Opposition Coalition Split on Park Housing Deal

Pier 1 Request for Proposals Issued Thursday

Photo by Mike Plotz

By Mary Frost

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS – An opposing coalition quickly rejected the new housing plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park after it was announced on Tuesday, but some of its long-time members have swung their support behind the compromise.

“Two 300-foot towers at Pier 6, in the middle of two beautiful historic districts, would be intolerable,” said Dorothy Siegel, the 52nd Assembly District Leader for the Working Families Party. Siegel is a long-time member and an officer of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, the coalition that has fought private housing in the park for years.

“Daniel Squadron and Joan Millman were able to potentially eliminate three-quarters of the housing in the park,” she said. “If Squadron had vetoed the plan, we would have lost the recreation and the $11 million that the mayor cut [which is now restored because of the deal]. The city would not have been obligated to do any more work in the park.”

Siegel says that the deal “is a pragmatic thing. Now the opposition can work towards the elimination of those Pier 6 buildings with the sale of the Watchtower buildings, and can help to get them zoned residential.”

Her friend and president of the coalition, Judi Francis, however, released a statement Tuesday excoriating the agreement. “In today’s secret, back-room deal, Mayor Bloomberg exacted a high ransom from Brooklynites,” she said. “We urge Senator Squadron to use his veto over housing. Period.”

Among those who joined Francis was DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance President Doreen Gallo. “Senator Squadron, Councilman Steve Levin and Councilman Brad Lander all campaigned on a ‘no more housing inside Brooklyn Bridge Park’ platform. Did they misspeak or did they simply lack courage at the eleventh hour to go through with their pledge to their constituents?”

“I can’t imagine a more open process,” John Raskin, Sen. Squadron’s appointee to the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, told the Brooklyn Eagle Thursday. “All of the things we won in the agreement are things that we’ve been pushing publicly for months, if not years. Using alternate revenue sources to take housing out of the park, including the Watchtower properties as a way to replace housing, getting the park built and adding the recreational amenities the community wants – we’ve been saying for years that these are our priorities for Brooklyn Bridge Park.”

Assemblywoman Millman, in a statement to the Brooklyn Eagle on Thursday, said, “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.”

Hinges On Selling Watchtower Properties by 2014

The deal approves a scaled-down building on John Street in north Brooklyn Bridge Park, in return for the possibility that that less park housing – or no housing altogether — would be built on Pier 6. This could only happen if nearby Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower properties were rezoned residential and sold by January 1, 2014. Payments in lieu of taxes from these rezoned buildings would go to maintain the park. (See Tuesday’s story by Dennis Holt at www.brooklyneagle.com.)

If the Watchtower properties are not rezoned and sold by that date, however, the city will release requests for proposals for two large residential buildings on Pier 6.

Opponents of the plan feel that the odds of selling the Watchtower properties by 2014 are small, especially with today’s economic headwinds. But insiders say that Watchtower has added incentives to push through a sale before the deadline because a rezoning would be less controversial during this period, and because local supporters and officials are now lined up behind the plan. However, this advantage could fizzle after the next election.

Watchtower spokesperson Richard Devine told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday, “We are not announcing anything at the present time but we are definitely looking at [selling by the deadline] with interest.” He added, “I don’t have very much to say at this point — but we are aware of the MOU (Memo of Understanding) between Sen. Squadron, Assemblywoman Millman and the city.”

Under the deal’s formula, for every square foot of Watchtower property that is rezoned residential and sold by January 1, 2014, the buildings at Pier 6 would be reduced by 0.30 square feet. “If the Watchtower sells 1.5 million square feet, that will reduce the need for 400,000 square feet on Hicks and Atlantic and we won’t need to build those towers,” Siegel said.

Importantly, the 2014 deadline puts the decision into the hands of the next mayor, Siegel said. “Judy disagrees, but I’ll take my chances with the next mayor. Will the next mayor want to build housing at [Pier 6]?

“Plus, the agreement puts in the recreational amenities we want soon, like the swimming pool and tennis courts. Damn it, we want recreation!”

Pier 1 Request for Proposals Issued Thursday

In any case, a hotel and a residential development will be built at Pier 1 near the Brooklyn Bridge – and the city wasted no time in announcing a Request for Proposals (RFP) on Thursday.

The RFP seeks developers to build and operate the project, which includes a 170-225-room hotel, 150-180 units of housing, and a restaurant. The project also includes parking facilities, park restrooms and park support facilities.

Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel said in a statement Thursday, “This Request for Proposals represents a unique opportunity to build a world-class hotel and residential development in one of New York City’s most exciting neighborhoods.”

Regina Myer, president of Brooklyn Bridge Park said, “The hotel and residential component represent a critical element of our park maintenance plan and the development’s amenities will benefit all park users for decades to come.”

(The Request for Proposals can be found on the official park website at: www.brooklynbridgeparknyc.org )

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