By Matt Chaban
If they can reach a compromise on Capital Hill, why not on the Brooklyn waterfront?
After years of bickering over Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Bloomberg administration has finally struck a deal with two local pols who opposed plans to erect condos along the park to help pay for its maintenance. Instead of the two new condo towers, along with the hulking One Brooklyn Bridge Park, they have settled on one shorter tower, though maybe still a second one, along with a handful of additional funding mechanisms to make up the difference.
Decades in the making, the park finally took off during the real estate boom, when the idea of condo towers sandwiched between the BQE and the derelict docks no longer seemed absurd. Instead of paying annual real estate taxes, that money would be diverted to maintenance for the park. Some people, who have the audacity to think the public sector and not the private should be responsible for building and maintaining parks, were appalled. The Brooklyn Paper began calling it Brooklyn Bridge “Park” for this very reason, while The Observer prefers the name libertarian parks. Then there were the Brooklyn Heights residents, who feared the views from their multimillion-dollar brownstones would be besmirched.
A committee set-up last year sought to find alternatives that could raise enough money to fund the park without having to build any condos, such as building a parking lot—which is so much better than condos. This proved untenable, at least on its own. As had been the previous hope, a rezoning and air rights sale of the Watchtower properties in Dumbo owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses will go forward, but it will only replace one of the condos, at Atlantic Avenue, and then only if there is enough interest in buying the development rights. The city explains the deal thusly:
Such a rezoning and sale to tax-paying entities would have to take place by December 31, 2013 to be counted as an offset. For each square foot of Watchtower property rezoned and sold, the Pier 6 development sites would then be reduced by 0.30 square feet. Total incremental revenues allocable to the park from these sites would be capped at $6.27 million per fiscal year, escalating at 3 percent per year (or the amount previously anticipated from the Pier 6 Development Site).
People had better hope the market picks up by then. Meanwhile, a tower at John Street remains, but it has been reduced to a height of 140 feet from 170, with 40,000 square feet less of development.
“By reducing or eliminating housing and requiring Watchtower and other alternatives to be used, we have dramatically changed the plan,” State Senator Daniel Squadron said in a release. “We found a path to complete Brooklyn Bridge Park and address long-standing community concerns about housing on the site.
Those other funding mechanisms include increased concessions and new parking fees, which will raise $750,000 per year. So if we won’t commercialize the park one way, we will another. “Before investing further City capital to build out the park, it was critical that we come to an agreement on a long-term funding plan for its maintenance so the park would be self-sustaining,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Bad as this may sound to some purists, considering parks are closing around the country, it may not be such a bad deal.