State officials have slammed the brakes on a controversial plan to eviscerate part of historic Brooklyn Heights in order to modernize the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, conceding on Wednesday night that the shocking scheme is untenable.
A week after our exclusive report that the state was considering condemning buildings in the northern part of the neighborhood as part of a long-term project to widen the roadway, the Department of Transportation announced that it would simply need to buy too many homes and businesses near Willow and Middagh streets.
When they finally did a ground survey, state inspectors discovered that 300-400 residential units and 80 commercial properties would need to be condemned, admitted Peter King, a project manager overseeing the $300-million first phase of the renovation of the BQE between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street.
“You cannot talk about an alternative that runs roughshod in a neighborhood, regardless of what benefits you might have,” King told a stakeholders group that met at St. Francis College on Remsen Street.
The announcement drew sighs of relief through the Heights and beyond.
“This would have been an environmental disaster,” said Remsen Street resident Stephen Wood.
Aaron Karp said he was considering buying a condo in One Brooklyn Bridge Park on Furman Street — until he learned that the tony building may have been clipped by a widened BQE.
“I’m relieved tonight,” he said.
The eminent domain scenario was part of an array of designs being considered by the state on its way to hatch a final plan to reconstruct the triple-cantilever portion of the BQE, which was built more than 50 years ago and is well into its death throes.
But just because homes in the northern Heights have been saved, doesn’t mean that eminent domain is off the table.
That’s because other possible scenarios to cure the aging highway include lower-impact designs that would involve little new construction and no property takings, but also three tunnel alignments that would involve property takings at the south end of the tube, at Kane Street in Cobble Hill, and at the northern portal at North Portland Avenue in Fort Greene.
“Depending on what we do, there may need to be takings,” King said. “Eminent domain is a tool, but taking away property is a very serious issue.”
Indeed, when the BQE was first constructed in 1954, historic Brooklyn Heights homes on Columbia Heights were razed to make room for the highway.
But King said the agency plans to proceed very cautiously.
“Let’s just say that it has been used before — and let’s not make any assumptions if it can be used again,” he said.
A final configuration and design isn’t due until 2018, with construction to begin shortly thereafter. Final costs are unknown.
“No matter what we do, it ain’t going to be cheap,” King said.