Deal is sealed: There will be housing — but less of it — in Brooklyn Bridge Park

Part of ‘Park’ will open next year; But other parts are postponed
Michael Van Valkenburg Associates

Two key lawmakers who had long fought luxury high-rise development inside Brooklyn Bridge Park have signed off on a deal that would scale back the housing — and possibly eliminate most of it entirely — but still meet a mandate that the greenspace’s $16-million annual maintenance cost not come from city taxpayers.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights) and Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens) won’t use their veto over a luxury condo at John Street and two others at Pier 6 now that the Bloomberg Administration has changed its position on allowing future tax revenues from 30 currently tax-exempt buildings to go to the park if those buildings are sold.

“We found a path to complete Brooklyn Bridge Park and address long-standing community concerns about housing on the site,” said Squadron, hailing the agreement as drastically reducing luxury housing and altering the funding plan for the massive 85-acre park.

“This agreement gets the park built faster.”

The buildings are currently owned by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, which is slowly moving its operations upstate. The Society — commonly known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses — does not pay taxes on office buildings, printing plants and residences under controversial federal law that relieves religious organizations of such levies.

To fight residential housing inside Brooklyn Bridge Park, Squadron had pushed the city to capture taxes from the “Watchtower properties” and set the funds aside for Brooklyn Bridge Park — but the city opposed the plan as setting a dangerous precedent and for siphoning off funds for maintaining a luxury park in a rich neighborhood instead of providing other vital city services.

Under the deal, the John Street condo would be reduced from 170 feet to 130 feet and two other towers at Pier 6 could shrink or be cut altogether as the Watchtower properties begin yielding normal city property taxes.

There’s a catch, however: Watchtower must sell its buildings by Jan. 1, 2014 or the city can move forward with the original development plan.

Squadron had previously vowed to veto any future housing developments on John Street and Pier 6 if the city did not yield on Watchtower.

Squadron and Millman won that veto power under the 2010 deal that gave the city control of the park’s construction.

Opponents have long complained that luxury housing inside Brooklyn Bridge Park’s 1.3-mile footprint betrays the very definition of “park,” making the waterfront greenspace merely a backyard for rich developers and their future tenants. But supports of housing say that their hands are tied because of a 2002 agreement that requires the $350-million park to raise its own maintenance budget so it would not become a drain on city and state coffers.