‘Park’ to house 1,200 condos

The Brooklyn Paper
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Brooklyn Bridge Park’s sponsor unveiled a double surprise Wednesday night, announcing that state officials had approved a draft plan for the 1.3-mile waterfront development — and that it would include 1,200 units of luxury housing.

Previous estimates had put the number of high-end condos in the residential, commercial, and open space development at anywhere from 700 to just over 900.

Critics have complained since a reworked Brooklyn Bridge Park plan was released late last year that planners have strayed from one of the founding principles intended to guide development of the 80 acre site — that there be no private housing developments.

But what shocked them even more about this week’s announcement from the Empire State Development Corp., was that nearly 80 percent of the housing, some 940 units, would be concentrated on the southern tip of the park west of Furman Street between Joralemon Street and Atlantic Avenue.

Wendy Leventer, executive director of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corp. (BBPDC), a subsidiary of the ESDC that is in charge of the park’s planning and implementation, maintains that the luxury housing is the only way to raise enough revenue to pay the park’s annual expenses, estimated at $15.2 million.

Opponents of the park housing, most of them long-time activists in the fight to get Brooklyn Bridge Park built, were fuming at the news.

“They keep adding on to it,” said Murray Adams, president of the Cobble Hill Association. “First it was 700, then they were talking about a thousand, now it’s 1,200.

“It’s been perfectly obvious from the beginning that this thing was set on the track from Pataki’s office, no matter what anybody did or said,” said Adams. “The fix was in, as you say.”

His main lament, Adams said, was that none of the community’s efforts or time in meeting with the BBPDC and lead park architect Michael Van Valkenburgh over the past months was ultimately valued in the final product.

“Mrs. Leventer has never listened to any suggestions from anybody — the EIS is out today, and I’ve only looked at it primarily, but it’s another Slick Willy job,” said Adams, who said he was fed up with the process and the apathy of elected officials.

“There will be public hearings again in September, and they won’t do anything either,” he said. “The only thing that can stop it now is if the elected officials do come out against it. It is unfortunately a good illustration of how the real estate developers control things in the city.”

A spokesman for the ESDC declined to comment for this story.

Five hundred of the condo units would be developed at 360 Furman St., a former book distribution plant of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that last year was sold to developer Robert Levine and his partners. Levine has been working with the BBPDC to incorporate that building into the park housing plan, which, thanks to legislation passed in June will allow all tax payments by the building’s residents to be diverted from public coffers to the park’s maintenance budget. In exchange for working with the park planners, Levine will have an expedited process of converting the industrial building to residential use.

The bill awaits Gov. George Pataki’s signature.

The Daily News on July 24 reported that Levine’s development team includes lobbyist Thomas Murphy, former head of the state Dormitory Authority, and the AIG Insurance company, which has donated $100,000 to Pataki in the past three years. Pataki controls the ESDC, which introduced the legislation, sponsored by Brooklyn state Sens. Martin Connor and Marty Golden and Assemblywoman Joan Millman.

The legislators reason that the park is getting something — the Paments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) — for a development that would have gone through anyway.

Additionally, the project plan adopted this week allows for an additional two stories to be added to the 180-foot-tall 360 Furman St. building, an addition that would likely have faced staunch community opposition were the condo conversion subject to city review due to its placement at the edge of the Brooklyn Heights waterfront, whose vistas of the East River, harbor, Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty are considered sacrosanct.

The fast-tracked plan has left many of the local park activists feeling like public input is being solicited merely for show and that the ESDC and other officials are going to build Brooklyn Bridge Park the way they see fit.

Kenn Lowy, a Brooklyn Heights resident who attended many of the meetings with the developers and Van Valkenburgh over the past several months, said he was surprised by the approval of the general project plan this week.

“Nobody I knew on the Citizen’s Advisory Committee [an entity comprised of community members that was mandated under the state and city’s agreement to fund construction of the park plan] seemed to be anything but surprised,” Lowy said of the announcement.

“The EIS just came out yesterday — that was a surprise. I was busy downloading parts of the EIS and trying to decipher what’s there,” he said on Wednesday.

Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said the news about 360 Furman St. receiving an additional two stories wasn’t a big surprise since it had been mentioned in the ESDC’s scoping document for the EIS that the developer would gain the added height for his commitment of the building to the park plan.

“We were worried about how that would affect views that people have now over 360 Furman St,” said Stanton. “The fact that it’s ‘X’ number of more units or more people doesn’t change the equation for me,” she said, when asked about all the additional residents that would be thrust into Brooklyn Heights under the plan.

But she maintained hope that community concerns could be worked out. “At the end of the day, [the plan’s] going to change, and I’m going to just keep hoping its going to get lower,” Stanton said.

Her counterparts further south don’t think it will.

“We’re paying a very high price in return for a park that doesn’t have the elements, such as year round recreation facility, that the community has asked for all along,” said Franklin Stone, a Cobble Hill parent and advocate for recreational uses in Brooklyn Bridge Park, who is a member of the CAC.

“I also think that 360 Furman St. is a monstrosity, and I was always horrified by talk to make it bigger,” she added. “Now we’re talking about taking the hugest impediment to our park and making it bigger. My biggest complaint is the price is too high than the return for a park that that brings nothing back to the community,” said Stone.

A 30-story condo at Furman Street off Atlantic Avenue, on the uplands of Pier 6, would dwarf 360 Furman St.

Judi Francis, who lives in the southwest section of Brooklyn Heights known as Willowtown, said she was angry about the 1,200 units of housing announced this week and charged that the BBPDC had lied about the number of condos in the plan.

“The outrage is that there is still no admission that the height of 360 Furman will go higher,” she said. “Now it’s a reality — it’s going higher.” Francis said none of her neighbors’ concerns had been addressed, including the requested closing of Joralemon Street to through-traffic onto Furman Street, methods of sound mitigation from the park and adequate parking to facilitate park patrons.

While none were sure of what the next step would be, other than preparing statements to submit for the EIS hearing, which is expected to be scheduled for mid-September, Lowy said he is coordinating a group to serve as advocates and stewards for Brooklyn Bridge Park.

“We’re going to be meeting with all our elected officials to discuss the current plan, the EIS and going forward,” Lowy said.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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