Parks and declarations: Judge gives Pier 1 condos and hotel the all-clear

Parks and declarations: Judge gives Pier 1 condos and hotel the all-clear
Photo by Jason Speakman

It may be an eyesore, but it isn’t illegal.

Developers can now finish building a luxury hotel and condominium project in Brooklyn Bridge Park after a judge last Friday threw out a lawsuit filed by local activists hoping to preserve an iconic view of the titular bridge.

The judge found that the so-called Pierhouse development at Pier 1 does not exceed established height restrictions, as activists had argued, and, regardless, it is now too late for them to challenge a plan that had been hashed out over years of compromise between government agencies, community groups, and developers. Still, he agreed, it does ruin the view.

“The casual passerby walking along Brooklyn’s majestic Promenade is struck with the indelible impression that these buildings, now nearing completion, are simply too large,” said Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Lawrence Knipel in his decision.

Activist group Save the View Now filed the suit on April 21, claiming that Pierhouse developer Toll Brothers had blown the park’s 100-foot height restriction with rooftop bulkheads and a bar that added an extra 30 feet to one of its 10-story buildings, blocking views of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The judge had issued a temporary restraining order on the project until the case was heard, and Friday’s ruling means the developer can now resume work on the Pierhouse complex, which comprises three of the seven towers that are being constructed as cash cows for the ongoing maintenance of the waterfront green space.

Knipel said that the parties that negotiated the plans had known about the extra rooftop accouterments for years and everyone appeared to be a-okay with the situation. The activists should have brought this lawsuit back in 2006, when the park’s general project plan was settled on, or in 2013, when the final plan was filed with the city and construction began, he wrote in his ruling. The statute of limitations has well and truly passed, he said.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, the semi-private body that operates the park, has long argued that the open-air watering hole and equipment were always part of the plan, and that activists were aware of it. But the influential Brooklyn Heights Association, which helped broker the deal in 2006, remembers the negotiations differently, claiming that park honchos pledged to keep the rooftop utilities out of sight and that neighbors only realized the building was going to have some extra baggage once the towers had already gone up. Knipel said the court could find no evidence of such an agreement.

Save the View Now’s chief says the group still believes the development violates the height restriction, but hasn’t decided if it will keep fighting the almost-completed condo and hotel complex in court.

“We’re obviously very disappointed with the decision,” said Steven Guterman, who lives near the park. “We think the judge may have gotten facts and issues incorrect, but we haven’t really huddled with lawyers yet to figure out what’s next.”

Save the View Now and other preservation groups have previously argued that the development infringes on legally protected views of the bridge from the promenade, but the judge said that the activist group has now given up on that claim.

A representative from Toll Brothers and the company’s partner Starwood Capital Group said the developers felt vindicated by the judge’s decision.

“We are very pleased with the court’s decision and findings of fact that confirm the Pierhouse development complies with the height restrictions imposed on the project which were adopted after years of extensive community review and input,” said spokesman Bud Perrone.

If nothing else, Save the View Now’s campaign may have saved the views in a different part of the park. Park administrators agreed last month to specifically include rooftop equipment as part of the height restrictions on two apartment towers slated for construction near Pier 6, as part of a court settlement with a different group of activists.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhuro[email protected]cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
What’s a few 30 feet?: A graphic showing the difference between a 100-foot building and a 100-foot building with another 30-feet of machinery on top.