It may not have been on the agenda of Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation's (BBP) board meeting on Friday, but for protesterssome of whom dressed up in Zorro-style black masks for the occasiontwo proposed towers near Pier 6 in Brooklyn Heights took center stage. The waterfront park's extensive construction and upgrades over the past few years will be almost entirely completed by 2017. However, if some vocal local groups have anything to do with it, those two contested residential buildings will not be a part of the finished product.
One of the buildings would be quite tall by Brooklyn Heights' standards—rising to 31 stories; the other would stand at 15. But protesters who spoke out at the packed meeting, didn't see height as the issue, rather they didn't think there should be any housing in the park at all. A member of the Community Advisory Council (CAC) to that park's corporation, Sandy Balboza, stated that she wasn't opposed to housing, affordable or otherwise, but believes the neighborhood needs parkland. We "don't want to privatize the park," she said.
The current Memorandum of Understanding between Brooklyn Bridge Park and the state requires the park to be financially self-sustaining, because of this BBP insists that the revenue from the residential towers is necessary to operate and maintain the park. CAC and other community groups disagree and assert that it already has more than enough revenue to operate for years to come.
In fact, some protesters at the meeting believed that the financial information that the board released was deliberately misleading to justify building those towers in the park. A member of advocacy group People for Green Space Foundation, Henry Richmond, pointed out that the park's financial analysis provided only one year of revenue and didn't take into account multiple tax breaks set to expire in a few years that would provide millions in additional returns for Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The CAC also claimed that the board has not been transparent enough and has requested that it "release specific financial information so that the community and board can analyze it."
In response, BBP president Regina Myer defended the release of financial information, stating that "the board is fully apprised of current financials" and that all of the information is on the website, including audits.
But the drama surrounding transparency played out another front: choosing developers. Enter the masked activists.
The 14 people wearing black masks represented the 14 developers whose identity BBP has refused to identify, even though the architectural designs for all the buildings' possible iterations have been widely circulated. Build Up NYC, a pro-labor group whose mission includes promoting responsible development, brought the concealed contingent to the meeting. They don't object to the towers, but want to ensure that the developer chosen to build them will have a good relationship with workers.
Construction worker Ethier Lopez spoke on behalf of the group. "The Pier 6 RFP stated that developers will only be considered if they have a 'proven track record of labor harmony on previous projects,'" he continued "How can the public hold you accountable to live up to what is in the RFP if you insist on hiding the information about the names of the developers… who are these developers? What is the big secret? Why are their identities being concealed?"
Anthony Carbonier also spoke on behalf of Build Up NYC and raised safety concerns, citing construction accidents at Pierhouse, the hotel-condo rising near Pier 1. "Unfortunately at Pier 1, BBP selected a development team that did not have harmonious labor relations. What's more, these developers proceeded to hire an irresponsible construction contractor at Pier 1 called Hudson Meridian… In September 2014 alone there were 2 separate accidents, 2 worker injuries, 3 separate partial stop orders and a $13,300 OSHA fine for unsafe activity." Carbonier also called on BBP to name the developers.
In response, Myer said that the board has refused to release the names of the developers due to ongoing negotiations. "It's really about us having the ability to negotiate and get the best deal. I feel if the names were revealed it would change the nature of the negotiations." She affirmed that as soon as negotiations ended the developer would be disclosed.
The negotiations have been ongoing for months already, and there's an ongoing lawsuit neighbors filed in July. The park's board will not be able to move forward with the proposed towers until the legal issues are resolved. That almost certainly means more impassioned pleas for transparency—with or without the masks.
· Squabble Over Brooklyn Bridge Park Towers Continues [Curbed]
· Can Tax Increases Fund the Future of Brooklyn Bridge Park? [Curbed]
· Brooklyn Bridge Park To Proceed With Contested Pier 6 Towers [Curbed]
· 14 Designs Unveiled for Controversial Brooklyn Bridge Park Sites [Curbed]
· Neighbors Sue to Prevent Housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park [Curbed]
· Affordable Housing May Be Coming to Brooklyn Bridge Park [Curbed]
· Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 6 Towers Could Take These Shapes [Curbed]
· De Blasio Asked to Halt Possible Residential Towers at Pier 6 [Curbed]
· All Brooklyn Bridge Park coverage [Curbed]