B’Bridge Park honchos, Heights Association return to court to argue Pier 6 case

A likely ‘story’: Park tower will be a bit higher than expected
ODA Architecture

The legal battle over the fate of the lawn has begun.

A lawsuit over two polarizing towers at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park returned to court on Wednesday, a month after settlement talks between the Brooklyn Heights Association and park honchos failed. The two-hour hearing starred the civic group’s attorney, who spent most of the time arguing its case that green space officials violated their promise to build only as much housing as needed to fund the park’s upkeep.

“They have violated their commitment over and over again,” Richard Ziegler said before the standing-room-only crowd.

The neighborhood group alleges that the park is flush with cash and its officials are breaching an agreement to build just enough private housing required to pay for maintenance. But meadow leaders say they need the money from the two high-rises at the foot of Atlantic Avenue to pay for upkeep of the timber piles that support the East River pier, which are being devoured by wood eating crustaceans.

Justice Lucy Billings said she was not convinced that the agreement — the 2006 General Project Plan — mandated the park only build the bare minimum to sustain upkeep, arguing that the language in the document, which states “intention to build only what is necessary,” walked a fine legal line.

“It doesn’t appear to me to impose an obligation,” she said.

Ziegler argued the document’s context and purpose — to spell out the goals of the park — makes it binding, and repeatedly stated the agreement must be considered in its entirety.

He first presented his arguments to Billings in April, which were followed by a series of closed-door meetings in the judge’s chambers in an attempt to find a solution both sides could live with. But those sessions did not result in a compromise, and the litigants must now make their case before the bench.

Wednesday’s proceedings covered several of the cases in the Heights Association’s 91-page suit, including the claim that the park’s board of directors did not have full knowledge of the green space’s financials when it voted to approve the two towers last June, because the Department of Finance’s predictions undervalued the revenue that existing park properties would produce. Billings asked several questions about findings from the Heights Association’s hired independent financial expert, who claimed the park will have $300 million more in its coffers than the finance department estimated in its report.

The project also calls for a 15-story residential building that will include below-market-rate units, which Ziegler claimed do not promote the park’s financial stability because they do not generate revenue.

And the lawsuit alleges that the park broke its own rules in selecting RAL Companies and Oliver’s Realty Group to build the towers, which lawyers for the park and the developers conceded to on Wednesday, admitting the developers did not file the proper paperwork with the city before they were chosen — an admission that activists are calling a big win.

“I think we scored some major victories,” said Judi Francis, president of advocacy group the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund. “We’re pleased she’s asking tough questions, we’re going to listen carefully when she questions the other side as well.”

The case lies in Billings’s hands, and she will eventually have to decide whether or not the park is violating its agreement by building the towers at Pier 6.

Both sides will get another chance to argue before her in July.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill