Bridge Park developers have no ‘principles’

More on Brooklyn Bridge Park

Ask many of the Brooklynites who for 20 years led the charge to create
a park along the DUMBO, Fulton Ferry, Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill
waterfronts what they think of the new plans for Brooklyn Bridge Park,
and if nothing else, they’ll concede on one point — 13 is an
unlucky number.

That is how many “Guiding Principals” were adopted among community
members back in 1992 when the idea of banding together
to claim the heretofore inaccessible waterfront for the public seemed
like a viable way to prevent its over-commercialization which was threatened,
first by the development of housing and then by warnings that big box
stores would come.

Drafted by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Coalition and signed by elected officials
including then-Borough President Howard Golden and local members of the
state Senate, Assembly and City Council, the document was enough to bring
commitments from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Gov. Mario Cuomo.

The 13 principles also paved the way for the 2000 Illustrative Master
Plan, which led Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to sign
a Memorandum of Understanding in May 2002 committing $150 million of city
and state funds to the park effort, and to fund a Brooklyn Bridge Park
Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the state’s Empire State
Development Corporation, which was charged with planning the park.

That body now stands accused of ditching a key element of those founding
principles, by adding market-rate housing.

“It was always viewed as sort of the golden rule of the park,”
said Marcia Hillis, the founder of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association.

“I think a lot of people in the surrounding communities were surprised
to find the new park proposal didn’t respect the 13 Guiding Principles,”
she said, which were drafted by community members “from all over
the affected neighborhoods.”

“It bound all the communities together,” Hillis said.

The new plan, which includes large-scale apartment buildings on the Cobble
Hill and Vinegar Hill ends of the park, threatens to shatter that already
tenuous alliance, setting park advocates in Brooklyn Heights against those
on either end of the plan. Brooklyn Heights, which bears most of the 1.5-mile
park and commercial development in its backyard, carries none of the burden
of the new housing and that, added to the circumvention of the principles
upon which the park was based, has some park advocates hopping mad.

The co-op apartments are planned for two sites off Furman Street and Atlantic
Avenue next to the massive 360 Furman St. building that the Watchtower
Bible and Tract Society sold to a developer last year. That building,
not part of the park plan, is expected to be developed as market-rate

One of the Furman Street buildings, on the uplands of Pier 6, would be
eight stories and the other is expected to be about 30 stories. One would
contain 290 units and the shorter one 110. Permanent housing would also
be added to a hotel planned for Pier 1, according to the planners, and
a roughly 12-story co-op would be built near Adams and John streets on
Con Edison property adjacent to the Manhattan Bridge overpass in Vinegar
Hill. The hotel would contain 150 units of the housing and the Con Ed
site would contain 180 co-ops.

Plans in the late-1980s by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
to sell piers 1-6 for real estate development were staved off by the same
groups, such as the Brooklyn Heights Association and the Brooklyn Bridge
Park Coalition (now called the Conservancy), which were active in helping
to create the principles as a mechanism to enforce the ideas for what
was then called Harbor View Park. The Conservancy is now a private non-profit
organization set up to track the park’s history, preserve the plans,
and act as a fundraiser, and both groups have come out in favor of the
new plans.

The old guiding principles — which are still flaunted, along with
the 2000 Illustrative Master Plan, on the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development
Corporation’s Web site — included strictures that the planning
for the 1.3-mile waterfront park would include full public participation
throughout the planning, development and management process; retain and
enhance scenic views; publicly issue Requests for Proposals for any commercial
developments; foster public access and uses while protecting the character
and impact on adjacent communities; develop a fiscally prudent plan; and
not include housing.

While Hillis this week called Guiding Principle No. #8a — which stipulated
that “specialized commercial uses shall be encouraged (e.g. executive
office center/destination resort, restaurants, maritime center) and residential
and office uses shall be discouraged” — a “biggie”
back when the principles were conceived, Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy
Director Marianna Koval, a Brooklyn Heights resident, said she now believes
housing is the right solution.

“We have an opportunity by creating eight acres of development to
create 72 acres of open space,” she said. “In the end, the people
in Downtown Brooklyn and New York City combined will agree that’s
a very good deal.”

That infuriates Roy Sloane, a Cobble Hill resident and longtime park advocate
who is a member of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC), which
was mandated as an advisory panel to the BBPDC.

“I’ve spent 17 or 18 years of my life working on this plan,
and who is standing there advocating housing but the BHA and Conservancy!”
said Sloane.

In stark contrast to the public planning sessions and town hall-style
meetings park planners held in 1999 and 2000, on Dec. 22, BBPDC President
Wendy Leventer presented to a select few community members a drastically
revised park plan. That plan is expected to be put forth as the master
plan for the park, which will lead to pier property being turned over
to the BBPDC by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Leventer referred calls for comment for this article to the Empire State
Development Corporation.

“Thirteen years ago it was suggested that the park not have residential
development,” said Chapin Fay, a spokesman for the Empire State Development
Corporation. He emphasized the word “suggested.”

“But it was mandated that the park be self-sufficient,” Fay
said, indicating that the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2002 between
Pataki and Bloomberg stipulating the park be self-sufficient was more
binding than the guiding principals.

Back in 2000, when the “Illustrative Master Plan” for the park
was presented, the estimated costs were only $9.45 million. Now they are
$15.4 million.

David Offensend, a board member of the BBPDC, said the new plan takes
that cost gap into account, along with the history of the park’s

“The idea is to have a sustainable park — that is a critical
driving principle — and I think this new plan reflects that,”
he said.

Offensend, a Brooklyn Heights resident who has been involved since the
park’s conception, attributed the forward movement to the generation
of new ideas for revenue sources.

“People have been pushing for a park for close to 20 years now, and
we’ve never been to a point where we’ve had a plan that is based
on real numbers and real principles, and real, detailed considerations.”
Offensend said. “This is a new, higher level of consideration that
has been brought in.”