Park-planning workshops sought

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Responding to community pressure, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation this week announced plans to present their new park design in a town hall-style public meeting.

The state authority charged with planning the park will present its new design at meeting co-sponsored by Community Boards 2 and 6 at Borough Hall on Thursday, Feb. 10, at 6 pm, according to BBPDC officials.

At the same time, an alliance of neighborhood associations came together to draft a letter objecting to a park-planning process they viewed as exclusionary. The letter included signatories of neighborhood and civic organizations representing Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Columbia Street, Fulton Ferry Landing and both the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation and Betterment Association.

“Most of us recall the extensive and much admired public outreach process which led up to the 2002-2003 Brooklyn Bridge Park Concept Plan,” the letter reads.

In 1999 and 2000, a series of planning workshops, open to the general public were held by the park planners who solicited ideas on what components, both revenue-generating and not, should go into the park.

“This process was guided by community representatives, extensive community input and the 13 Guiding Principles,” the letter continues. “[T]he current plan, which you have chosen to present only to selected community members, varies significantly from the Concept Plan and many of the Guiding Principles. These extensive changes to the park plan require a new period of study and comment to gauge the communities’ reaction to the changed plan and to determine whether the scope of the upcoming EIS should be revised.”

The groups urged BBPDC President Wendy Leventer to hold two four-hour public meetings to openly discuss the plans, and two additional planning meetings with neighborhood representatives to consider alternative revenue sources and designs, revise the scope for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and commit to completing the EIS with community involvement.

Jo Anne Simon, 52nd Assembly District Democratic district leader, who also signed the letter, said the coalition of community activist groups met to address what each individually found troublesome in the drastically altered plans for a park and commercial development along 1.3 miles of the DUMBO-Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill waterfront.

“The public process appears to have been lacking recently,” Simon said. “People have lots and lots of questions, and whether people like or dislike aspects of the proposal they’ll at least understand it better.

Until the announcement of the town hall, the community boards had been all but ignored in the park planning process since Leventer took over as head of the BBPDC last March. Since December, Leventer and lead park designer Michael Van Valkenburgh have shown select community members — but no official representatives of the community boards — their revised plans for the park, which include mostly green space out on Piers 1-5, the inclusion of Pier 6, market-rate co-op apartment buildings, a marina and the removal of a Chelsea Piers-like sports and recreation facility.

“They should’ve certainly included the community boards,” said state Senator Martin Connor, a long-time sponsor of the park effort. “I’m surprised that they didn’t.

“When they first talked about it, and were talking to the elected officials, we asked when it was going to be shown to the community. They didn’t seem to have it scheduled, but we told them they had to. Once a week or two goes by people feel like they’ve been excluded.”

Which is more or less what happened.

Councilman David Yassky, who represents Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO, said community boards should have been included early on.

“I am concerned that there has not been enough consultation with — if it’s really true that community boards 2 and 6 have not been consulted, I think that’s problem enough,” said Yassky.

“The park should be designed to serve the people who live in north Brooklyn, and not the development community,” Yassky said. “And I’m worried that if you leave the community representatives out of the process you end up skewing the park much in favor of development. So I do have concerns.”

Leventer said the reason only smaller groups have been invited to view the plan privately so far was an effort on her part to be inclusive, not elusive.

“We’re happy to have a big meeting open to the public,” she told civic leaders at Van Valkenburgh’s Manhattan offices Tuesday, “but you all represent neighborhoods. If you have 500 people in a room, I think you all agree it would be much harder to have this discussion. We’re certainly happy to show it to the public.”

Leventer added that changes to the design would continue to be discussed in smaller meetings, with select community representatives.

But Murray Adams, president of the Cobble Hill Association, argued that he alone couldn’t represent the viewpoints of all his members, and wished there was a way they could view the plans. Van Valkenburgh said that because the plans were a “work in progress” they had nothing to hand out in the way of visuals.

Both Van Valkenburgh and Leventer have denied repeated requests by The Brooklyn Papers to photograph their model of the park and its components, even at meetings were a reporter was invited

“Cobble Hill is not a monolithic neighborho­od,” fumed Adams after the meeting. “Brooklyn Heights is not a monolithic neighborhood. I can’t represent each person in my neighborho­od.”

Leventer assured the group present Tuesday that there would also be a large public display of the park plans after any revisions had been made due to community input, at some point in February. After that, the EIS would commence, she said.

“The idea would be that in a while, we’ll have a meeting in some central location and everybody will be invited,” Leventer said. Pointing to the full-scale model of the park plans, she said, “This thing is not so portable, and we need it in a big room. If you want us to show it for two days, we’ll show it for two days. If you want three days, we’ll do that, too.”

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