BHB Exclusive: Q & A with Martin Hale & Lori Schomp of People for Green Space

BHB: But the plan has been in place since 2006….

LS: I’ve had the privilege of learning a lot from people who’ve been fighting this for a very long time. Tony Manheim has been advocating for this to be a park since the mid-1980s. The original 2000 plan did not have housing in the park, it had a much smaller budget, and it’s evolved and changed…. The original 13 principles specifically advise against residential use of the park. That’s been change[d].

Because I’m a petitioner in the lawsuit I believe that they [BBP Corporation board] are not following their project plan. They have been charged with minimizing development in the park and to maximize park space. I believe that [the PFGS] lawsuit is correct, and that’s what they [BBPC] agreed to and they should follow the law.

There have been aspects of this process that have been evolving over time. The Velodrome was proposed just a couple of years ago and…I think that is an example of where [BBP] was willing to revisit the plan for the park. I don’t agree that we don’t have the opportunity to continue to find the best solution.

The borough does not have enough park space. Are they gonna give us park space somewhere else?

I’m not an urban planner, so this is way above my pay grade, but…if we’re going to build a denser city, we want to ask our mayor: “That’s great, we need to have a denser city.”

But it also has to be a livable city. How is he [Mayor de Blasio] going to create this affordable city that is livable for everyone else at the same time? Who are his sources of inspiration for the future of New York City?

BHB: How does Jan Gehl, the Danish architect and city planner, figure into your idea of a livable city?

LS: Our MIT urban planner and board member, Brent Ryan, brought him to our attention. You know we have Fred Kent [principal, Project for Public Spaces] here in the city, who’s brilliant.

Gehl talk specifically about the idea of a human-scaled city and a place-making perspective on development. [His] idea is that the everyday city dweller just needs a nice place to sit down and have a cup of coffee. This is an egalitarian point.

They’ve done a very good job, for example, in Barcelona, creating denser cities that still have a human-scale element and a social component to the housing plan.

This idea that affordable housing is planning for a social component, [it’s] planning for a community and a lifestyle and all these different things as well.

Would PFGS look at the situation differently if the size and scale of the housing were to be reduced?

LS: After digging through the park’s financial model and finding the additional $4 million that will be coming from One Brooklyn Bridge Park alone, starting in 2020 with the expiring of the tax abatements, our position at this point is that there should be no housing there.

I think that the general project plan describes the minimal development in the park necessary to fund [BBP] —based on what we’ve found through a lot of painstaking effort, trying to piecemeal together what has been very strange financial disclosures. I looked at Hudson River Park’s budget, and it’s a lot more transparent [than BBPC’s].

BHB: BBP has—by many accounts—had financial success, which PFGS is challenging.

LS: It’s a successful financial model, but even with the drawings on the condos they have issued, where are the park visitors in those sketches? A successful financial model to what end? The park is sitting on $40 million in cash; they’re going to be putting aside money in a fund for [capital expenses] for the future.

When you look at the ending of the funding model in fiscal year 2018, there are so many new revenues coming on in ’19 and ’20. And the [BBPC] board made a decision to go forward with the Pier 6 development based on that financial model.

Now they’re saying, we have this other financial model that explains these other moneys. Where was that in the August 6 presentation?

[Editor’s Note: On page 9 of BBP Financial Model Update, dated 8/6/14, the park currently has $87 million in one-time revenue on hand for approximately $210 million in anticipated maritime repairs.]

Couldn’t this piece of land be part of their investment portfolio, and then they build on it in the future if they absolutely have to?

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  • William Schomp

    Bringing decisions about development in their community to the people of that community should be one cornerstone of a democratic society. I support the people of Brooklyn Heights in their effort to engage in democracy. Vty, William Schomp.