By Dennis Holt
A compromise arrangement for housing in Brooklyn Bridge park was approved Tuesday by the park’s board of directors in a meeting at City Hall.
To meet objections of those who had opposed private housing as a park revenue source, a formula was agreed to that would prospectively tap into revenues from a possible sale and conversion of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ properties into residential use.
The current plan calls for a hotel and some housing to be built at Pier 1 near the Brooklyn Bridge. A request for proposals (RFP) is expected to be released this month. In addition, an apartment building will be built near John Street in the DUMBO part of the park, with about 13 stories, not 17 as originally planned.
Payments in lieu of taxes from residencies at One Brooklyn Bridge Park on Furman Street will continue to be a major revenue source.
The original plan called for two residential units on Pier 6, off Atlantic Avenue, but how big they will be, or if they will be built at all, depends on unknown developments involving properties owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses above Piers 1 and 2.
People opposed to housing inside the park, whose stance was championed by State Sen. Daniel Squadron, have long promoted the prospect of using the Witness properties, converted to residential use, as a revenue source. But what kind of revenue formula, how to relate those properties to the Pier 6 buildings, and what kind of timetable is practical had to be worked out.
Those issues have been resolved, and a veto threat by Sen. Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman has been averted.
The first issue was a timetable. Buildings owned by the Witnesses’ Watchtower organization have to be sold by January 1, 2014, in order to be put to park revenue use.
How to relate the Watchtower properties to the Pier 6 buildings?
An equation has been determined. For every square foot of Watchtower property that is rezoned residential and sold, the building space at Pier 6 would be reduced by 0.30 square feet. One source estimates that fully 1.5 million square feet of Witness property would have to be sold to completely eliminate the Pier 6 buildings.
The plan anticipates that the tax revenue from the sold Watchtower properties would replace the payments in lieu of taxes from the Pier 6 buildings.
In a statement released by the city, Sen. Squadron said: “By reducing or eliminating housing and requiring Watchtower and other alternatives to be used, we have dramatically changed the plan. We found a path to complete Brooklyn Bridge Park and address long-standing community concerns about housing on the site. This agreement also increases amenities and gets the park built faster.”
Squadron also mentioned that “we won many amenities for the community and park users: a temporary pool for at least the next five summers, a Pier 5 recreational ‘bubble’ that will make the park usable in the winter, an ice skating rink, two tennis courts, and 2,200 feet of community space.”
“The new memo of understanding guarantees that a long-term revenue stream is in place to pay for the park’s annual maintenance and allows the next phases of construction to move forward,” Assemblywoman Millman said.
“This agreement is a win-win — it allows our magnificent Brooklyn Bridge Park to be financially self-sustaining while ensuring that the next stages of construction can move forward,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.
As mentioned by Squdron, the new plan includes some new park features previously unknown. For the next five summers at least, there will be a swimming pool of some kind during the summer. It is known that park planners would very much like to include a floating pool as a permanent feature of the new park.
There will also be on Pier 5 an ice skating rink in the winter protected by a bubble and an open roller skating rink during the warm weather months. Many community activists have long proposed such amenities.
So, one can add August 2, 2011, to the memorable dates of Brooklyn Bridge Park. There have been many.
Mary Frost and Henrik Krogius contributed to this report.