WHO KNEW! Residents slam park planners over ‘non-publicized’ meeting

Residents slam park planners over ‘non-publicized’ meeting

The Brooklyn Paper
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Brooklyn Bridge Park planners were chastised this week by community members who said they might have viewed a model and presentation of park plans had they only known of the March 3 public meeting.

Instead, publicity by the Empire State Development Corporation in its “ongoing effort to provide information and solicit and incorporate public input,” according to a press release by the state authority, resulted in only 12 community members attending the meeting in Fort Greene.

The meeting, only the second public display of the planned waterfront open space, commercial and housing development since it was announced last December, was held outside any of the neighborhoods that would border the park — Vinegar Hill, DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill — where interest in the plan is high.

Although giant sketches and images were propped on easels that lined the hallways at PS 287, at 50 Navy St. at Nassau Street, on Thursday, and a folding table outside the school auditorium was dressed with an attendance sheet and informational folders, something was missing. Nearly half an hour after the presentation was due to begin, at 6:30 pm, it became evident what had been overlooked: an audience.

“It’s unfortunate that residents from Ingersoll and Whitman houses are not here, but I hope I can work with you to provide outreach of those residents,” said Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents Fort Greene including the public housing developments near where the meeting was held. “All of them should have an opportunity to view this.”

Neither Wendy Leventer, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation (BBPDC), nor the Marino Organization, the public relations firm hired to represent project designers Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, would comment for this article.
“We issued a press release,” said Deborah Wetzel, a spokeswoman for the Empire State Development Corporation.

That release was sent to “our entire New York City contact list, which is extensive, including radio, TV” and print media, Wetzel said. It was received by The Brooklyn Papers the afternoon of March 1, just two days before the scheduled meeting.

“We announced it at the public meeting that was held on Feb. 22 as well as at the CAC [Community Advisory Committee] meeting held March 2,” she added.

For the many community members in Fort Greene and elsewhere who did not know about, or show up at, either the first town hall meeting or the meeting of the BBPDC’s Citizens Advisory Committee, or who did not catch passing references in local newspapers, publicity was nonexistent.

Ali Carrington, president of Concerned Parents Network, which works with parents in the Whitman, Ingersoll and Farragut public housing developments, said he couldn’t believe there was a meeting at PS 287 that he hadn’t known about.

“They’re trying to sneak that in on us,” he told The Brooklyn Papers prior to the meeting. “They’re really trying to keep the people from the development out; they just don’t want us included.”

Dorothy Berry, president of the Ingersoll Tenants Association, said she’d only heard about the meeting “through the grapevine, but I didn’t see any advertisement about it.

“They need to put advertisements on Myrtle Avenue or here in the rental office,” she said, and urged the “need to have an open meeting where people can come and discuss it.” Berry said that although she attended the meeting, it wasn’t enough.

“They don’t know about [the park plan], they don’t understand it, and they’re probably going to have something to say later, when it’s too late,” she said about the tenants in her buildings.

Fort Greene Association President Phillip Kellogg, said he hadn’t heard about the meeting.

“We weren’t contacted, I certainly wasn’t, as an individual,” he said. “We’re always sending out notices about various things to our individual members to keep them informed of various events.”

Former Fort Greene Association president Howard Pitsch, a CAC member, said he hadn’t been told about the meeting, either.

“I wish I had known,” said Pitsch.

The Pratt Area Community Council is a 41-year-old organization representing dozens of block associations, tenant’s councils and churches, serves the greater Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and southern Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods. Coordinator Melissa Lee said the council was not aware of the meeting. Asked if she thought the park plan would be of interest to the area, she said, “Oh, of course. I would believe so.”

Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said that when she arrived at the 6 pm meeting, it didn’t stun her that of the 35 attendees, only 12 were community members.

[The remainder consisted of a dozen associates of park planner Michael Van Valkenburgh, and various city employees, staff aides for elected officials, employees of the BBPDC and members of the press.]

“I wasn’t surprised that it was poorly attended,” said Stanton. “What I think is sad is that the community immediately around the school wasn’t represented at all.”

And though she said she understood it to be the development corporation’s duty to publicize, she placed blame on the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, a private, not-for-profit coalition that has advocated creation of the park for more than a decade and has been a vocal advocate of the new park plan, which was drastically altered to remove many of the proposed commercial uses and replace them with market-rate high-rise housing.

“They’re usually very conscious about reaching out to the people in Farragut. It’s none of our jobs, we’re not working for the development corporation,” Stanton said, “but it’s all of our jobs to get organizations out to see it. I’m just disappointed in the conservancy.”

Stanton said she sees the conservancy “as being the umbrella group for all the neighborhoods in the park’s vicinity.”

She said she knew of the meeting thanks to an e-mail she received from the conservancy, but didn’t think they’d been prolific in their coverage.

“I know when there’s a film series, they certainly get the word out, when there’s an Easter egg hunt, plenty of people come out, and when there’s an ice cream social everyone knows,” Stanton said of the conservancy.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy co-executive director Marianna Koval wrote in an e-mail to The Brooklyn Papers, “The Conservancy is promoting all opportunities for anyone to see and discuss the proposed park plan,” and specified the effort to “blast e-mail people for whom we have e-mail addresses and alert them to public events.”

Nancy Webster, president of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association, was not in attendance, but said she knew about the meeting because of an e-mail, not from the conservancy but from the BHA.

“We sent one out as well,” Webster added.

Stanton said she hopes notice of other public meetings will reach a wider audience.

“The BBPDC is relying on others and others’ Web sites, but the BBPDC doesn’t yet have a Web site,” she noted. The BBPDC Web site, not updated for years, still displays the old master plan for the park.

“I think we should try again, we should hold another public meeting in a Fort Greene location,” Stanton said.

Nevertheless, Stanton said she wasn’t worried about a lack of turnout for the next meetings, held “storefront-style” with presentations from 10 am to 2 pm on March 12 at St Ann’s Warehouse, at 38 Water St. near Dock Street in DUMBO, and at St. Cyril’s Cathedral, at 401 Atlantic Ave. at Bond Street in Boerum Hill on March 19.

As for her neighborhood, Stanton said, “I think people in the Heights will come when it’s easier to get to.”


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