Taking a Stand: Two Brooklyn Heights Residents Fight the Power

Two Brooklyn Heights residents have challenged powerful opponents. Michael White of Citizens Defending Libraries (CDL) and Lori Schomp of the People for Green Space Foundation have recently earned significant victories in their respective battles with the Brooklyn Public Library and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Mr. White has wielded social and print media like a cudgel to push back against BPL’s efforts to privatize public space, while Ms. Schomp has employed the New York State court system to suspend further development at BBP’s Pier 6.

Mr. White’s multiple advocacy efforts have been both celebrated and scorned by his Brooklyn Heights neighbors (and copiously recorded in his blog, Citizens Defending Libraries). Not content to follow the lead of Save the NYPL, a coalition opposed to the New York Public Library’s ill-fated Central Library Plan, White and his co-advocate (and spouse) Carolyn McIntyre have identified a new seam in their opposition to BPL’s capital funding plans: the proposed Spaceworks space grab at the Red Hook library branch.

RELATED: Ambush! Watch Citizens Defending Libraries Confront Daniel Squadron

It was Mr. White who sounded the alarm about what appears to be a questionable arrangement between Spaceworks, a non-profit created by the Bloomberg administration in 2011, and BPL leadership to make available almost half of the Red Hook library’s space in perpetuity for whatever use Spaceworks required.

In return for a paltry $650,000 capital investment—not even matching the $1.2 million that BPL will contribute to complete restoration of the library building that was severely damaged in Superstorm Sandy—and an undisclosed annual rent, Spaceworks would be granted exclusive control over valuable public real estate.

Thanks to extensive research, a dogged campaign of emails and regular appearances at public hearings, Mr. White not only shed light on the Spaceworks proposal that suggested it was a public land giveaway whose long-term implications were clearly not in the best interest of local BPL patrons, but CDL’s advocacy helped force BPL to pull back from the proposal.

While Mr. White has been a persistent gadfly on library related and other land use issues (for example Atlantic Yards) for a number of years, Ms. Schomp has appeared recently to play a prominent role in a debate that has been going on for many years. Under the umbrellas of People for Green Space and Save Pier 6, in a few short months, Ms. Schomp and her allies Joe Mertz and Marty Hale have accomplished [albeit temporarily] what years of protest could not: halting the construction of the final housing project proposed at Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Their efforts—limited to the two large residential towers proposed for BBP’s Pier 6—have paid dividends in the form of a Temporary Restraining Order in locals’ battle to determine the future of the wildly successful park. But her advocacy appears to have come at some personal cost to Ms. Schomp, as continuous exposure in the public spotlight has a tendency to scorch the object of the media’s attention.

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

Regardless of what one might believe about the actions of BPL and BBP, and the underlying motivations of Mr. White and Ms. Schomp, it’s edifying—and a little remarkable—to note that White, Schomp and their supporters have managed to bring into question the definition of what constitutes the public good—no matter what the ultimate results of those actions may be.

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  • Former resident

    Thank you both for fighting the power and standing up to the monied developers. The developers own this city and will spend whatever it takes to try to smear you both. Keep up the good work.

  • George Fiala

    The feedback I got from the library/spaceworks is that the Daily News story is not accurate – they are still going to try and get their way. Somehow they think they will be able to change public opinion.

  • guest

    Spaceworks is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide low cost studio space to local artists. Not sure I understand how that equates to “monied developers”. Am I missing something?

  • Quinn Raymond

    Describing this NIMBYism in one of the most privileged communities in the city as “Fighting the Power” really rubs me the wrong way.

    I wonder what Chuck D of Public Enemy would make of these campaigns to deprive the BPL of funding and to prevent affordable housing units from being built?

    I actually really enjoyed meeting Mr. White, and I think covering the activists driving the agenda in our community is a valuable journalistic exercise, but this reads as hagiography and asks none of the hard questions

  • Doug Biviano

    Voters have to wonder why Steve Levin will not take a position on this, Squadron was for the sale but then flip-flopped but not for real as Michael DD White outed his deception. Voters also need to wonder why Peter Sikora makes no mention of this fight to save the library or Condos in the park on his Slick out of district funded campaign material. Nor does Joanne Simon for that matter. The answers are mindbogglingly disturbing. Peter Sikora, Steve Levin, Brad Lander, Dan Squadron and Mayor de Blasio all retain and work closely with lobbyist/consultant Berlin Rosen for their campaigns… and so does the NYPL and Forest City Ratner who controls the development rights of the library as Michael DD White has also reported.

    Here are the Berlin Rose clients:

    Calling this a conflict of Interest puts it lightly, This is systemic corruption at its finest. Berlin Rosen has their tentacles in every party involved in the potential transaction and has great influence over the very elected officials who are supposed to protect our interests as voters and our vital public institutions. Berlin Rosen worked closely with Peter Sikora and de Blasio on the LICH get arrested as a campaign prop and the follow up LICH letter by Gary Reilly deception via PAC dark money with Campaign for One New York. Jonathan Rosen goes back to the Data and Field scandal with de Blasio and Lander getting very discounted campaign mailers with the Working Families Party that skirted campaign finance law and was simply illegal. The deception, influence and conflicts of interest with these officials, candidates and Berlin Rosen are endless and quite disturbing.

    For my latter point of where’s mention of this by Sikora or Simon in their literature, the answer is simple. The real issues tearing at the heart of Brooklyn Heights and our surrounding neighborhoods are not to be spoken about by them. It’s a popularity contest with who has the most special interest money to mail the voters and fool them one mo’ time. You’ll notice there is no debate among the three candidates. No civic groups or press organization is sponsoring one. What is going on? There was over 10 for the open seat for City Council in 2009 and the City Council is not nearly as powerful as the NYS Legislature. Is Berlin Rosen influencing the press and local civic groups?

    And notice how Quinn Raymond is on the job for this post…lol.


  • Solovely

    Morning everyone,

    I think the community is asking big questions? Privatization, public goods, and the role of government in paying for public goods…

    I am researching trying to find another park, in similar economic conditions, paid for by PILOTs (payments in lieu of real estate taxes to the City’s general fund, thus, the housing in the park, the “magic money” or “compromise” per the Wed meeting). Other city parks are paid for by corp sponsors, advertising, and private conservatories, etc? But the PILOT structure seems to be yet another step along the spectrum toward privatization — and potentially creating duel park systems? This Park Corp board remarked with horror “we all know what happens to NYC Dept of Parks and Recreation managed parks.” But why step outside the system with a PILOTs model instead of trying to improve the NYC Parks Dept from within?

    Also, in the PILOTs model, real estate tax monies go directly to the Park Corp to pay for the park (instead of the City’s general fund to then be allocated to City’s parks budget through the budget process). This provides BBP stable revenues ( a good thing), but it also means that during times of fiscal crisis, that the city can’t reduce funding for BBP, in the face of other priorities, while it may, if it chooses, do so, presumably, for other true “city parks”? So while other parks may suffer, in times of fiscal austerity, BBP will always be just fine? But, the city will not gain budgetary flexibility from the real estate taxes from this park condos.

    Also, does this correlate the budgets for a park to the value of its real estate… esp by bypassing the general fund?

  • MONTague

    Lori — good questions however the entire point if BBP is that there will be no City funding. It must be entirely self sufficient. So in times of fiscal austerity This arrangement would be beneficial to the city as it won’t have to pay a penny to the upkeep of this park and can focus other places.

  • MONTague

    PREACH ON BROTHER! Hit it on the head.

  • Solovely

    I do understand this. My thought was to have a conversation about the pros and cons of that “entire point.” This doesn’t “allow the City to focus on other places;” it creates duel park systems. An alternative, and perhaps more equitable scheme, than the current BBP structure, would be if the PILOTs from the park condos went to the City’s general fund, and then, democratically, either flow, or did not flow, to NYC Dept of Parks & Rec budget, as part of the City’s budgeting process.

  • Solovely

    And, since the PILOTs paid to the Corp Park don’t go to the general fund, the people living in these condos buildings do *not* contribute through real estate taxes to the police, or fire depts.. etc. so there *is* City funding here, it’s a hard-to-find subsidy.

  • Solovely

    Forgive me, another post, I hope! But “Outer Borough No More”? by Morgan Pehme, Editor-in-Chief, City & State NY

    “Brooklyn has transformed at a dizzying pace, growing from a bohemian oasis of cheap rents, enchanting novelty, and old world charm to a booming metropolis and a global brand… ” “… To keep pace with these inevitabilities, Brooklyn’s infrastructure, its transportation network, its parks, beaches, cultural institutions, all will have to be upgraded on a scale not seen since Robert Moses remade the city. To accomplish this mighty labor, Brooklyn needs a great visionary. I have no doubt that the mayor need only look within its own borders to find someone up to task”

    I wonder who Mr. Pehme has in mind? Let’s ask!


    From Wed’s meeting… the decade old park project plan was “insufficiently ambitious” and the “the park’s very success demands the project plan be revisited..” State Senator Squadron

  • heights res

    Once again – it is not NIMBYism to oppose the granting of private development in PUBLIC space….

  • heights res
  • Quinn Raymond

    But that is a semantic argument. Public and private land are used interchangeably constantly. You have to look on a case by case basis and be practical about what the community and city’s actual needs are.

    Stand at the center of the Promenade and look out at the vastness of the park- it does not lack space but it does lack a) sustainable operating funds and b) proximity to affordable housing.

    If we were arguing over a small plot of public land in a neighborhood otherwise devoid of park space I would be completely with you.

  • Quinn Raymond

    While I do think Doug is nuts, I also agree with him that there should be some public forums for the candidates.

    Have any been planned?

  • Quinn Raymond

    Really interesting points. I have to think about this.

  • heights res

    Sorry, can’t agree…. http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/eco-tourism/photos/9-of-the-worlds-most-impressive-city-parks/urban-oases
    Great public parks often include a variety of amenities (creative, athletic, etc – aquariums, eco-centers, museums, running trails) that serve the public good – not private, for-profit housing/hotel development enterprises….
    As to your other point – if this fancy Park couldn’t be sustained and supported with City funds (like all other PUBLIC parks), maybe it shouldn’t have been built. A simple, open, green space might actually have been more beneficial…

  • Quinn Raymond

    Would you be supportive of an increase to property or income tax to this end?

    Honestly I would be OK with that approach too but it doesn’t seem very realistic as I doubt few people would agree with me.

  • Doug Biviano

    Yes, caring about our community and fighting to protect its vital institutions is nuts. Thanks for putting it into perspective.

  • Quinn Raymond

    No, but tying everything and everyone you disagree with into a single conspiracy theory is.

  • Guest

    These are interesting questions. The only issue is that you are about 10 years too late. These very questions have been debated FOR YEARS. You only got involved in “park advocacy” a few months ago when you found out your view was going to be impacted.

  • Solovely

    These questions are phrased by me here, but they are questions that have long been part of this debate. Neighbors have shared with me.

    As the proud daughter of a hippie activist father, and graduate of the Wagner School of Public Service, in public finance (an embarrassing number of years ago, not to give away much age!), I saw an immensely popular park, in a borough with very little green space, that was tragically building more housing according to a 10 year old plan.

    With more research, my public finance skills suggested that this was a bizarre structure, rather opaque, with weird real estate development incentives

  • Guest

    Is your view going to be obstructed?

  • guest

    That is a 30 page rant that sounds like it could’ve been written by the unabomber. I was hoping for something less conspiracy theory based and more something fact based. So it sounds like i am not missing anything.

  • cranberry st. dude

    “As a runner, the towers would personally affect Schomp’s experience of Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn Heights, which she moved to a year ago.
    “When I come down Atlantic [Avenue], I’m going to be looking at a huge skyscraper instead of looking at the sunset,” she said.”


    Same Lori who is suing the park with Martin Hale Jr. The view from their house on Willow will be affected by the buildings.

  • guest

    The developments related to BBP are built on state-owned land, which are exempt from real estate taxes. So they would never be paying real estate taxes. The PILOTS they are paying to the park are not INSTEAD of paying real estate taxes to the city, they are instead of paying nothing, Also the residents of the buildings WILL still be paying sales tax, and income tax, and mortgage recording tax etc.

  • heights res

    A detailed, researched investigative piece does not a rant make…. Bet The Daily News and City Limits (and even the Bklyn Paper) would be amused to hear that they are writing conspiracy theory based articles….

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com ClaudeScales

    I don’t know how the view from a house on Willow Place could be affected by the proposed buildings, although the taller of the two might cast a shadow there late in the day. The only residences that I believe would have affected views will be those on the south side of One Brooklyn Bridge Park, those on the higher floors, facing westward, of the Riverside Apartments on Columbia Place, and some along Hicks Street in Cobble Hill and in the Columbia Street district. The upper floors of the taller of the two buildings will, I believe, be visible, projecting over One Brooklyn Bridge Park, from the Promenade and from the ends of Remsen Street and Grace Court, but wouldn’t block any views or cast shadows on these locations.. I’m not pointing this out to advocate for or against the buildings, but just to try to get the facts straight. As I understand it, Ms. Schomp’s aesthetic complaint (she has others concerning burdens on neighborhood infrastructure, etc.) is that the buildings will block views and cast shadows that affect her experience on her morning run.

  • Banet

    Claude, take a look at a map. the back yard of Ms. Schomp’s home — which is near the southern end of Willow Place — will have a full-on view of the entire Pier 6 development.

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com ClaudeScales

    It may be that she could see the towers projecting over the BQE, but they wouldn’t be blocking her view of anything. She couldn’t, for example, see the sunset from her backyard because of the BQE, One BBP, and the Riverside building. I’ll admit I’ve used a strict definition of having a view “affected”: that is, having a view of something else one would rather see blocked. I suppose she could say that she’d rather see the patch of sky the buildings might obscure than the buildings. Indeed, there are some buildings I would rather see sky than look at: http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com/2007/01/upper-west-side-horror.html