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Brooklyn Bridge Park Funding Questioned Yet Again as Pier 6 Vote Looms

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Opposing sides continue to face off over the stalled development

The seemingly endless battle over housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park just keeps on keepin' on, even as several of the planned developments—One John Street and Pierhouse, along with the 1 Hotel—prepare to open their doors this year. The latest skirmish is over Pier 6, the final phase of residential development in the park: Two planned towers would have hundreds of apartments (some of which would be affordable), which the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC) says is necessary for the continued operation and funding of the park. "The need to fund the park and bring affordable housing to this neighborhood is urgent," a spokesperson for the mayor's office, Austin Finian, told the Wall Street Journal.

But recently, Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency working with the city and the BBPC on the plan, withdrew its support, questioning both the addition of affordable housing and the community response to the plan. (The fact that developer RAL contributed to De Blasio's scandal-plagued, now-shuttered Campaign for One New York before it was selected for the project didn't help.) But the city has promised to move forward, despite continued opposition from community organizations. A new plan for Pier 6, release this week, calls for fewer apartments, including 100 that will be deemed affordable. The BBPC will vote on that next week, despite community opposition.

It's not the first time that opposing sides have faced off over the development at Pier 6, and as the fight drags on, things get uglier. To quickly recap: On one side, you have the city (the Bloomberg administration first, and now Mayor de Blasio) and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, the non-profit responsible for the park's day-to-day operations and financial decisions.

On the other, you have Brooklyn Heights NIMBYs along with several community organizations, led by Save Pier 6, which itself comprises three groups: the Brooklyn Heights Association, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, and People for Green Space Foundation, which is responsible for the 2014 lawsuit against housing on the pier (which was eventually settled out of court). City Council members Steven Levin and Daniel Squadron have also voiced their opposition to the plan.

In February, the groups aligned under the Save Pier 6 banner released a privately-funded analysis, which they said offered proof that the BBPC is underestimating the revenue that the already-existing and yet-to-open developments will bring to the park, thus negating the need for the buildings at Pier 6. According to the estimate in their report, BBPC would have a surplus of around $9 million per year from its existing and yet-to-open properties, or about $800 million over the next 50 years. The park relies on the revenue generated from its developments for funding, but Save Pier 6 says that the surplus proves that no further development—namely, Pier 6—is necessary.

The BBPC recently released its own refutation of that analysis, calling the report issued by Save Pier 6 "false" and saying that "does not apply its methodology consistently"; they allege that the analysis is based on bad numbers, and that Rosin Associates, the group that performed the analysis, overestimated the value of land in and around the park (including an "overly aggressive" estimate of how much revenue Empire Stores, the forthcoming office space, will generate). "We've once again demonstrated what we've shown all along: there's no question that the proposed project at Pier 6 is essential to the park's longterm financial stability," a spokesperson for the park told Curbed.

Both sides have also questioned the other's analyses of the park's expenses. A tipster provided Curbed with an email from Ren Richmond, the head of People for Green Space Foundation, to the Department of Finance (with an assist from Squadron, who provided the connection), in which he alleges that the DOF has undervalued the market-rate value of One Brooklyn Bridge Park—where he also happens to own an apartment—thus giving BBPC a lowballed number on which to base its budget. In the email, he asked the DOF to consider the Save Pier 6 report when figuring out the true value of the properties within BBP and beyond.

"What Richmond was advocating was a new way of calculating property taxes on every condominium in New York," a source with knowledge of the issue says. "What it proves is that when they released this report, they knew it wasn't right. They knew their numbers didn't comply with the DOF rules." A resident of One Brooklyn Bridge Park, who spoke with Curbed on the condition of anonymity, also questioned why Richmond would attempt to inflate the market value of the building in which he's a resident. "It's foolish to argue for higher property taxes to support the park," they said. "The original deal is that the additional buildings would play the role. A fully-funded park is in the interest of the city, but it's crucial to protect the value of One Brooklyn Bridge." (Until recently, Richmond sat on the board of the building, but recently resigned his post, citing "recent events at Pier 6 … and the seemingly inevitable litigation," in a posting provided to Curbed.)

While Richmond declined to comment, the Brooklyn Heights Association said in a statement that he "certainly never asked the DOF to alter its methodology." Their statement continues:

How much revenue the BPCC needs to maintain this Park lies at the heart of the Pier 6 dispute. Since the alleged expert retained by BBPC did not make any attempt to use Department of Finance methodology to determine what the revenue stream from as yet unassessed properties in the Park will be, People for Green Space hired an expert with extensive experience as an appraiser, Max Rosin -- who has been retained by the City itself on numerous occasions -- to do that analysis for the coalition. He concluded, in an extensive report, that the Park would have a huge cash surplus over the next 50 years without any housing on Pier 6 whatsoever. His report expressly applies current DOF methodology, and points out that the BBPC's expert did not do that.

But in a letter dated May 11 to the BBPC, the DOF notes that "it does not project values into the future," hence why the current valuation of the Park doesn't take projections for properties like Pierhouse and One John Street into account. The DOF also notes in that letter that the Rosin Associates analysis is inconsistent with the agency's own methodology (DOF figures out market value based on entire buildings; Rosin based their findings on individual units), contrary to what opponents have said. Save Pier 6, meanwhile, is sticking to its $800 million projection, touting that number at a recent public meeting even after it was pointed out as incorrect.

Considering how many times the two sides have now faced off over the Pier 6 development, it's safe to assume that Tuesday's vote won't be the last word on the fate of the development. (And as past events have proven, opponents to the plan are clearly not afraid to get litigious.) The vote happens during a public meeting on Tuesday, so expect both the NIMBYs and the YIMBYs to be out in full force.