Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Squadron & Millman Sell Out In Deal With City To Bring More Housing To Brooklyn Bridge Park


Two state legislators are relinquishing their power to keep more controversial high-rise housing from being built at the new Brooklyn Bridge Park, under a deal with the city to be signed today, The Post has learned.

When the city last year took control of the project from the state, it agreed to give veto power over housing to the two local legislators, state Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman, both Democrats.

Both pols have now agreed not to use it to keep hundreds of apartments planned within the park from being built, sources said.

In exchange, 40,000-square-feet will be shaved off one high rise set for John Street in DUMBO, and two other planned buildings within the park at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Heights could be shrunk or eliminated through a formula involving properties owned by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

Watchtower, the Jehovah Witness’ publishing arm, owns dozens of nearby properties and is in the process of moving operations upstate. Under the new deal, tax revenues from Watchtower properties sold prior to Jan. 1, 2014 would be used to offset revenues that were expected to be generated by the Pier 6 apartments to help fund the park. In exchange, 40,000-square-feet will be shaved off one high rise set for John Street in DUMBO, and two other planned buildings within the park at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Heights could be shrunk or eliminated through a formula involving properties owned by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

The deal helps ensure the stalled 85-acre waterfront project gets fully built, but news of it still left some community activist shocked and furious last night.

Both Squadron and Millman were carried into new terms, in part, after campaigning heavily against the city’s plans to add more housing.

“They said `no more housing,' especially Daniel, who won on that platform, and the first opportunity to use the veto, they are blinking,” said one irate local activist.

Brooklyn Bridge Park has been a political hot potato since project planners announced in December 2004 that more than 1,200 luxury condos would have to be included to raise enough money to offset the park's now-estimated $16.1 million annual maintenance costs.

Only one high-rise offering 440 luxury units at Pier 5 has been built; another 780 units have been on hold because of the slumping economy.

However, the city plans to soon gather proposals from developers interested in building 180 condos and a 225-room hotel at Pier 1 in Brooklyn Heights, one of the few finished portions of the waterfront park.

Under the 2010 agreement that allowed the city to take control of the park from the state, the city had to explore alternate revenue sources to the luxury condos planned at John Street and Pier 6.

Also, both Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman were given veto power over the construction of housing at both sites, which they are now giving up.

Read More:

New York Post - August 2, 2011 - By Rich Calder

The New York Times however writes a glowing account of the back-room deal that provides a soft landing for state Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman. They write what basically amounts to a press release that fails to even mention that the state elected officials gave up veto power to strike this controversial deal with the Bloomberg administration, veto power that opponents of housing fought long and hard to help achieve.

The article fails to question the $16.1 million annual revenue the city has repeatedly claimed it needs to operate the park annually. Funding the city uses to justify housing in the park. And in the interest of providing fair and balanced reporting the article also fails to quote any opponents of this deal.

All In The Family. The piece also fails to mention that Daniel Squadron's wife Elizabeth Weinstein is the director of the Mayor's Office of Operations making a $170,000 a year.

The vote is at 1:45 today in the governor's room at City Hall. – Geoffrey Croft

New York Times - August 1, 2011 - By Lisa W. Foderaro

August 2, 2011

Press Release - The Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund

No Back Room Deals: Use Veto Over Housing Park Advocates Urge

The deal to approve housing on the John Street lot in Brooklyn Bridge Park, in return for a possibility that less housing would be needed on Pier 6, is a deal made without community involvement or support.

“In today’s secret, back-room deal, Mayor Bloomberg exacted a high ransom from Brooklynites,” said Judi Francis, President of the coalition of local associations that have fought private housing in this park for over 6 years. “The Mayor has also pitted one community against another in his quest to place housing inside a public park. That portends badly for all going forward. We urge Senator Squadron to use his veto over housing. Period.”

“Senator Squadron, Councilman Steve Levin and Councilman Brad Lander all campaigned on a ‘no more housing inside Brooklyn Bridge Park’ platform,” said DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance President Doreen Gallo. “Did they misspeak or did they simply lack courage at the eleventh hour to go through with their pledge to their constituents?”

We deeply regret this inevitable result of the Mayor and the Brooklyn Heights Association's preferred ‘housing only’ alternative to financing the park,” said Cobble Hill Association President Roy Sloane. “It is especially sad given how hard community activists and former Borough President Howard Golden fought to secure this Con Ed brownfield for a park to serve the residents of DUMBO, Vinegar Hill and the Farragut Houses. Seeing park land given up to development especially when so many viable funding mechanisms were identified in the recent "Committee for Alternative to Housing " conducted by Bay Area Consultants, is especially disturbing.”

The city's previous actions reducing income for the park laid the groundwork for this new housing development Mayor Bloomberg has supported.

"After the NYC Department of Finance reduced the fist condo building's annual commitments by $1 million, and a Federal Judge removed the Empire Stores from park funding, it was a foregone conclusion that alternate means to fund this park had to be explored," said Bob Stone, Treasurer of the BBP Defense Fund. “The Mayor’s earlier mis-dealings meant that even more funds would be needed."

The latest decision for the park is considered another example of Mayoral missteps that could have been avoided with an open community process and a relook at the entire General Project Plan for the park. The Mayor has been unwilling to engage on even the simplest aspects of this park – the dangerous playground equipment, the ill-placed carousel, a bike path that is unusable by bikers as well as those in wheelchairs, the inability to get to the park safely at key entrances. “Why do our elected officials think the Mayor will be willing to work with them for either fewer condos or recreation when he has never shown any interest in doing it before?” said Adam Meshberg President of the Vinegar Hill Association. “Remember, this Mayor spent all the money on landscaping for condos and ran out of dollars for the basketball courts and playing fields long ago.”

“Did our elected officials have any alternatives? Yes!” said Francis. “The community developed many ways to fund the park without housing. The Jehovah Witness buildings were one idea. The Real Estate Transaction fee is used by many communities throughout the nation to preserve open space, and a Park Improvement District were options that could have been worked on today for the next Mayor’s endorsement, if not ownership.”

“ The park is not the only loser in this decision,” said Maria Pagano, President of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association. “The Mayor has now asked South Brooklyn to prioritize our end of the park over the needs of residents in DUMBO and Vinegar Hill. Is this fair? No. Did we advocate for this? No. We simply do not gore the ox of a neighbor in order to improve our own lot. This is not how communities behave. Apparently our elected officials missed this important point.”

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund is a 501C3 volunteer community organization comprised of local community associations with the support of the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club. Their mission has been to advocate for the recreational and open space needs of Brooklynites, promoting publicly accessible means to fund parks without privatization with luxury housing inside park borders. Supporting organizations include Campaign for BBP, Friends of BBP, The Cobble Hill Association, Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance, Park Slope Neighbors, and Willowtown Association in addition to the Sierra Club.

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  1. What a shock? The New York Times going easy on elected officials in exchange for a story. I bet the reporter has never even visited the park.

  2. Great pieces, Geoffrey. Appreciate the background information on this. It's so true the Times story left out A LOT of crucial info.

  3. True and the reporter never even called any of the dozens of organizations that stand against housing inside parks for their take on this "deal". The NYTimes is not the paper of Punch. Guess that's why they call the new publisher, his son, Pinch.