Housing-in-the-Park Debate Reopens as Brooklyn Bridge Park Opens

For the past half-decade, the plan to build Brooklyn Bridge Park has been a hornet’s nest. A finance plan largely based on developing housing within the new waterfront park, set up by the Pataki and Bloomberg administrations, incensed a vocal set of Brooklyn Heights neighbors, who have been unrelenting in their criticism more than three years after the park’s public approval was complete.

But as the park now begins to open—public officials cut the ribbon on the first section of the park—the controversial plan for housing that was a key element in the plan for a financially self-sustaining park is newly in flux.

In a deal reached this month with the Bloomberg administration to hand the city full control over the project, freshman state Senator Daniel Squadron, long a critic of the planned housing, now will effectively wield veto power over any new housing development in the park (nearly 800 units are planned in a series of buildings). This new twist comes as city officials were intent on taking the reins at the park—it had been sharing control with the state, which was reluctant to put in more money amid strained finances—and had to negotiate the terms of the transfer with Mr. Squadron, who was insistent on trying to change the financing.

The structure that they agreed to pushes any decision on the housing to at least July 1, 2011, and would seem to set up a face-off with the city over how to finance the ongoing maintenance of the park. Based on the agreement, there are three apparent avenues going forward at the park: the Bloomberg administration would agree to an alternative financing scheme; Mr. Squadron would vote for housing; or stalemate would ensue, and the city would not finance additional construction without a financing plan.

A new governing board for the park will have to publicly consider an alternative financing plan for the new housing (which was to have provided more than $7 million a year). Should the board reject that plan and choose to pursue housing, it would need the affirmative votes of both Mr. Squadron and Assemblywoman Joan Millman, a vote that would presumably anger some of Mr. Squadron’s political base. Should it not approve the housing or another financing plan, the city has said it would not release additional funds to finish the park. (The board would again have to vote for additional housing by the southern end of the park in 2013.)

“If we were going to have a change in governance, I felt a real obligation to do what I could to ensure that these priorities that I and the community have been pushing were a reality,” Mr. Squadron said Friday.

Whether or not there are indeed viable financing alternatives is unclear. Mr. Squadron has proposed a mechanism similar to tax increment financing districts, in which the city would rezone nearby neighborhoods and put the added tax revenue it receives from the rezoning into the park maintenance fund (the city has displayed little public interest in this plan thus far).

Mr. Squadron deferred questions of whether or not he would ultimately vote for housing until alternative plans are created and vetted, saying the new structure “allows for serious consideration of alternatives.”




Housing-in-the-Park Debate Reopens as Brooklyn Bridge Park Opens