City and state officials went behind the backs of residents and local pols in a failed “back-room” deal to green-light more apartments in Brooklyn Bridge Park, say activists who now claim their only recourse to stop the controversial development is to sue.
The secretive agreement came to light after state development officials pulled out of it at the last minute last Tuesday, citing questionable donations the project’s developer made to Mayor DeBlasio. But the city says it plans to plow ahead with the buildings anyway, and locals say litigation may now be the only way to stop them.
“They lied to us, they deceived us, we have no choice,” said Judi Francis, president of Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, which led a failed suit to ban private development in the park in 2007.
Under the terms of a 2015 settlement of another lawsuit, the city was supposed to gain the approval of the Gov. Cuomo-controlled Empire State Development Corporation to build two high rises near Pier 6, but the agency had been withholding its thumbs up for months citing residents’ and pols’ objections.
City and Bridge Park bigwigs claim they need the towers to fund the ongoing maintenance of the park, but the activists’ commissioned an independent audit that claims the meadow is already flush with cash and more construction would violate its mandate to only build the bare minimum it needs to stay solvent.
The locals say they were “astonished and dismayed” to learn this week that the two administrations had been quietly hashing out a deal all along, with no apparent attempt to consult with them or consider their report.
A coalition of local pols opposed to the development, including Councilmen Steve Levin (D–Brooklyn Heights) and Brad Lander (D–Cobble Hill), state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights), and Assemblywoman Jo Ann Simon (D–Carroll Gardens) were also in the dark, according to a rep for Levin.
State honchos delayed the deal claiming they want more time to probe donations developer Ral Companies made just weeks before scoring the Pier 6 contract, as well as the involvement of its lobbyist James Capalino — a close DeBlasio ally — and investor China Vanke, which is also embroiled in a scandal over the sale of a Manhattan nursing home.
But city leaders denied any conflict of interest — labeling the investigation a “smokescreen” — and said they can and will just go ahead without the state’s okay, as the settlement only asked them to “seek” its approval for some modifications to an earlier plan for the buildings, including the addition of below-market-housing.
“We intend to move ahead with this project, with or without the state,” said Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen.
An Empire State Development rep acknowledged the city may actually be able to do that if it doesn’t make the modifications, but slammed the mayor for trying to go it alone with ethical questions still hanging.
“There is no smokescreen — this is about integrity and ensuring that legitimate questions are answered,” said spokesman Jonah Bruno. “It was and remains our intention to hold a future meeting with the goal of adding affordable housing to the Brooklyn Bridge Park plan, but from recent reports, it seems the city feels approval is not necessary.”
Either way, if the city and park officials do go ahead with the Pier 6 plan, Francis says she and her allies will see them in court.
“If they can’t prove financial need, they risk being sued,” she said.