City Comptroller Scott Stringer, at his Brooklyn Town Hall Thursday evening, fielded questions from many people who lined up on both sides of the auditorium to get their turn at the microphones, as well as other questions brought in by Periscope. Concerns raised by Brooklyn Heights residents included the deal to sell the Brooklyn Heights Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library to a developer who would include a smaller branch library in a high rise condo building, the construction of two high rise residential buildings near Pier Six in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the effect of residential development on school overcrowding and other stresses on public services and infrastructure.
On the library issue, Michael D.D. White, Heights resident and a principal of Citizens Defending Libraries, asked “What are you willing to do to help us?” Stringer had earlier said his audit of BPL had not found any major discrepancies, unlike the Queens Public Library audit. Nevertheless, he said, he has serious concerns about the Brooklyn Heights Branch deal, particularly about whether BPL is getting full value. In response to White’s request for a letter from the Comptroller concerning BPL’s lack of transparency about the transaction and alleged conflicts of interest on the part of some BPL board members, Stringer said White should meet with Brian Cook, Director of Economic Development in the Comptroller’s office.
Marty Hale, of People for Green Space Foundation/Save Pier 6 asked about status of an audit of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation concerning its need for revenue from the two proposed residential buildings near Pier Six. Stringer said he had received more information from BBPC, but thought that the possibility of a bond issue to finance the improvements needed to the piers and other park requirements, in lieu of more real estate development, should be explored. In response to another PFGSF representative, who said the Comptroller had been “stonewalled” by BBPC, Stringer said “I don’t get stonewalled.” Cobble Hill community activist Judi Francis suggested that the city should allot one percent of its revenue to parks. Stringer noted that proper maintenance of parks saves the city more than it costs by preventing claims for injury and escalation of repair costs.
Stringer addressed the issue of the stress on schools and other public services and infrastructure caused by burgeoning development by advocating “community based planning” that would develop plans from the grass roots up instead of from the top down. This was also his response to complaints from residents of East New York and other neighborhoods which the city has proposed to re-zone to allow greater density but also to attract more affluent residents. On the issue of selling public assets such as libraries and schools to private interests, he said he would like to assemble a group of concerned citizens to explore alternatives. He noted that the city’s budget is now in the best shape it’s been in for many years, which he characterized as a “peace dividend.” He cautioned that another recession or Sandy-like disaster would end this, but said the city should prudently take advantage of its present fiscal strength to deal with pressing problems like homelessness and inadequate or deteriorating infrastructure.