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Proponents of a planned park and commercial complex along the Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and DUMBO waterfronts have long agreed that to get some green on Piers 1-6, the park itself will have to generate a lot of green, in the form of dollars.

But members of neighborhood groups along the 1.5-mile stretch of what is to become Brooklyn Bridge Park were largely dismayed over the past couple of weeks to find that, without their consultation, 730 units of co-op apartments had been added to the plan as one of the major revenue generators.

The threat of the privatization of the Brooklyn Heights waterfront was an impetus for creating the park plan, which dates back to the mid-1980s; one of the principles that guided the planning of the park for nearly 20 years had been that there would be no housing.

But on Dec. 22, in stark contrast to the public planning sessions and town hall-style meetings park planners held in 1999 and 2000, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation (BBPDC) presented to a select few community members a drastically revised park plan. That plan is expected to be put forth as the master plan for the park, to be considered under state environmental review, which will lead to pier property being turned over to the BBPDC by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The co-op apartments are planned to be built on two sites off Furman Street and Atlantic Avenue next to the massive 360 Furman St. building that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society sold to a developer last year. That building, not part of the park plan, is expected to be developed into market-rate housing.

One of the Furman Street buildings, on the uplands of Pier 6, would be eight stories and, said BBPDC President Wendy Leventer, the other would be “significan­tly taller.” One would contain 290 units and the shorter one 110.

Permanent housing would also be added to a hotel planned for Pier 1 at Fulton Ferry, according to the planners, and a roughly 12-story co-op would be built near Adams and John streets on Con Edison property adjacent to the Manhattan Bridge overpass.

The hotel would contain 150 units of the housing and the Con Ed site would contain 180 co-ops.

“All we want is a park that we can afford, and that we can use, that’s fair to all the communities involved,” said Roy Sloane, a member of the Cobble Hill Association, who has been a vocal supporter of a park plan for two decades.

Sloane was one of the first area residents to view the new plans, at a private presentation given to a dozen or so locals on Dec. 22, by Leventer and Michael Van Valkenburg and Matthew Urbanski of Michael Van Valkenburg Associates.

“We were taken to the model, at which point we saw these two very large buildings,” Sloane said of the presentation.

“The meeting had a disconnect for me, because I thought we were going to talk about these things,” he said.

The presentation incensed some community members, who decried what they perceived as a take-it-or-leave-it tone from the park planners and a veiled threat that if not housing then other options, including big retail, would have to be considered on the uplands of the piers.

“All we want is a park that we can afford, and that we can use, that’s fair to all the communities involved,” said Sloane.

Eschewing the “guiding principals” formed years ago by Brooklyn Heights residents that said housing should not be built on the 80-acre site became necessary, said Leventer, to create enough revenue to maintain the park after it was determined that piers 2-6 could not be rehabilitated to hold structures based on the park’s budget. “We tried to keep as much parkland as possible,” she said.

Leventer said that only 10 percent of the land is being developed commercially or residentially. She said planners considered other revenue-generating ideas to meet the $15.4 million maintenance costs of park operations, included parking facilities, box stores and mall-like complexes, among other ideas.

Van Valkenburg pointed out there wasn’t much else that could be developed there without hampering the view from the Brooklyn Heights promenade, which is protected as a landmark. Commercial developments planned for the Empire Stores warehouses (which will be developed into a Chelsea Market-like mall by Shaya Boymelgreen) along Water Street at Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park in DUMBO, could not generate enough revenue to sustain the park, he said.

“I would say this is more difficult than any park designers have ever undertaken before,” the landscape architect said, adding that the design could set a national precedent.

“When we show the world how to do this its going to be a paradigm shift,” Van Valkenburg predicted.

But for the hundreds of local residents who have closely watched the plans evolve over the years, the shift isn’t necessarily a welcome one.

“There are reasons why the consensus at the time was against housing on the site,” said Brooklyn Heights resident Tony Manheim, founder of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Coalition, a precursor to the BBPDC. “It doesn’t mean we hate housing or that housing is evil, but there are complications that come in when you build in the park.

“For one thing,” he said, “it privatizes the site. Also, it’s easy to build extra floors when costs go up — and then, what are you going to do about affordable housing? It isn’t the best way to use public property, and it doesn’t exactly create many jobs.”

The fact that the plans were published in the New York Times on Dec. 23, only one day after the meeting with the select residents of Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, did not bode well either.

Sandy Balboza, president of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, said she’d thought up until the Dec. 22 meeting that she was attending a working session, with the planners “obtaining input from the community group. Instead, it turned out to be a PowerPoint presentation with a completed model.”

Balboza said she remained hopeful that it was just a mistake, and that plans were not finalized. She added, though, that one of the co-op buildings near Atlantic Avenue, judging by the model, appeared to block the water’s view from Atlantic Avenue.

“That would be very distressing,” she said. “I’m hopeful that this is a misunderstanding and we will have future meetings and we will be able to have the discussion about the uses of Pier 6, and they will have input from the community that this will impact.”

Both community boards affected have been completely left out of the presentation process. Robert Perris, district manager of Community Board 2, which includes the Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO portions of the plan, confirmed he had not seen the new plans, or heard from Leventer since her appearance at a board meeting in September.

“It seems like they’re unveiling it to small groups of people,” he said, noting that a presentation by the park planners was not on the board’s agenda for January.

Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6, which borders Atlantic Avenue, shared concern about the lack of board input, especially regarding the use of Pier 6, which was added to the park plan last year.

“We believed there should be a public planning process,” he said. “From the limited information we’ve been getting it seems like a planning process has been taking place, but one that is far from a public process.”

Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said that while she has seen the new plans, most members of her organization had not.

Still, she did not shun the notion of housing, which her group has historically rejected. “If there must be housing — which I’m not willing to reject provided the rationale is sound — then it’s how much housing does there have to be and where?” she said. “The sooner they have a public meeting the better.”

Said Mannheim, “[Housing] privatizes the site. The people who are living there and paying the park fees become resentful about the ‘unwashed masses’ using their parkland. That’s exactly what happened in Battery Park City. This is a big problem; it’s a lot more serious than hawks on Fifth Avenue.”

See more images of the Brooklyn Bridge Park plan.


Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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