A fiery crowd packed yesterday's Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation board meeting to oppose two controversial buildings slated to be built near Pier 6 along the East River. Land at the far western end of Atlantic Avenue has long been earmarked for the project, which follows One Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pierhouse, and the John Street condos in the line of structures whose revenue helps fund the park.
Opposition to the two buildings, for which 14 competing designs were unveiled yesterday, has been unbelievably vocal; it's no surprise that at yesterday's meeting this camp, bearing signs and crowding the room, called for a reevaluation of the park's funding needs and mechanisms. (They've already sued to try to halt the development.) While Corporation ultimately voted not to reassess the park's funding, it did agree to commission an updated environmental review for the Pier 6 area.
The anti-Pier 6 neighbors take issue with two things. First, many are against the affordable housing that will occupy part of the proposed towers. (Needless to say, a lot of people find that stance repulsive, well summarized by a Brooklyn Bridge Park kayak program head who penned this Business Insider op-ed.) Second, and less controversially, others believe that the park's green space shouldn't be marred by any more development, especially because buildings like One Brooklyn Bridge Park have been so profitable.
A 2002 city agreement requires the park be self-sustaining. And more monies are necessary, fundraisers say, because more than 25 percent of the park still needs to be built, the piers beneath it are deteriorating, and current coffers are not expected to meet future needs. The two parcels at hand near Pier 6 were approved for development under a 2006 plan. The de Blasio administration, projecting that the buildings would actually generate more money than the park needed, announced in May that 30 percent of the new buildings would be set for affordable housing. When the prospect of building affordable housing on land devoted to creating a funding stream came up at a previous board meeting, those in favor of maximizing park space and minimizing development questioned the need for the additional housing at all. And since, then a lawsuit has been filed and a petition against the buildings has earned nearly 3,400 signatures.
That opposition turned out in full force at yesterday's board meeting. Speakers during the public comment session supported reevaluating the 2006 plan and seeking alternative funding sources. They cited the pressure that new residents would have on infrastructure and schools. They said the park, built on the site of industrial piers a decade ago, has been so successful already that more residents on the perimeter would exacerbate crowding. There was some shouting from the audience about height, but view blockage wasn't as central a theme as much as preserving park space. Some likened the Pier 6 waterfront project, whose RFP attracted quite a few star architects, to putting buildings in Central Park. And it was suggested that the borough has other potential spaces for the city's affordable housing goals.
Despite all of those arguments against, most board members remained unmoved. "This park has already become an icon, and now people are complaining it's too crowded," said board member Joanne Witty, speaking to the reliability of the current funding model while throwing a little jab at the complainers.
"In the absence of a government funding commitment, housing is the best option to provide the funds necessary to build and maintain Brooklyn Bridge Park," said Alexandra Bowie, who is not a board member but serves as president of the Brooklyn Heights Association.
Managing to straddle both sides of the debate, State Senator Daniel Squadron pushed for extended time to preach for a reevaluation. "As a policy matter, if any housing were to be built, it should be affordable," Squadron said, "but I never believed housing should be built in a park."
His plea earned much applause, but some board members rebuffed it, calling his ideas part of an exhausted campaign. Squadron's successful negotiation for an extension of the process for a couple of years to find alternative funding sources for the park led to no gold, said board member Henry Gutman. "The alternatives were explored, they didn't materialize," he said.
Opponents in the crowd did win a bit of sympathy from the board. One member, John Raskin, held that since the last environmental review was conducted in 2005, and the general plan used now was modified and accepted in 2006, that Brooklyn has grown and those in power at City Hall have changed. Plus, there are factors like Hurricane Sandy's flooding of One Brooklyn bridge Park to take into account when considering building more new housing. "It's time to do a new assessment to the housing plan at Pier 6 and to do a comprehensive review that's able to look at all the things that are different from 10 years ago, and that we didn't know 10 years ago when the plan was created," Raskin said. "We should only be raising the revenue that we need and not doing it just for development's sake."
The board voted down the motion for reevaluation 10 to 3. But Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation president Regina Myer did say that although the board will not reopen the general plan, it will seek out an updated environmental review for Pier 6. She gave no timeline for the study. As long as the lawsuit from community members looms, though, the board cannot make a final decision on Pier 6's future.
The 14 buzzed-about designs submitted by architects and revealed yesterday have yet to be discussed at a public meeting. A committee will be setting up meetings for public input on those renderings after Labor Day, Myer told reporters. "We really want to hear the community input on the design of the project," she said.
· Designs Unveiled for Controversial Brooklyn Bridge Park Sites [Curbed]
· Piers, Parks and Why White People Suck [BI]
· The Battle of Brooklyn Bridge Park [NYT]
· Neighbors Sue to Prevent Housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park [Curbed]
· Brooklyn Bridge Park Seeks Developer For Final Condo Site [Curbed]
· All Brooklyn Bridge Park coverage [Curbed]