Is It Too Late to Save a World-Famous View?

The view today from the north end of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Photo by Susan De Vries

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One thing is clear to the gatherers on the steps of the Appeals Court in Brooklyn Heights: An injustice has occurred, and even after multiple lawsuits and appeals, it seems unlikely anything will be done about it.

“There has been such a breach of faith with this community, it is sad that people who claim to be representing the public interest can act in such a perfidious manner,” said legendary preservationist and lawyer Otis Pearsall.

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The view circa 1971. Photo via Brooklyn Media Group

Moments earlier, oral arguments had been made in an appeals case Friday brought by Save the View Now, a community activist group founded by Steve Gutterman, against Brooklyn Bridge Park, the City of New York, and developer Toll Brothers, the team behind the controversial 1Hotel and Pierhouse condo development.

In question is a bulkhead on top of 1Hotel that blocks views of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn Promenade, despite a 2005 agreement brokered by Pearsall that sought to limit the height of the hotel (including any bulkheads) to 100 feet. The agreement was crucial to win community support for the creation of the park. As it now stands, the bulkhead adds an extra 30 feet to the hotel, obstructing views from the promenade.

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The view in 2015. Photo by Barbara Eldredge

The 2005 agreement was reached between the Brooklyn Heights Association, of which Pearsall is a member, park planners Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, and Wendy Leventer, then the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation.

“I don’t think anyone felt at the time that there were opposing views or parties,” said Pearsall. “One sort of had the idea that we were all on the same side, that we’re all trying to accomplish the right thing.”

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The view in 2016. Photo by Susan De Vries

According to the defendants, Save the View Now’s case is hampered by a four-month statute of limitations that had already expired by the time they filed their first lawsuit. Furthermore, they argue, the extra height of the bulkhead was public knowledge, revealed via multiple meetings with the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council.

“Whether they prevail on the narrow legal grounds of statute of limitations or not, the fact cannot be denied that they have fundamentally broken their promises to the community,” said Peter Bray, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association. “It’s a really sad commentary on what the promises of government is worth to the public.”

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Above, an idealized rendering of the Pierhouse hotel and condos showing nothing visible on the hotel roof. Rendering by Rogers Marvel Architects

Gutterman argues that if the height of the bulkhead was revealed, the extent to which it would block views from the promenade was not entirely clear. In fact, it was in the fall of 2014, when the first Pierhouse building topped out, that Pearsall noticed the bulkhead’s appearance drastically revised the agreement meant to protect the view.

Some might wonder if a four-month statute of limitations is adequate.

Whether or not the unfortunate turn of events was an error may be impossible to say at this point. After changes in leadership at both Brooklyn Bridge Park and BHA, a crucial part of the agreement that stipulated the building height limit was inclusive of any bulkheads was not encoded in the park’s General Project Plan.

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Pierhouse and 1Hotel in 2016. Photo by Susan De Vries

Meanwhile, unexpectedly, more changes have encroached on the view since 1Hotel topped out. The second building, condos at 90 Furman Street, appears taller than the bulkhead when viewed from the north end of the promenade, although it conforms to the 100-foot height limit. Across the river, Extell’s One Manhattan Square skyscraper rising at 252 South Street on the Lower East Side overshadows one of the Brooklyn Bridge’s towers.

“Many people recognize that the Brooklyn Bridge is pretty important, and the view is pretty important,” said Pearsall. “One would think that the park people, their architects and their various consultants would have conceived of preserving that view.”

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