Updated: A Guide to Brooklyn Bridge Park Controversies, as Told in 10 Years of Brownstoner Headlines

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    This month marks Brownstoner’s steel anniversary. We’re taking some time to look back at our past, even as we design a new future.

    Brooklyn Bridge Park has been controversial since its conception. The park is self-funded through private development inside the park — including condos, stores and concessions — rather than taxpayer money. Housing in the park has been especially controversial.

    Here’s a look back through 10 years of Brownstoner headlines documenting Brooklyn Bridge Park’s various and ongoing scandals and lawsuits.

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    The park on Pier 6. Photo by Cate Corcoran

    February 2005: 30-Story Tower Proposal Stuns Heights Residents. Proposals for Pier 6 are met with audible gasps at a community meeting about Brooklyn Bridge Park. The sky-scraping structure was unpopular among locals from the start.

    July 2005: Disagreement Over Tower Next to Brooklyn Bridge. Cobble Hill Association member Roy Sloane emails his own rendering of the Pier 6 tower’s dimensions as compared to other structures on the waterfront. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation subsequently released their own rendering, showing a much shorter structure than Sloane’s.

    Brooklyn Bridge Park Controversy

    Proposed towers on Pier 6. Rendering by ODA Architecture

    February 2006: Brooklyn Bridge Park Approved–Lawsuit Expected. After a full year, the $150 million proposal for Brooklyn Bridge Park is approved, and nine civic groups immediately come together and hire a law firm seeking to prevent construction of 1,300 proposed condo units.

    February 2006: LPC Puts Another Nail in Purchase Bldg’s Coffin
    The Landmarks Preservation Commission votes in favor of demolishing the late-deco 1936 Purchase Building located directly beneath the Brooklyn Bridge in order to create “open space”.

    March 2008: Brooklyn Bridge Park Plans Doomed? The Department of Environmental Conservation calls Brooklyn Bridge Park plans potentially harmful to marine life, causing further delays for the then two-decade-old project.

    January 2009: Pols Highlight Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Money Probs. Money shortages further delay the completion of Brooklyn Bridge Park, as private development on the site is put on indefinite hold. Amid the state’s fiscal crisis, and lacking likely government funds, involved politicians worry how the park will be built, let alone maintained.

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    The Pierhouse hotel and condos going up in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo by Field Condition

    April 2010: Jane’s Carousel Building Rendered
    Renderings are released showing the Walentas owned and restored Jane’s Carousel at its then soon-to-be home on the Dumbo waterfront. Grumbling regarding it’s new location was largely due to general Walentas controversy, and fear it would block view of Lower Manhattan or the Brooklyn Bridge.

    April 2011: Judge Halts Tobacco Warehouse Transfer.
    In a victory for neighborhood groups, a judge rules that the National Park Service illegally redrew state parkland boundaries, excluding the Tobacco Warehouse and Empire Stores from Empire Fulton Ferry State Park. While the judge ruled the National Park Service’s motive as easing the transfer of the Tobacco Warehouse to St. Ann’s Warehouse theater group, the city and National Park Service contend the exclusion of the two buildings on the map was a mistake.

    April 2012: Project for Public Spaces Levels Criticisms of Brooklyn Bridge Park Design.
    Brooklyn Bridge Park designer Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. is critiqued as being disconnected from park-goers wants and needs, other planners calling it, “one of the deadest waterfronts ever designed.”

    January 2013: Plans Scrapped for the Brooklyn Bridge Park Velodrome.
    Reclusive philanthropist Joshua Rechnitz withdraws his proposal to donate $50,000,000 to create a velodrome and rec center in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Unable to find a space within budget once flood-prevention and park-required roof aesthetics were taken into consideration, Rechnitz rescinded the offer and went on to purchase the Gowanus Batcave.

    July 2014: Neighbors Sue Over Mayor’s Plan for Affordable Housing in Brooklyn Bridge Park. In the ongoing battle to reduce the height of proposed towers on Pier 6, keep affordable housing out of the towers, or eliminate the development altogether, locals sue to halt construction of the towers. Locals allege the housing is not necessary to pay for the park.

    September 2014: Pierhouse Addition Angers Preservationists. Accusations begin regarding the then recent topping out of the Toll Brothers’ condo and hotel project Pierhouse. Bulkheads atop the building are said to violate height restrictions on the structure, meaning the developer broke a 2005 promise to protect the Promenade views by restricting height.

    Brooklyn Bridge Park Environmental Center

    Children exploring marine life at the recently opened Brooklyn Bridge Park Environmental Center. Photo by Barbara Eldredge

    April 2015: Community Group Sues Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pierhouse Developer Over Height, Views. Yet another lawsuit. Community group Save the View Now sues developer Toll Brothers and Brooklyn Bridge Park over construction of the Pierhouse hotel and condos. The group alleges the buildings’ height violates the park’s General Project Plan.

    May 2015: Brooklyn Bridge Park, Community Groups Settle Lawsuit Over Pier 6 Towers. A settlement is reached in State Supreme Court over further development on Pier 6, requiring a change to the terms of the General Project Plan and public review process to allow the building of affordable housing (that is, non-revenue-generating residences) in the park. Representing a compromise between the park and community groups, both sides expressed approval of the decision.

    The controversy has been long and emotional — and surprisingly predictable. In a 2005 Brownstoner post, Brooklyn Bridge Park Debate 20 Years Ago, we revisited a then-20-year-old Norman Mailer quote in The New York Times essentially predicting all the seemingly unpredictability that was soon to come.

    My guess is that the real-estate developers will do anything to raise the height restrictions for the property. Disposal of the site could be a political scam that would generate an enormous sense of outrage. But if they try to do something against the interest of the area, the opposition here will make the fight over Westway look like All Souls Night.

    [Top photo: Mary Hautman]

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