Over the past few weeks BHB sat down with Martin Hale and Lori Schomp, local residents best known for their campaign to prevent the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation from erecting two large residential towers on BBP’s Pier 6.
People for Green Space, and their public presence, Save Pier 6, burst onto the scene in April with a Change.org petition. In July PFGS successfully petitioned State Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Knipel to issue a temporary restraining order, causing BBPC to delay their controversial plan to include affordable housing in the 31- and 15-story towers included in the park’s 2006 General Project Plan.
This August the efforts of Mr. Hale, Ms. Schomp and Joe Mertz—like Hale and Schomp residents of Brooklyn Heights’ Willowtown—were profiled in a New York Times article that documented the long-standing and highly-charged debate about housing in the park, one of the more successful public/private partnerships in City history.
A subsequent Times editorial further fanned controversy by suggesting that NIMBYism is driving opposition to additional housing at BBP.
BHB met with Ms. Schomp and Mr. Hale over two separate dates; the following interview is condensed and includes statements e-mailed by Mr. Hale.
Michael Randazzo and Claude Scales for Brooklyn Heights Blog (BHB): Who exactly are People for Green Space (PFGS)?
Lori Schomp, People for Green Space Foundation: Joe [Mertz] and I are petitioners [on the lawsuit]. I am also a director of People for Green Space Foundation (PFGS). It started as a Change.org petition that got a lot of signatures. The lawsuit [temporary restraining order against the new construction at BBP Pier 6] grew out of that grass roots momentum. PFGS is one tiny organization that happens to be the name on the lawsuit.
BHB: So Save Pier 6 is a subsidiary of PFGS?
LS: Save Pier 6 is a Facebook page and a pure advocacy group…. There are a lot of people who are involved and who have offered to help. They would all identify themselves as Save Pier 6 [members].
BHB: Going back to PFGS; you and Joe are petitioners…
LS: We’re petitioners. Joe is not on the board. We are working to expand the board. It’s me and Marty [Hale]. We have someone from One Brooklyn Bridge Park who will be stepping up [who prefers to remain anonymous]. We’re also talking to a couple of other people in the community and have an MIT urban planning professor [Brent Ryan] who’s joining the board.
Martin Hale, Chairman, People for Green Space: PFGS Foundation only recently received its EIN and is applying for non profit status…. We are in the process of getting together a more formal board.
Someone needed to stand up and start the ball rolling. And I’ve started the ball rolling…. I’ve helped form the legal argument because I spend a lot of time with legal issues at work.
I’ve contributed the least of anyone involved with this effort. I’m probably 15% of the funding, but in terms of the brainpower. it’s other people like Lori who’ve done far more work.
I started the nonprofit with Lori because I like starting things [but] I’m not a great finisher. There are a lot of people who feel really passionately about this who have a lot more time so I’ve actually taken a back seat to all of this.
I quickly realized that Joe [Mertz, who designed the house that Mr. Hale lives in] was far more than a builder of houses. He’s a very thoughtful community activist.
Joe’s like a Willowtown icon because he stood up and took a huge amount of personal risk at a time when it looked like lunacy.
[Editor’s Note: In the early 1960s Joe and Mary Mertz helped to successfully thwart development plans by Robert Moses to build apartment towers in Willowtown.]