At last night's raucous meeting of the Community Advisory Council (CAC) of Brooklyn Bridge Park, residents attacked the under-construction hotel/condo Pierhouse on several fronts. Tensions ran high from the very beginning—even the half hour the CAC dedicated to committee business unrelated to Pierhouse proved to be too much for many who wanted to express their displeasure with Pierhouse right away. One man shot up interrupting a CAC member mid-sentence to say, "We don't have time for this!" While the committee member tried to reassure him that they had time to get to everything, another woman shouted, "You do, but we don't!"
At issue is the height of the hotel/condo building at the north end of the park next to Pier 1. For months now, residents have argued that it significantly blocks the view of Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn promenade and maintaining the views was expressly what was promised in the RFP, according to Steven Guterman, founder of advocacy group Save the View Now.
Specifically, Guterman pointed out that because the southern wall of Parcel A (the hotel portion of the Pierhouse) was too close to the promenade, a different base plane was used that resulted in the hotel being 3.5 feet higher. Combined with a bulkhead of 30 feet on the top of the structure, the Guterman and co. say the building has exceeded the 100-foot cap of the original designs and is "devastating" to the views from the promenade. To shore up his argument, he showed comparison slides, which illustrated how much of the Brooklyn Bridge was obscured with each additional height adjustment. When Guterman came to the slide that showed what the Pierhouse actually looks like now, it was met with boos and hisses from the audience. He also decried the loss of the river views from Squibb Park. Guterman ended by asking BBP to explain why these changes had been made and why there was no new environmental impact statement in the wake of those changes, to which residents responded in dramatic fashion with hearty applause and a standing ovation.
UPDATE: A spokesperson for BBP Corp. sent over this statement: "While presenting photos of Pierhouse from Squibb Park is great fodder for riling up a crowd, maintaining an unobstructed river view from Squibba view that only existed from 2010-2014was never part of the plan to build Pierhouse, which will provide critical funding to keep the park safe and well-maintained for millions of visitors for years to come."
In response, David Lowin, Vice President of Real Estate with the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation had the unenviable task of explaining and justifying the height changes to the skeptical audience. He emphasized that "height on buildings is a little more complicated" than measuring height on humans—the audience protested immediately, but Lowin continued undeterred. He acknowledged that the building is higher than 100 feet, but is legal based on zoning restrictions.
First, the base plane had to be raised because of Hurricane Sandy which now puts the building in a flood plane. Second, there was no clear indication in the General Project Plan drawn up in 2005 (when the project was first conceived) whether bulkheads were included in the height restriction or not. Therefore, when BBP approached city officials on the issue they said they could use zoning codes for the area, which allows for the additional height. However, to minimize the obstruction of the view, the bulkhead had been placed on the northern wall. He pointed out that the goal of the project was at the very least to maintain the views allowed by the old Cold Storage Warehouse that was demolished to make way for the Pierhouse and in some areas improve the views. At this point Lowin attempted to strengthen his argument with a slide show of his own. But when animated slides came up showing the view from yesteryear vs. now, residents' emotions boiled over. A woman yelled from the back of the room, "Aren't you even a little embarrassed?"
One CAC member described being "surprised and betrayed" by the design, which seemed to sum up what many in attendance were feeling. But Lowin countered that each and every change made to the design had been presented to the committee, including several times in 2011, again in 2012 when the design was 30 percent complete and most recently in September 2013 when it was 75 percent complete. President of BBP Corp., Regina Myer agreed, "We were always very clear."
Another CAC member was willing to acknowledge that the designs were presented to the community, but he didn't realize how much the views would be obstructed. He said BBP Corp. perhaps assumed the committee "knew more than it did" and apologized to the residents for not objecting sooner. But he was quickly struck down by another CAC member who basically said the onus was fully on BBP Corp. to adhere to what was agreed to in the early stages and keep Pierhouse low enough to maintain the views so they wouldn't now be "stuck picking the best parts of something that's atrocious."
While the bulk of the meeting was devoted to objections to the Pierhouse project based on height, the P.S. 8 Parent-Teacher Association also presented their own reasons for condemning development on the whole at Brooklyn Bridge Park: school overcrowding.
In their presentation they cited that P.S. 8 was already beyond capacity and had cut pre-K just to allow more classrooms to be available for grades K-5. Even without the estimated 298 elementary school-aged children BBP development would bring area schools would still be operating at 135 percent capacity by 2017 and with the development 144 percent capacity. The presentation also pointed out that it would be the affordable housing residents that would be hardest hit since they could least afford to send their children to private schools.
Taken together, CAC had more than enough ammunition to pass a searing resolution against Pierhouse and all future development in Brooklyn Bridge Park. They cited four demands:
1) The halting of all construction in Brooklyn Bridge Park, including the housing on Pier 6.
2) That BBP Corp. fulfill CAC's previous motion of providing all financial information relating to operation and maintenance of the park.
3) The creation of a new Environmental Impact Statement as it relates to school overcrowding, transit issues and flooding.
4) A new General Project Plan and/or ULURP-based plan based on that EIS.
In the meantime, the Department of Buildings has issued a partial stop work order on Parcel B (the condominium) to ensure it abides by SV-1 zoning codes. But Save the View Now vows to fight on with regard to Parcel A. And while Regina Myer expressed her commitment to talking to the community and answering questions as they arose, it seems as if residents are too angry to even hear what she has to say. Interrupting a reporter, one man told Myer, "You didn't have to allow this!" "You did such a great job building the park but…you totally messed up on this issue which is very, very sad."
· All Pierhouse coverage [Curbed]
· View-Blocking Pierhouse Called 'the Worst Building' in NYC [Curbed]
· Pierhouse Won't Proceed as Controversial Height Is Examined [Curbed]