The Bloomberg administration’s goal of assuming control of the development of Brooklyn Bridge Park from the state and infusing it with $55 million has not assuaged critics who don’t want to see luxury condos erected on site of the public park – even if it amounts to only 10 percent of the acreage.
Downright incredulous and aghast is how many who packed an unsuitably cramped Long Island College Hospital conference room earlier this week for a meeting with Parks Department officials reacted as city officials held steadfast to the creation of private housing as a means of covering the public park’s projected $15 million annual maintenance costs.
“I don’t understand how you can proceed as if the last 15 months [of economic decline] have not happened,” one exasperated observer declared.
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe insisted that the city is actually open to other sources of revenue to fund the new park, but subsequent statements by both he and other administration officials at the meeting rendered that declaration dubious at best.
“We believe that housing is the right solution,” an aide to Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber said at one point.
Benepe elicited audible moans and groans when he suggested “Many parks are boarded by very tall housing.”
“That’s just the nature of parks,” the commissioner offered. “The housing is at the edge of the site and it’s always been intended that way. That’s just the way it is.”
Parts of Pier 1 are expected to open in January, according to officials.
“We know it’s going to be beautiful,” grassroots activist Judi Francis said. “But we know it’s going to be dysfunctional if you don’t listen to us and put in the amenities we want, and if you don’t re-look at the numbers because it doesn’t make sense to put 90 percent of your eggs in the housing basket.”
Critics welcomed talk of including more outdoor amenities to the overall park plan but also jeered other features deemed superfluous like a planned “wave attenuating” element for kayakers.
State Senator Daniel Squadron organized the meeting in hopes of “lowering the temperature” and “arrive at a more shared vision.”
The freshman legislature is floating an alternative funding plan of his own to meet the parks maintenance costs that would recapture revenues expected to be generated by increased property values within a .4 mile radius of the park.
"The city said very clearly they would consider alternatives to housing and that is new to hear them say," Squadron said.
On Monday night, Benepe dismissed the creation of a Brooklyn Bridge Park conservancy as another possible source of funding for the fledgling project saying the area “lacks a concentration of wealth” needed to sustain the park.
Critics, who say they have advocated for a new public park on the waterfront for years but now feel they are being cut out of the official government planning process, also expressed displeasure with a new governance model for the park that envisions the formation of a community advisory committee made up of appointees by local elected officials to help steward the park’s further development.
They point to Atlantic Yards as an example of a major development project proceeding without any meaningful input from the public.
Assemblyman Joan Millman suggested that this time around, elected officials like herself, at least, would have to be notified about changes to park plans.
“Since the city is committing to the funding of the rest of Brooklyn Bridge Park it’s only reasonable that we expect to a greater level of control over management of the park,” Benepe said.
If successful in gaining control of the project city officials again stressed that they would “seriously look at any serious proposal” to fund the park. But added, “There is a time limit here – we are tying to move ahead with the park.”
For his part, Cobble Hill Association President Roy Sloane said that his group will continue to work against housing inside Brooklyn Bridge Park, but that he now sees a “shift in direction.”
“At least we’re moving people down to the park,” Sloane said.