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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  • Solovely

    yes, it was a frantic day for me, for everyone…. but I can’t win either way from your comment?

    And I went home Wed night and immediately looked for the financial plan update on your web side – the one I had missed. It wasn’t posted until this morning.
    And you, yourself didn’t link to it here.

    …And the elected representatives HAD requested that the financial plan information be provided PRIOR to the meeting… and it wasn’t!

    And yes, as a financial analyst, I am accustomed to standardized financial disclosures, and the Park Corp’s lack of historical trends in their disclosures, make me dizzy.

  • Solovely

    I also LOVE that you are calling me by my name, which is totally great. I love my name.. lucky with my fab parents ;) while you are posting as GUEST.

  • JM

    Also- Dramatic and unique as it is, how about we don’t spend $7 million on the proposed “wing platform” on pier 6, and cut down the development on the uplands to a more reasonable size? It simply does not need to be 31 stories and the local infrastructure cannot maintain that size of a building.

  • guest

    I wasn’t attacking you for leaving early. It was a long meeting and it’s completely reasonable that people couldn’t stay for all ofi it, especially those with children.YOU were actually attacking the Park officials for not providing enough financial data, and I was pointing out that your attacks were unjustified since the questions you raise had already been publicly answered. Also i’m sorry you’re so sensitive that any suggestion that you are focusing on the wrong issues is seen as an “attack”. There is a real difference between an “attack” and someone saying “I think you’re wrong”. Think of it as a suggestion. The reason that people who are protesting these buildings are being labelled as nimbys is because they are taking a valid concern (school overcrowding) and using it to fight the wrong fight against these buildings. Clearly this is a community with alot of civic pride and ability to organize. More than 100 people showed up on wednesday -maybe even 200. Imagine what could happen if all of the energy and resources were actually being put to good use by fighting the RIGHT fight and pushing for more school capacity. The we’d wind up with a fully funded park, more affordable housing in our neighborhood AND more school capacity!

  • Guest

    I didn’t realize Guest and Frenchbull was the same person posting. Now I do!

  • miriamcb

    Sorry, there was a snag on my computer, so now I look like a guest too!

  • guest

    I am not frenchbull.

  • miriamcb

    That’s odd – something must be going on with the posting because the response my post is posted by Guest, but your last one is by Frenchbull.

  • miriamcb

    I’m not sensitive at all. I walk around the neighborhood a lot and talk to a lot of locals on our walks. I’ve been hearing the buzz (and anger) throughout the neighborhood about the park board not yet releasing their financials when being asked.

    I wasn’t attacking the park board, I was merely asking if there are financials available.

    I’m trying to point out that the entire conversation is charged, there is distrust and there are obvious concerns that should be addressed rather than dismissed by the board and deemed as radical. It’s no way to have a conversation.

  • guest

    Weird. On my computer my last post is showing up as “guest”. Sorry for any confusion.

  • Solovely

    I might also add — and this is really big picture — but as a public health person, I’ve been to many talks by brilliant people that I am so inspired by – that mention how the rising cost of healthcare in this country “crowds out” spending on other policy objectives, like education, and perhaps parks too… which are essential to health in the first place.

    Public policy is endlessly complex.

    The City’s Department of Parks & Recreation was referred to at this meeting by the OBBP Board in tragic tones. But I do think our Mayor is trying to do something about helping smaller parks in this city…

  • Moni

    All this hogwash about the inappropriateness of bringing children to the meetng suggests that every mother there had a nanny to leave her kid(s) with — really? Or perhaps the message is that women should stay home with their kids and not participate in politics. There is only one public school here and no hospital and objection to this housing is not merely about someone’s ruined view of the harbor.

  • marshasrimler

    i have lived in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn and Chaired the Planning Committee of CB2 and get it that the city is always changing.
    The general project plan needs to be reopened based on all the dynamics around the park. Planning needs to be dynamic not written in stone as you suggest. Projects can and should be dynamic not static.I

  • Andrew Porter

    Interesting that the usual commenters here on the BHB are notably absent from this discussion…

  • miriamcb

    I agree. I thought it was fine the kids were there and I think it was fine they had signs. I brought my daughter and will continue to do so! It really shouldn’t even matter who brings them, but we should be mindful of modeling good adult behavior for them.

  • marshasrimler

    stomped on it is a good description.. the board is selected not elected… they need to be dethroned

  • marshasrimler

    it may be that others like Concord village will be kicked out of PS8 for all the park housing..

  • Ann B Chapin

    May I suggest building a new school in place of a giant skyscraper?? Oh and did I mention a hospital? Remsen Street Dweller I am with you! BTW-why are many of you not using your actual names??

  • miriamcb

    My guess is most of us had disqus names already set-up for use with other blogs for commenting where we might not have wanted our full names used. In any case, my name is Miriam :)

  • Remsen Street Dweller

    Thank you, Ann!

  • marshasrimler

    right on Ann. why are folks afraid to use their real names??

  • Ann B Chapin

    Hi Miriam! But your name was easy to figure out! :-) Of course “the names have been changed to protect the innocent” haha!

  • Reggie

    marsha, when were you the chair of the CB2 Planning Committee?

  • Ann B Chapin

    people like to hide when they are offensive??

  • StoptheChop

    Of course the GPP can be changed- it already was, when the Pierhouse plans were changed AFTER APPROVAL to lower the number of stories– so as not to block the straight-on view from the Promenade (and the north end of Columbia Heights?). So, why does the BBPDC cling so arrogantly to the 31-story noncontextual skyscraper?

  • Solovely

    .. I didn’t really think about it… In college we all had “handles” and it was the opportunity to choose a cute name.. this one “solovely” because it inspires me.. in college, I was a nerdy “foxish” after the Mozilla web browser, Firefox… Lori

  • Joe A

    There would be no PUBLIC park without the private development.

  • Joe A

    Are you planning to pay for the upkeep of the park?

  • Joe A
  • Joe A

    Hospitals, schools and public services would not provide funding for the park which is the purpose of the private development. Actually they would do just the opposite and cost tax payers more money.