Groups clash over ‘Park’ Heights-area residents don’t see eye-to-eye on development plan

The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill residents who support the idea of a waterfront park that would stretch from the Manhattan Bridge to Atlantic Avenue, but who at the same time disagree with the new Brooklyn Bridge Park plan’s reliance on high-rise condominium development. are banding together to voice their dissent.

Unlike typical park developments, headed by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, the 1.3-mile waterfront project is mandated to pay for its own $15.2 million yearly maintenance. The construction and design is headed by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation (BBPDC), a state authority controlled by the Empire State Development Corp., and the city and state have committed a combined $150 million for the park’s initial development cost.

In December, the BBPDC revealed its plans to build luxury housing as the primary revenue generator.

Dissatisfied by the lack of a stance on the revised park plan by the Brooklyn Heights Association, and cheerleader-like support for the housing-dependent plans by the non-profit advocacy group the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, Heights resident Kenn Lowy has formed the Friends of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The fledgling group, he says, aims to fill a role he believes the Conservancy has abandoned: providing constructive criticism based on public concerns about the plan.

Calling it “a mix of various organizations and individuals,” the group includes members of the Willowtown and Brooklyn Heights associations, as well as the State Street Block Association, Cobble Hill Association and other community members. Willowtown is an area in southwest Brooklyn Heights near the development site.

“There are a lot of people in Brooklyn Heights who know who the BHA [Brooklyn Heights Association] is, but never really hear from them, so they don’t really know what’s going on. And a lot of people in the southern part of the Heights are kind of disappointed that the Heights has an association that doesn’t really care about anything that happens in their part of the neighborho­od,” Lowy said.

“They feel it’s OK to have all these apartment buildings without even really looking into the alternativ­es.”

He said the Friends of Brooklyn Bridge Park effort is intended, in part, to counteract what members perceive as a newly adopted pro-housing, pro-development bent of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy (formerly the Brooklyn Bridge Park Coalition).

“We’re filling the gap that organizations like the Heights association and the Conservancy — the organizations we thought we could depend on — are just not doing. They’re not advocating for the park we thought they would,” Lowy said.

“We’ve gone through a lot of the plan,” he added, “and we’re finding more questions than answers.”

Conservancy officials explained this week that their group has not so much advocated for the housing, as considered it the most efficient way of making the park self-sustaining.

“We want to help make sure there are no misunderstandings or misrepresentations of the park, so we’re all commenting on the same thing,” said Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy communications director Virginia Terry, who said the Conservancy, which holds park fundraisers and free movie nights throughout the summer considered it their “responsibi­lity and mission to get out all the information we can get.”

She referred to the Conservancy’s “Special Editions” newsletter, which featured renderings supplied by the BBPDC.

The BBPDC, in fact, has relied on the Conservancy to post its renderings and the just released draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project on their Web site while the BBPDC Web site lies largely dormant and un-updated.

Lowy said that those kinds of collaborations usurp any independent authority the Conservancy might have once enjoyed rendering the group little more than an unofficial public relations arm of the BBPDC.

“We have serious concerns with some of the mailings that the Conservancy is handing out,” he said.

“They seem to be playing fast and loose with the truth as far as we’re concerned,” he added, noting points made in the Conservancy’s brochures that talked about a park with recreational programming that he and his cohorts say they have yet to see.

“I don’t know anything about this group,” said Terry when asked about Friends of Brooklyn Bridge Park. “We are advocating for a park for the public, green space, waterfront access, all the educational, cultural and recreational programming that should come with a great waterfront park.

“Of course, with that will come a mix of publicly and privately funded programming, but we also know — and the community has long wished — that this be a self-sustaining park.

Judi Francis, a member of the Willowtown Association, has advocated for something called a Park Oversight District, or POD, where Heights residents in closer proximity to the park would pay a public tax that would go towards a park fund, instead of creating a 1,200 units of luxury waterfront condo development concentrated at the park’s Atlantic Avenue end.

“The quotes that I read from the Conservancy and elsewhere that say this is full of playing fields miss the point,” Francis said.

Francis and the Willowtown Association have created a promotional postcard, using the BBPDC’s view of the 30-story tower as seen from Atlantic Avenue, with the words, “Greetings from Brooklyn Bridge Park City,” overlayed onto it.

“There is a perception that the BHA speaks for all the residents of Brooklyn Heights,” said Francis. “That is not true. We have met with hundreds of Heights residents who are opposed to this park plan. We therefore want to get the word out, thus we developed the postcard.”

She and other members of the association planned to hand out the postcards at Thursday night’s Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy-sponsored screening of “Chinatown” in Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park to counteract what Francis sees as propaganda being disseminated by the Conservancy at the popular weekly film series.

The Conservancy’s Terry maintains that housing was preferred for being a low-impact way to create revenue.

“We take the view that housing is a good alternative because it can efficiently and reliably maintain these yearly costs without taking a substantial part of the footprint,” she said. “We also believe that housing has the potential to enhance the overall waterfront experience.”

Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said she wasn’t so concerned about how many new residents the planned buildings would bring to the neighborhood as she was about protecting views, one of the BHA’s mandates.

“We were worried about how [development of 360 Furman St.] would affect views that people have now,” she said, referring to the condo conversion of a former watchtower Bible & Tract Society book and video plant on Furman Street between Joralemon Street and Atlantic Avenue as part of the park plan. The developer has been told he can add up to two stories to that building.

Down the block a 30-story condo tower would be built.

“Depending on where [the developer] is going to put [the addition] is this now going to be more a view-blocking factor? That’s what we’re worried about,” she said.

Francis said none of her neighbors’ concerns has been addressed by the BHA, BBPDC or Conservancy, including whether or not Joralemon Street would be closed to traffic, as originally considered.

Stanton said she couldn’t imagine the street would be able to stay open, even with 940 new condominium units at its base.

“Somebody’s going to tell me I’m naïve, but we’ll just push right back,” if the city insists on keeping the street open. “The way they put it at the BBPDC, [they] can’t close Joralemon Street, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has to do that, but there are going to be a lot of people pushing the DOT. I believe the elected officials will push. So until I’m told absolutely no, I’m going to believe it’s not unrealistic.”

Updated 8:59 pm, April 5, 2011
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: