay until the end of the meeting. It’s not the best way to have a conversation. Now, that’s on me feeling like that.

    But being told “you are going about this fight the wrong way” is attacking and it’s exactly the wrong tone for a community discussion. It’s a huge part of the problem why there is no constructive conversation. It’s just not productive problem-solving happens and not how to talk to people – especially when you want buy-in and some kind of compromise, if not symbiosis.

    That being said, I couldn’t stay until the end of the meeting as I was there with my young daughter. I will look on the park’s board site today.

  • miriamcb

    They specifically stated that the new buildings would be zoned into PS8 at the meeting. If someone else has other information, please share!

  • guest

    Lori – if you hadn’t left the room on wednesday to go do all your press interviews, you would have heard a detailed presentation that answered all the questions you raised. The questions you raise show that despite the fact that you have been present at several meetings where the Park’s budget has been discussed, including the fact that that park is relying on Pier 6 to fund approximately 60% of the park’s $200 – $250 million dollar maritime expenses, you still like to pretend that you don’t understand this point. I thought you were an analyst who used to work for OMB. I would think that someone with that background would be able to understand that idea fairly easily.

  • miriamcb

    Yes! The board took our little neighborhood and stomped on it. Disheartening is a great descriptor.

  • Lady in the Heights

    If there is a street address for the proposed building at Pier 6, you can enter it here and it will tell you what school you are zoned for:

  • miriamcb

    I agree with Johnny Cakes. Balance is a concern – and just because something was planned (10 years ago) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to look back at that plan and revise on current conditions.