In the ongoing battle to preserve views of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn Promenade, advocacy group Save the View Now (STVN) unveiled its legal team and strategy to a packed town hall meeting last night. Brooklyn Heights residents are boiling mad over construction of Toll Brothers' Pierhouse development which, according to STVN, has exceeded the 100 foot height restriction set in Brooklyn Bridge Park's 2005 General Project Plan by about 30 feet, therefore blocking a significant portion of the view of the bridge. As such, they have succeeded in getting a Temporary Restraining Order to partially stop construction at the site, and during the meeting, the legal team outlined the five-point plan that they presented to a judge last month.
The project consists of two sections: Parcel A, the northern most part of the development, which includes a hotel and part of the condos, and parcel B, the southern section which is only condos. The TRO affects the latter. Save the View Now is determined to keep Parcel B, the shorter southern piece, in line with its 50-foot height restriction. The TRO was taken as a small victory and applauded by many residents at the meeting. It's also the first step in a process that they hope will stop construction altogether pending a full review.
Eschewing representation from a pricey NYC law firm, Steven Guterman, founder of STVN, has chosen Jeffrey Baker of Young/Summer from Albany, NY to represent the group in court. Baker has extensive experience in environmental, zoning, and land use law and is a member of the executive committee of the environmental law section of the NYS Bar Association. There are also legal experts offering their services to the group pro-bono, among them is Jenny Donaker who explained the latest updates in the lawsuit STVN has brought against the City of New York, Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, Empire State Development Corporation, Toll Brothers Real Estate, and Starwood Mortgage Capital LLC.
Donaker, who described the views of Brooklyn Bridge as being taken "from the public" and given "to the highest bidder," outlined the five points STVN presented to the judge for declaration at its May 18th hearing, when a judge extended the TRO by 45 days. The points are:
1) Declare that parcel A and B are in violation of the General Project Plan.
2) Declare that parcel A must adhere to a 100-foot height restriction and parcel B to a 50-foot height restriction, inclusive of mechanicals AND that the height must be measured from the sidewalk. Mechanicals do not count toward a building's official height, and currently, the building on parcel A does stop at 100 feet, but there is a 30-foot bulkhead on top of that.
3) Declare that parcel A was illegally shifted further south (which blocks even more of the view of the bridge).
4) Declare that construction be stopped in the event that it violates height limitations.
5) Remove and rectify all parts of the development that have already been built to bring it into accordance with height limitations.
The next step would be to get a preliminary injunction filed against the developers so construction can be stopped indefinitely. At the hearing, the defendants argued that none of these points should be considered as the statute of limitations for objections has long passed. Guterman thinks that argument is ludicrous since he says there was a lack of transparency on the part of the defendants all along.
In any event, STVN will hear the outcome to its latest motion soon, since the judge hopes to make a decision within a month. In the meantime, STVN can not only draw upon the support of fired-up residents but politicians who sit on BBP's board—the very board they are currently suing. Stephen Levin, councilman of Brooklyn's 33rd district attended the meeting and encouraged STVN to keep up the fight, "I strongly encourage you to keep going with this because it's a legitimate issue," he said. Levin also pointed out that he'd requested that BBP comply with the Community Advisory Council's (CAC) motion that it provide full financials to the public but was told it "wouldn't come up for a vote." While one resident demanded to know why he hadn't done more to stop the construction, Levin acknowledged his hands were tied since he's only one vote out of 17—nine of which come from people appointed by the mayor. As such, it's a "de facto mayoral-controlled board," said Levin.
This is why STVN is looking to put pressure on the mayor as part of its overall strategy to keep those buildings at Pier 1 low and the view of Brooklyn Bridge free.ESDC, is controlled by the governor so the group encouraged residents to put pressure on Governor Cuomo as well with letters and phone calls.
Citing the Brooklyn Bridge's designation in some circles as the eighth wonder of the world and the view of it as the only protected scenic view in all of NYC, Donaker believes it's worth fighting for. "What could be more valuable than that?" she said.
· All Pierhouse coverage [Curbed]