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Brooklyn Park Plan Provokes Anger, Debate

The Irish rock band U2 performed in the Brooklyn waterfront park in Nov. 2004. Plans to add apartment houses are now roiling some neighbors more than the amplified music did.

The plan would transform a 1.3-mile stretch of docks and warehouses in Brooklyn Heights into a ribbon of recreation. The 85-acre site, which offers breathtaking views of Manhattan, would include lawns, rolling hills, bikeways, a marina, and, to the dismay of some residents, three new luxury apartment towers ranging in height from 95 to 315 feet.

That last addition is provoking spirited debate among residents and environmentalists. Project architect Michael Van Valkenburgh has yet to weigh in on the controversy.

The debate raises fundamental urban planning questions: When is a park not a park? And how far should government go in granting concessions to developers -- in this case, allowing profit-making housing on public land -- to subsidize nonessential public services?

Michael Van Valkenburgh has produced the park's preliminary design.

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In July, the Sierra Club said that "the park had been co-opted by the interests of real estate developers" and warned that "for the very first time, private housing, parking and what might also be a private marina" were being planned inside a park.

Supporters of the plan say that the critics would go to any lengths to discourage people from driving into the neighborhood or traipsing through from subways and buses.

As a park, the site presents challenges -- it sits isolated below the Heights and much of it is cut off by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Still, until recently, the project seemed a paradigm of cooperative planning.

"It's not a park anymore," said Irene Van Slyke, who lives in Boerum Hill and is vice president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, which is suing to block the housing and to require further analyses of potential traffic congestion.

The land would be owned by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation, a public agency; and property tax payments, or their equivalent, would be reserved for the park's maintenance and operations, rather than going to the city's general budget.

Robert Chira, a lawyer who represents opponents of the project, said there is a larger principle at stake. "What is being proposed for Brooklyn's waterfront will be a test case for the rest of the city's waterfront," Chira said. "It is not only a 'test' case, but presents fundamental issues of whether public parks or other public amenities should be funded by private citizens."

Gordon J. Davis, a former city parks commissioner, said that the management of Central Park, Riverside South, Bryant Park and Hudson River Park, among others, suggested that public-private partnerships can work.

"Spare me the 'philosophy,'" Davis said. "What's the best way of getting it done? Every cultural institution in town seems to have danced with some developer. And when it comes to open space, I don't have any problem if it's designed well.

Source: New York Times

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June 27, 2019, 1:59 am PDT

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