They got railroaded!
Supporters of Mayor DeBlasio’s controversial $2.5-billion streetcar say the powerful Brooklyn Heights Association is so opposed to the plan that it silences anyone anxious to get on board with the trolley.
The group, Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, made the accusation against the “elite” Association Wednesday, one day after an the Heights group hosted a panel discussion that declared the streetcar plan is nothing but a folly that is not only bad as transit policy, but also a force for gentrification along the route.
“It’s no surprise that this exclusive and litigious group, which has consistently tried to prevent new parks, affordable housing, and anything else that might benefit people other than a small subset of the property owners who already live in Brooklyn Heights, refused our months of asking to meet, speak, or have a voice on this panel,” the Friends said in a statement, which claimed 100 community groups “support” the Long-Island-City-to-Sunset-Park rail line.
But the head of the civic group — which is in the middle of a lawsuit claiming some development in Brooklyn Bridge Park is unnecessary — said that this was the first he’d heard of any request by the pro-trolley group to be on the panel.
“They are mischaracterizing the situation, no one every conveyed to me that they were looking to be on the panel,” said Peter Bray, who is the executive director of the neighborhood group.
And Friends spokesman Stu Loeser later revealed it had never asked to be part of the panel and had just planned to ask at a Feb. 17 meeting that was pushed back to March.
The Association’s panel included New York Times columnist and former transit writer Jim Dwyer; advocate David Bragdon of Transit Center; transit blogger Ben Kabak of Second Ave. Sagas; City College civil engineering assistant professor Candace Brakewood; and Samuel Stein, a doctoral student who has written about the streetcar for Jacobin magazine.
The panel was skeptical about a city claim that the project will be funded entirely from property tax increases along the route, arguing that Hizzoner would be better off using the project’s hefty price tag to improve transit across a much-broader area of the city.
The Heights Association did not put an advocate for the streetcar on the panel because it was hoping to have an objective discussion so residents could hear the pros and cons of the project without bias, said the group’s executive director, Peter Bray.
“The board (did not want) paid promoters,” he said. “We were looking for people who have no specific professional ties to the project because we wanted there to be different perspectives and not someone whose job it is to simply promote the project.”
And Bray took exception to the Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector depiction of the Heights Association as elitist because anyone can join.
“We’re a membership organization,” he said. “I don’t think the Friends of the BQX are membership, so who’s the exclusive organization?”
The Friends group is chaired by real estate mogul Jed Walentas, whose Two Trees owns property all along the proposed route of the streetcar, which is being backed by development forces.
The Brooklyn Heights Association has not taken a position on the streetcar, though the group is not known for reticence. Bray said he is open to meeting with the Friends to learn more about the project.