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NO LIMIT TO PARK HOUSING

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Brooklyn Bridge Park, the planned commercial-recreational development along the Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO waterfront, may need even more housing than has already been proposed if it is to remain financially independent.

That’s the news several attendees of a closed-door meeting with the park’s planners say they were told this week during a financial analysis of the 1.3-mile open space and commercial plan for the waterfront between the Manhattan Bridge and Atlantic Avenue.

Sandy Balboza, president of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, said she got the impression housing was the only revenue source.

“They finally said what we’ve been saying all along, which is if you start to put luxury housing on the waterfront, it’s never going to stop,” she said.

The Brooklyn Papers was barred from entering the invitation-only meeting on Feb. 11, but several attendees said an analysis of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s current revenue generators, which are largely housing-related, showed that the park would likely not be able to remain self-sustaining past 35 years.

Several of the people who attended said that at the meeting Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation (BBPDC) officials discussed what other potential revenue generators they’d looked at, including six types of development in the park. Three of those — offices, parking and local retail — were, according to Cobble Hill resident Franklin Stone, “deemed not feasible for a variety of reasons, so the planners focused on the three that were viable: large and medium format retail, hotel and residential developmen­ts.”

The BBPDC is a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation that is charged with planning and building the park.

“They have no solution for this,” Stone said of the 35-year threat, except to hope that a park investment fund earns more than the 5 percent they have projected, and to use revenue that comes from “other sources.”

“The people on the board should be embarrassed,” said Stone. “It’s so needless. Most of us accept the fact that there’s got to be some kind of moneymaking ventures in the park. I’ve said at every meeting, ‘Show me why it has to be this way. Show me why it is a better choice. Show me why the answers have changed since three years ago.’ And they just don’t do it.”

Following the first meeting in which the finances of the drastically revised park plans were revealed to members of the community, several attendees told The Papers they thought the BBPDC might ultimately seek more housing on the 80-acre site.

The plans currently call for 740 units of co-op housing in four high-rises, planned at either end of the park, and a hotel near Pier 1. The tallest would rise to 30 stories near Atlantic Avenue.

But within 35 years, residents learned at the Feb. 11 meeting, the park would start accruing an operational deficit.

Otis Pearsall, a preservationist and member of the Brooklyn Heights Association’s park committee, believes the planners should just add more housing now.

“If, on their own assumptions, they’re going to run out of money in 35 years, maybe they should be providing additional apartments to create a revenue stream that would assuredly not run out, and not be exhausted,” he told The Papers.

Pearsall believes that ideally the park could be sustainable “forever.”

“You have no way of knowing as time goes forward if any of this is going to work,” he said.

The Feb. 11 meeting, at lead designer Michael Van Valkenburgh’s office in Manhattan, was held in response to requests from community members to review how the park planners arrived at the conclusion that housing — which activists had originally believed construction of the park would prevent from being built on the waterfront — was the only way the park could pay for its annual operating expenses.

Nancy Bowe, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said that all the numbers presented at the meeting had an element of fragility to them.

“Anytime you’re trying to forecast financial information with the number of variables that you have here you always do the best you can, but you’re still doing something theoretical,” Bowe said. “There’s a huge margin of error. There’s a huge number of factors that could upset it. All sorts of things could happen in the next two or three decades that can prove these numbers right or prove these numbers wrong.”

In the current funding scheme, a portion of the co-op owners’ maintenance fees would go to the park’s budget and developers of the buildings would pay a “pilot fee” in lieu of the annual property taxes they would normally have to pay. Because of standard tax abatement programs offered for new developments these would be scaled back to only a fraction of the full price for the first 15 years.

Further, any developer selected for a part of the park “would make an up-front payment,” explained Pearsall, “in order to be allowed to do the job, to do the deal.

“It becomes a ‘fund of principal,’ which can be drawn upon over time to make up any deficit, and to make up revenue streams,” he said.

“We’ve looked at their assumptions and they all sort of pass the smell test in terms of today’s financial environment,” said Bowe. But she noted, “If we have another 9-11 or have some huge economic or real estate [down-turn] it could change dramatical­ly.”

But Bowe cautioned that 35 years was a long time away to worry about now and said the residential units would still be producing yearly income for the park even “after the kitty runs out.”

“They’re still running small deficits,” she said, referring to the dire predictions three decades down the line. “It’s not like they’ll still be getting less revenue, it’s just a gap. And it’s a gap I’m just not willing to worry about 35 years down the road.”

Councilman David Yassky echoed Bowe’s sentiment, saying, “Thirty five years … that’s a long ways away.”

“I’m still waiting for the full set of final estimates, to see if everything they say they need is actually necessary,” the councilman said Wednesday, but added he was sure community input would be taken seriously.

“I’m confident it will all be taken into considerat­ion,” he said. “It is still eight or nine months until the development corporation is scheduled to adopt that plan. There will be ample opportunity for public input and that input will be taken into account.”

Stone, whose main concern is bringing year-round recreation to the park — a Chelsea Piers-like sports and recreation center had been a major part of the original park plan — said she asked why the BBPDC had scrapped the recreational facility.

“Wendy [Leventer, president of the BBPDC] said she had done an analysis, and creation [of a sports facility] was not viable enough to even consider seriously,” said Stone.

“I was again promised written information about that analysis,” said Stone, who has asked on several occasions for such a study.
Pearsall didn’t seem very convinced of viability of other revenue sources.

“They’ve got other possibilities that were mentioned, other possible revenue sources that could emerge,” said Pearsall, “but they sounded unlikely to me, and it did seem to me if adding some more housing units would generate the money, why not resolve the problem?”

Leventer referred all questions to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

Asked about the possibility of more housing being added down the line, an ESDC spokeswoman said that what has been shown thus far was all that was planned.

“The program of development that is now included in the master plan will be the maximum amount of development in the park,” said ESDC spokeswoman Deborah Wetzel. “We believe that the program most efficiently maximizes the amount of open space while creating a revenue stream to maintain and operate the park.”

But Roy Sloane, a member of the park’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee, said that maybe the planners should cut down on some of the open space so they could reduce the amount of revenue needed.

“I think people would go for more development if it was the kind people could use,” said Sloane. “The idea of keeping 10 percent [down from the 20 percent of the site designated for revenue-generating structures in 2000] was never mine. I think if people viewed the developments as an asset, they wouldn’t mind if it took up more space.”

Bowe agreed.

“The tradeoff was always that we weren’t being given all the land as parkland, we were getting 80 percent of it,” she said. “In my view I have never looked at that other land as parkland.”


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