News & Culture in Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and Points Nearby
September 25, 2016
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News + Views

Battle Of Brklyn Bridge Park

By Lisa M. Collins

Critics Fight Luxury Condos in Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy

Brooklyners, we’re in for a treat: There’s tons of great stuff planned for Brooklyn Bridge Park and the waterfront piers that run from Red Hook at the end of Atlantic Avenue to Vinegar Hill in Dumbo–more grassy lawns and playgrounds, a historic carousel, a trapeze school, year-round recreation, a “picnic pavilion,” more bike paths and a bike rental shop.Local state Sen. Daniel Squadron calls it our “Central Park,” and we should see more amenities by this summer and fall.

But an ugly battle is intensifying over how to pay for it all.

Right now, the city’s plan is tobuild large luxury condominium buildings at the end of Atlantic Avenue, at the entrance to Pier 6 playground, and at John Street in DUMBO, and to use taxes and fees from the residences to pay for the $16 million a year in park maintenance and pier upgrades associated with Brooklyn Bridge Park’s expansion. The buildings are slated for construction in 2017.

A vocal group of local community activists are against the condo buildings, saying they would “privatize” the park, and restrict access to it.

“The pools, the ice skating rink, the skating half pipe, all that went away and was replaced with housing” said Judi Francis, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund.

“It’s a $25 million bike path,” said Roy Sloane, the president of the Cobble Hill Association. Sloane has been at the forefront of planning the park for decades, and is incensed that recreational elements were taken out and replaced with condos.

“It’s been ruined. I hope we can prevent housing. Right now, this is a luxury housing development with a lot of green space. Allowing housing in public parks, to pay for the parks, I’ve long said we’ll never get another park without luxury housing. And it seems that’s the case.”

Sen. Squadron, of Carroll Gardens, has lobbied for years against the condos, and last year Mayor Mike Bloomberg agreed to allow for an analysis of funding alternatives. A committee was formed. The mayor said he would consider alternatives as long as whatever monies are found to pay for the park do “not in any way displace” revenue to which the city is entitled.

Some of the activists and Squadron have pushed for a study of using future tax revenue from the large buildings owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn Heights to pay the bill. The buildings boast 2.8 million square feet of space, on prime real estate, that is currently untaxed, because the group is a religious organization.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are moving out of Brooklyn Heights, and the buildings are expected to be developed into residential housing. It’s uncertain how much the development would bring to the city, or when, but it is clear the properties will generate a handsome source of revenue. The city wants to hold on to the revenue, while Sen. Squadron is arguing that because that money doesn’t now exist, it’s not taking anything away from the city, and should be considered or studied as a potential way to pay for the park, as opposed to building new housing.

After a meeting Tuesday of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Board of Directors, in the auditorium of the public library at Cadman Plaza West, it seems battle lines are getting drawn over this very matter.

The board heard from its consultant, Bay Area Economics, who reviewed alternatives to fund the park. Items such as additional concessions, getting a private sponsor for the park, and creating a park tax district were discussed. Ron Golem, principal at Bay Area Economics, gave the presentation on the funding alternatives, which come to nearly $7 million a year. Golem said using future property tax monies from the Jehovah’s Witness buildings was not considered.

“If the Watchtower sells, it will go on the tax rolls, and that’s why it wasn’t considered,” Golem said. “It clearly violates” the memorandum of understanding with the city, as it would divert money from the city, he said.

But Squadron disagrees. He says the Watchtower (Jehovah’s Witness) buildings should be considered.

Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D-Brooklyn Heights) have veto power over new housing. However, the city has said it would pull funding for park expansion if it’s not satisfied that money is secure to pay the city back.

Squadron says the presentation Tuesday by Bay Area Economics shows that there are alternatives to park condos.

“This draft shows it’s possible to fund the park without imposing a new fee on Brooklynites or building new on-site luxury housing.  The report details almost $3 million in new revenue from recreation, special events, concessions, commercial uses and increased fundraising – all on sites already planned for residential development, commercial development or parking, and without imposing any new taxes or fees on Brooklynites. And the most important alternative revenue source has not yet been studied: tapping into the 2.8 million square feet of nearby Watchtower properties that are not currently on the city’s tax rolls because the properties are tax-exempt and lack much of the zoning and other changes needed to become viable taxpaying properties generating the full revenue that could be realized from those sites.”

The public has 60 days to comment on the proposal. If you are against luxury housing in the parks, or for it, you should check it out at http://www.brooklynbridgeparknyc.org/about-us/project-approvals-presentations

Video of Judi Francis: http://www.wikio.com/video/judi-francis-president-brooklyn-bridge-fund-4687817

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