Thursday, December 09, 2010

What Would Frederic Olmsted Have Thought? At Second Public Hearing On Alternatives To Housing In Brooklyn Bridge Park

From left to right:Kei Hayashi of Bay Area Economics, a representative for NY City Deputy Mayor Robert Steel,Seth Pinsky of NYC Economic Development Corporation, John Raskin of State Senator Squadron's office,Peter Davidson of Empire State Development Corporation, Regina Myer of Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation, Ron Golem of Bar Area Economica, unidentified young man, Paul Nelson of Assemblywoman Joan Millman's office,and David Lowin of Real Estate At Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corp.

Regina Myer, President Of Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation
State Senator Daniel Squadron
Mary Goodman, Brooklyn Heights resident
Doreen Gallo of Dumbo Neighborhood Association
Consultant Ron Golem of Bay Area Economics

One wonders what Frederic Olmsted and his mid- 1800's contemporaries would have thought of a suggestion that Prospect Park or Central Park needed to pay for their own maintenance and of the idea of luxury housing within the footprint of city parks? Those were my thoughts as I sat through the hearing on alternatives to housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park. In 2011, do we really value our city's common green oases so little that we are willing to privatize sections of them? Surely, the coffers of New York City were strapped as much in the 1800's as they are now.

Last night's meeting, held at the auditorium at St. Francis in Brooklyn Heights, was the second of two public hearings on the matter. It was very well attended, but the meeting felt less spirited and much more formal than last week's meeting in Cobble Hill.

Supporters of the current financing plan for the park, which calls for construction of luxury condos and a hotel within its footprint, cited the added safety and security full time residents would bring to the waterfront. They opposed any interruption in the gained momentum that would delay its completion. Most supporters seemed to agree that, as one proponent stated: "Housing in the park is a pill easily swallowed."

Those opposed to housing urged the commission to carefully analyze the inflated budget for the park's maintenance and to "cut the fat." They also pointed out once again that moneys collected from concessions in Brooklyn Bridge Park are currently not used for its maintenance, but are put into the City's general fund. It was mentioned several times that the River Café pays pittance to the city for its location at the foot of the bridge. A more proportionate rent payment should be negotiated with the restaurant and any future park eateries.
Other alternatives to pay for the park's maintenance, including selling naming rights, were put forth. "What about Fairway Park, Home Depot Hoops or Ratner Rink?" asked one local resident?
The most compelling argument against housing was made by resident Andrew Reynolds. He stated:

"The whole idea of PILOTS, Payments In Lieu Of Taxes, makes no sense to me. No new revenue stream is created by them. Rather a tax rate, lower than that of normal real estate taxes, is charged and the proceeds are directed solely towards park maintenance. But then where does the money come from to pay for the all city services required for the new housing – schools, police, firemen, sanitation, road maintenance, water and sewer service, etc.? Why it comes from the general fund generated by the usual sources of city revenue. So, either, the existing city services are diluted to cover the needs of new luxury condos, and everyone suffers from a reduction of city services. Or additional funds from the general revenues are used to pay for the additional services, that is, additional taxes paid by those who did buy these multi-million dollar condos. The only possible beneficiaries of this scheme are those who can afford this luxury housing. I think we have given more than enough tax benefits for the very wealthy.

Since the city parks department architects designed and built the northern end of the park in Dumbo, finished in 2006 for $7 million, there was an incredible rise in real estate values for that community.The taxes in DUMBO alone should be sufficient justification that this park has more than paid for itself! It doesn't need to pay one more dime into the system - let it enjoy the tax revenue it has already generated.

And if we are to have private housing inside our public parks, that is a huge policy decision. New York State forbids housing in state parks. Where is the public debate? It has been by proxy through our votes - we have successfully gotten rid of the politicians who advocated for this policy. But with the current mayor at the helm, maybe that isn't enough. Maybe we need a referendum on the next ballot to prevent this from happening or to allow it for other parks. But right now, today, we have the opportunity to simply say NO TO HOUSING. Find another way to pay for the park but do not alienate public park lands forever with private housing."

It was clear from the 'suits' in the audience last night that the tasty morsels of land in Brooklyn Bridge Park that our city and Mayor Bloomberg are dangling in front of developers has attracted them like sharks. It remains to be seen if the commission that has been put together to look into housing alternatives will truly be able to resist their pressure.

Below are some of the other testimonies, pro and con, that I taped last night.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the names (though I think you mean from left to right, not from right) of the attendees. Amazing they don't have signs in front of them for the average person to identify them.

Katia said...

Oh, you are right. Will change it right now on the post.

Batman said...

The subject of your post is somewhat deceiving. You seem to have pulled Olmsted's name out of the air so as to fire up people who associate his name with public parks, and rightfully so.

What you may not know is that Olmsted was not really much of a landscape architect when he won the design competition for Central Park, but was rather a politician and consultant, who focused primarily on HOW to get parks built, while the majority of the designing was left to his partners, which in the case of Central and Prospect Parks was Calvert Vaux.

In an ironic twist, Calvert Vaux is memorialized with a sad park on the water's edge in Brooklyn (the part of Brooklyn most newcomers in this neighborhood have never seen).

I believe that Olmsted would have advocated the creation of the park and the following through of a plan. He was well known for bulldozing any opposition to his plans, and yes, there was plenty of opposition to both Central and Prospect Parks!

Katia said...

I have no doubt that Olmsted had to do his fair share of wheeling and dealing in his time. I am also sure that there was plenty of opposition to Central Park and our very own Prospect Park.
However, in 1874, he objected to a proposed building in Central Park by stating :"Will the park, by the plan proposed, be made more valuable as a substitute to the mass of the people for a visit to the country-as affording the greatest possible healthful change of scene-air, of mental associations from those to which they are subject under the ordinary conditions of city life?"

It would seem that Olmsed understood the dangerous precedent of building within our parks. Where will we stop? Will we, in the future, allow the construction of a luxury condo right here in Carroll Park, because the city does not allocate enough resources to fund the Park's Department? How about in Cobble Hill Park?

A slippery slope...

Anonymous said...

I am opposed to building housing in the park. All park development at the park should stop immediately. We do not need a park with a public budget of 16 million a year. The planing and administrators of this absurd idea should be seriously questioned. We do not need overblown destination incentives to bring city dwellers to open space. The studies that say we do are perpetuated by those planners that will profit from such studies. Open up the spaces yet to be developed and give them over to an array of community enterprises and creativity. Let these groups be responsible for maintenance by their labors and fund raising projects plot by plot. Here are some ideas of who might use and maintain these plots for all of our enjoyment. Community gardeners, national and local environmental groups for use as pilot projects, education and fund raising, Brooklyn educational institutions including local public schools, St Francis College, Brooklyn Tech, LIU, Packer, St Annes, Friends, Little league sports groups of all kinds (how about a ballpark with an outfield fence with corporate and small business sponsorship), Brooklyn Botanic Gardens,Brooklyn Museum,Brooklyn Childrens Musum ect. This list only begins to scratch the surface of groups who would use and cherish the opportunities inherent in this.

Drop the unpopular notion of goverment funding accept in most basic sense (garbage collection, security etc) and tap at least in part into corporate sponsorship. Wallstreet looms directly on the horizon and we all know they have reputations that need serious polishing. Why not ask them to fund maintenance of a pier/park?

The idea of a perfect park and the procrastination that seems to have accompanied it, should be put aside. Let it be a grass roots development even if a patchwork of results. In fact the patchwork and individual quality of the park could be it owns charm and popular appeal. How much of recent Brooklyn has successfully bloomed/developed in this way.
Have a little faith in this thriving community to be stewards of that beautiful open space.

Vincent Joseph
Carrol Gardens.

Katia said...

Hi Vince,
Nice to know you are still reading. Thanks for adding your voice to this debate by commenting.
Just made it "Comment Of The Day"