All eyes on the Watchtower — Inside the Brooklyn Bridge Park deal

The Brooklyn Paper
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Brooklyn Bridge Park will have fewer luxury condos inside its waterfront footprint under a deal that would set aside future tax revenues to pay for the park’s $16-million annual upkeep — but how much less housing depends on the timely sale of tax-exempt buildings owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and not controlled by the city.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights) and Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens) accepted a slightly smaller luxury building on John Street in DUMBO in exchange for a Bloomberg Administration flip-flop to allow future tax revenues from the 30 properties owned by the tax-exempt Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to fund the park if those buildings are sold and return to the tax rolls.

If all the buildings are sold, there is a chance that no luxury housing will be needed at Pier 6, where two buildings are still slated to rise.

Squadron hailed the announcement as “a path to complete Brooklyn Bridge Park and address long-standing community concerns about housing on the site,” but opponents slammed the lawmaker for allowing housing inside the park in exchange for the illusion of Watchtower revenues.

“He gained half promises,” said Judi Francis, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, which has opposed housing inside the park development. “There will be housing on John Street [and] there won’t be enough Watchtower property to replace housing on Pier 6.”

Francis may be fighting a battle already lost; controversial luxury housing — and the property taxes that it generates — is seen by many park supporters as the best way to generate the $16-million maintenance budget for the park, which is required to be self-sustaining.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is slowly moving its operations upstate, and the Society does not pay taxes on office buildings, printing plants and residences under controversial federal law that relieves religious organizations of such levies.

Under the new agreement, the more “Watchtower properties” that go on the market, the more the city will scale down its proposed high-rises at Pier 6. But if the properties don’t go on the market by 2014, the city will move forward with its controversial condos.

And no one knows for sure if the religious group — commonly known as The Jehovah’s Witnesses — will sell in time.

“Watchtower has very sellable property,” said real estate legend Chris Havens, “but I think the group will have a presence here forever.”

The city initially opposed Squadron’s call for capturing taxes from the Watchtower buildings for Brooklyn Bridge Park as setting a dangerous precedent that would take money away from vital city services in order to maintain a luxury park in an already-rich neighborhood.

Under the deal, the John Street condo would be reduced from 170 feet to 130 feet and two other towers at Pier 6 could shrink or be cut altogether as the Watchtower properties begin yielding normal city property taxes.

Squadron had previously vowed to veto any future housing developments on John Street and Pier 6 if the city did not yield on Watchtower.

Squadron and Millman won that veto power under the 2010 deal that gave the city control of the park’s construction.

Opponents have long complained that luxury housing inside Brooklyn Bridge Park’s 1.3-mile footprint betrays the very definition of “park,” making the waterfront greenspace merely a backyard for rich developers and their future tenants. But supporters of housing say that their hands are tied because of a 2002 agreement that requires the $350-million park to raise its own maintenance budget so it would not become a drain on city and state coffers.

A committee created this year to examine alternatives to housing failed to unearth enough money to completely take housing off the table.

Updated 4:59 pm, August 4, 2011
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Reasonable discourse

Frank from Furter says:
proof readers would help

"But supports of housing say that their hands are tied because of a 2002 agreement that requires the $350-million park to raise its own maintenance budget so it would not become a drain on city and state coffers."

Don't you mean supporters of housing? and most supporters of the housing are happy with a compromise that lowers the bulk. Its not that most supporters of the housing are happy with the housing but they want a well maintained park with an assured income stream.
Aug. 3, 2011, 10:42 am
al pankin from downtown says:
it's all about the views..the folks who live in the heights want unimpeded views of's their rent controlled right.
Aug. 3, 2011, 11:14 am
Joe from Brooklyn Heights says:
Maybe they should begin looking for people or corporations that may sponsor the park in turn for maintaining it.
Aug. 3, 2011, 12:32 pm
Bill from Boerum Hill says:
What did they think they were going to get with Squadron? It is a housing project and he is a politician who, like all of them, cater to real estate developers. 'Nuf said. Bad deal for Brooklyn. There doesn't need to be any housing in this park to pay for it.
Aug. 3, 2011, 1:32 pm
Frank from Furter says:
Actually Al, It is mostly people from Cobble Hill who are complaining. The view plain from Brooklyn Heights is Landmarked and all the construction of any height is outside the view plane and should have no effect at all.

I happened to read the Wall Street Article on this and the two quotes were from Judi Francis and Roy Sloane(as the community leader) aren't they married?
Aug. 3, 2011, 3:13 pm
al from downtown says:
Nope, people all over the city are complaining about putting housing in a park. It ain't about views of Cobble Hill or any neighborhood - that is silly. It is about park land. Land we own. I don't want people living inside my park. You want a tower in Central Park? Squadron is a dope, just like Millman.
Aug. 5, 2011, 3:35 am
Madge from Gowanus says:
Housing inside park? I'm with Al. Imagine housing in Prospect or central Park. A sweet deal for developers, that's for sure - and for the lucky people who will get to live in the park. But not for the people in general.
Aug. 5, 2011, 9 pm
Frank from Furter says:
Ah revisionist history. When the Park was authorized in 2002, it was with the understanding that the Park for operational expenses would be self-sufficient so it would NOT draw money from the Parks Department budget-which was already strained-and from other parks. We aren't talking about the parks that had been in existence but a brand new park. The City and the State agreed to use the vehicle of the ESDC to do that and that each would contribute 50% of the Capital money. The state appointed what could nicely be described as not that most competent people who wasted millions of dollars(IMO). When costs rose, as have done on every project since the Hoover Dam(which came in under budget)...The State because of its money crisis refused/could not give any more money. The City which had already allowed 360 Fuhrman street to be added to the park(it wasn't originally) said we will only give more money if the operational budget was assured. First there is already residential in the park. The model that is being used is not that unusual anymore and Battery Park City PILOT money is used for the Hudson River Park, the East River Park and Governors Island(the stipulation in Battery Park City's money is that it has to be used in Manhattan-and Governors Island is part of New York County since the 1800's). No one is talking about Central Park or Prospect Park(although a lot of private money is used in Central Park for a lot of non-union labor)...

Most of the people complaining are in Cobble Hill. That is where they come from. The special park district that would have taxed people within a certain distance(also proposed by Senator Squadron would have excluded these people from paying and was a non-starter anyway.
Aug. 6, 2011, 2:54 pm

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