’Park’ plan gets green light Ire over housing

Ire over housing

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The state’s economic development agency this week approved the controversial plan for a housing, hotel and recreation development along the Brooklyn waterfront known as Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The $130-million plan approved Wednesday by the Empire State Development Corporation would be built on Piers 1-6, stretching 1.3 miles from DUMBO to the foot of Atlantic Avenue.

But the manner in which the the project’s green space component would be maintained is its most-controversial feature. The green space would be subsidized by 1,240 units of housing, most of it luxury; a 225-room hotel; nearly 400,000 square feet of retail establishments; 95,000 square feet of offices; and 1,183 parking spaces.

Calls for a waterfront park began decades ago, as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s maritime use of the piers declined. But the latest incarnation was set into motion with a deal between the city and state in March, 2002. At one point, the plans included a 30-story tower, and another building that threatened to block views of the Brooklyn Bridge from the famous promenade in Brooklyn Heights. Now the largest buildings are 20 stories, planners said.

That still didn’t satisfy critics.

“The amount of development in the park that was approved [Wednesday] is still too much,” said Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights). “I support the proposal, but I believe the development should be reduced.”

ESDC officials said that “revenue-generating uses” would take up just 10 percent of the 85-acre footprint and that development will be confined to only the outer edges of the “park.”

“Our ultimate goal is to provide people with valuable open space, with no more development than absolutely necessary to ensure that the park is self-sustaining,” ESDC chairman Charles Gargano said.

Borough President Markowitz joined Yassky, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Sunset Park), Councilmember Bill de Blasio (D-Park Slope), state Sen. Martin Connor (D-Brooklyn Heights) and Assemblymember Joan Millman (D-Brooklyn Heights) in demanding this week that ESDC put that promise in writing.

“We strongly urge you to seek a mechanism to make [it] legally binding,” the six lawmakers wrote to BBPDC President Wendy Leventer.

The lawmakers were echoing some public concern that park designers will simply seize more open space for development if revenue projections are not realized.

Construction is slated to start in 2007, with the first section opening in 2009. The state will contribute $85 million towards initial construction, while the city will kick in $65 million.

Future revenue to maintain the park will come from co-op maintenance fees in lieu of property taxes.

Whether the Brooklyn Bridge Park will be a world-class greenspace or luxury development with a front lawn depends on whom you talk to.

“There are some people who want to stop any residential development in the park and those people are not happy [with Wednesday’s approval],” said Markowitz’s chief of staff, Greg Atkins.

“But the majority of Brooklynites know that they will have a world-class park that Brooklyn deserves.”

According to Gargano, Brooklyn Bridge Park will transform the waterfront “into a civic space for all New Yorkers.”

Major elements of the “park” are:

• Two soccer fields
• Six basketball courts
• 10 handball courts
• Two volleyball courts
• One hockey rink
• Three tennis courts
• Three playgrounds
• Several open lawns
• Four miles of canals
• 12 acres of “safe” paddling area in protected coves
• Fishing piers and a marina

But such amenities are not what neighbors say they want.

“The main things people told us they wanted was a place to eat a meal by the water and an all-year recreation center like a Chelsea Piers,” said Roy Sloane, who, as a board member of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Local Development Corporation, once coordinated public forums about what the park should be.

“The current design will serve 10 to 20 percent of the population it could serve because the planners have refused to create an active park. They hijacked the process to create a front lawn for their luxury housing project.”

For example, Sloane said the absence of a bandshell is evidence that planners don’t want the park to be a noisy, active, vibrant place.

“They don’t want people hanging out,” he said. “They want to privatize the site.”.

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