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Pier 6 construction plans nitpicked by Brooklyn Heights NIMBYs

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A community resident alleges that the Brooklyn soil could be unstable

If ever there was a neighborhood where the phrase “NIMBYs gonna NIMBY” applies, it’s Brooklyn Heights, and the latest example of that has to do with—no surprises here—the proposed housing that will soon rise at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6. In the past few years, neighborhood residents who are against the development, which will bring 266 apartments across two buildings to the Brooklyn waterfront, have tried all manner of methods to stop the housing from coming: lawsuits, protests, even yelling about how the buildings should be in Williamsburg, not Brooklyn Heights.

The latest tactic has to do with soil—namely, a claim that building into the soil-rich ground on the proposed Pier 6 site would be unstable. At a meeting for the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council, biomedical engineer and CUNY professor Sheldon Weinbaum argued that building the Pier 6 towers will be inherently fraught because of the lack of bedrock on the Brooklyn waterfront. (h/t Brooklyn Eagle) Without bedrock close to the surface, engineers would need to drill well below grade to create a stable foundation for the buildings.

Weinbaum compared the site to San Francisco’s Millennium Tower (using a Curbed San Francisco article, apparently), which has infamously begun sinking; the lethal combination of heavy concrete building and lack of a strong foundation (no bedrock!) has all but doomed the 60-story tower to an eventual Leaning Tower of Pisa fate. Citing a DOB soil report, Weinbaum claimed that the bedrock beneath the Pier 6 site is not even, and “the worst thing you can do is go down and you hit bedrock on one side.” He concluded, “This project needs to be more closely examined.”

But there are a few problems with Weinbaum’s suppositions, namely that many New York City buildings have been constructed by drilling well below grade into bedrock. Construction on the 792-foot-tall Woolworth Building, for instance, required “sinking 69 pneumatic caissons to bedrock 100 to 120 feet below grade,” according to the Cass Gilbert Society. At 155 and 315 feet, the Pier 6 buildings are hardly skyscraper material—and both are shorter than the 645-foot Millennium Tower.

And as David Lowin, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation’s interim president, noted in the meeting, New York City’s Department of Buildings has plenty of experience dealing with construction on soil of varying levels of stability. The DOB “has a whole department full of engineer and regulations that are dozens and dozens of pages that include buildings that are built on tidal wetlands,” he explained. Building on land that’s not close to bedrock, he notes, is “really quite common.”

There’s also the fact that, like many who have been most vocally opposed to the Pier 6 towers, Weinbaum is also a resident of One Brooklyn Bridge Park, the condo building that’s adjacent to the Pier 6 site. That development, which launched sales in 2008, opened as part of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation’s larger general plan: The private developments within the park (i.e. condos and the forthcoming 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge) provide funding for its maintenance and upkeep.

Residents at One BBP, however, have argued—not exactly persuasively—that the park already makes enough money from its existing developments and thus, the Pier 6 buildings don’t need to rise. But considering that many have also complained about losing their views and living near subsidized housing, it casts doubt on the true motivations for the continued battles. (It also makes you wonder what, exactly, differentiates the land that One BBP is built on, considering it’s right next to the Pier 6 site.)

In a statement, Brooklyn Bridge Park spokesperson Belinda Cape said, “This is far from the first time a building of this size has been constructed on the New York City waterfront. The Pier 6 development will of course be built to code and closely monitored by NYC DOB. We are 100 percent confident that the plans for this project will ensure its structural integrity and safety for residents and park visitors.”

And the buildings are moving forward as planned: developers RAL Development Services and Oliver's Realty Group filed plans in October for the two towers, and construction will likely begin sometime next year.