Wednesday, March 18, 2009

watch more television: tonight

CHA Green Czar Dave 'Paco' Abraham has story-produced another episode of 'Man v. Food' on the Travel Channel. Paco says:
'Just in time for March madness, the host visits the North Carolina college basketball triangle and chows down on some southern staples. Don't watch it on an empty stomach.
The episode airs tonight at 10 p.m. Don't miss it.

House of Detention Rally: March 20

There will be a rally and press conference this Friday at City Hall hosted by Stop BHOD, the lead activist group in the fight against the City's proposed expansion of the Brooklyn House of Detention. From the BHOD statement:
On March 20th, the Department of Corrections will hold a budget hearing which will cover their plans to spend $1.2 billion on building new jails in the Bronx and Brooklyn. In response, Stop BHOD and Communities in Unity will join forces with community groups and elected officials in front of City Hall to send a unified message to the City that New Yorkers will not support wasteful spending on unnecessary jails at a moment of serious financial crisis. We hope you will join us Friday, March 20th at 11:30 AM for this important rally to stop the City from wasting $1.2B of our taxpayer money on jails we don't need.

We expect to hear from Council Members David Yassky and Letitia James, and are also hopeful that Comptroller Thompson will speak as well. We are also very excited to have speakers from our Bronx partner Communities in Unity, who we have partnered with in solidarity against the City’s plans for a new Bronx jail in Hunts Point.

Come out on Friday March 20th and join us in telling the City that more jails are not the answer. Fight for Rehabilitation, not incarceration!
WHAT: Stop BHOD rally
WHEN: Friday, March 20, 2009 at 11.30 a.m.
WHERE: City Hall

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

110 Amity Street: back on the market

As reported by Brownstoner and our many of our members, 110 Amity Street is back on the market. And yes, the Corcoran broker overseeing the offerings, which include adjacent properties, has the same last name as the developer who went before the Landmarks Preservation Commission last year. That is all we know at this point. If you know more than that, let us know.

props to Linda Blyer and Judy Willig

As reported in the Brooklyn Heights Press & Cobble Hill News, the CHA's own Linda Blyer has been honored by Brookyln District Attorney Charles Hynes. She and Judy Willig of the Heights & Hill Community Council will be saluted at the DA's annual Brooklyn's Extraordinary Women celebration. Congratulations, Linda and Judy.

Earth Hour: March 28

CHA Green Czar Dave 'Paco' Abraham writes in to remind us that Earth Hour is coming up:
Earth Hour: All parts of the world big and small making a conscious decision to turn off their lights for one hour on March 28, 2009 as a reminder of our planet's conditions and that we DO have the collective ability to change it.

I first heard about this last year and recall specifically unplugging everything I could in my apartment and just hanging out with friends. I kind of envisioned shutting all my lights, unplugging any cords, and perhaps having dinner outside. Maybe some people will play cards by candlelight or just sit and chat enjoying the company of old friends and new acquaintances.
What: Earth Hour
When: March 28, 2009, 8.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.
Where: Everywhere

join the party: Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Cobble Hill Association will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary at a gala party at Borough Hall on Thursday, May 7, 2009, and you are invited.

This is going to be a fabulous event with music by Michael's Dreamland Orchestra and catering by Just click the link to get your ticket. We are going to announce a major project that could run for the next fifty years. Come to the party to find out what it is.
What: CHA 50th Anniversary Party
When: Thursday, May 7, 2009, 6.30 p.m. to 9.00 p.m.
Where: Brooklyn Borough Hall

Saturday, March 7, 2009

CHA letter on Brooklyn Bridge Park

The Brooklyn Paper's editorial this weekend refers to a letter that we have circulated to elected officials and the press this week. I thought we should also share the letter with the community because we all have a stake in the park, as well as in the management of public funds. Here it is.

March 3, 2009

Ms. Regina Myer
President, Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation
633 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Re: Brooklyn Bridge Park, financial data, and the federal stimulus

Dear Ms. Myer,

On January 29, 2009, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation released some financial data about the park’s construction and operations budgets to the public. We are grateful that, since its last public disclosures in October 2005, the BBPDC agreed once again to provide such data.

The Cobble Hill Association has been one of the strongest advocates for a Brooklyn Bridge Park for more than two decades. Continuing our historic role as park advocates, I am writing to you out of concern regarding both what the January 29 financial data reveal and what they do not.

We would like to ask your help in seeking answers to lingering, important questions about the financial disclosures. We make this request for the sake of transparency and good government. Putting aside for the moment controversies about the park’s design, we are concerned that the park’s finances are a mess. The worst-case scenario would be one where millions of dollars were ill-managed and ill-spent and the public wound up without a world-class park. No one wants that to happen. Can you help us in seeking answers to these Ten Unanswered Questions about Brooklyn Bridge Park? We are confident that greater transparency will make a great park more likely.

1. Utilities for what exactly?

The financial disclosures for construction show a $61 million cost for utilities. That is so high a cost that we believe it includes the cost of providing utilities to the development parcels. The unique funding scheme for the park’s maintenance calls for the development parcels to pay for the park. If any portion of the park’s construction budget is spent to benefit the development parcels, then the reverse would be true: the park would be paying for the development parcels. That would be a theft of public moneys and must never be allowed to happen.

Question: Will any portion of the $61 million utilities cost provide utilities or utilities infrastructure for the development parcels?

2. Construction or Operations?

The unique, controversial funding scheme for the park’s maintenance and operations budget designates certain items as “Maintenance and Operations” which would, in any other park financial model, be classified as “Construction Costs.” One such example is the pilings beneath the piers. Slide 26 of the January 29 presentation reveals that these “Marine Infrastructure Costs” are part of the Maintenance and Operations Budget. The annual amount of Marine Infrastructure Cost is $4,060,000, or 25% of the annual Maintenance and Operations budget of $16,104,000. These costs are obviously misclassified.

Question: By classifying traditional Construction Costs as “Maintenance and Operations,” isn't the result that the M&O budget is artificially high and that, therefore, the development parcels will have to generate commensurately more revenue to pay for the park’s inflated M&O budget?

3. Where will the money come from?

We have a second question about the marine infrastructure mentioned in question 2. Slide 26 of the January 29 BBPDC presentation reveals the following: “The cost of this work could be as high as $150 million, which must be performed over the next 15 years.” That is a lot of money without any apparent funding source.

Question: How can marine infrastructure costs be budgeted at $4,060,000 per year in the M&O budget yet also cost $150 million over 15 years? And where will the money come from to pay this unbudgeted $150 million cost?

4. Soft costs?

The construction budget shows “Miscellaneous Soft Costs” of $13,100,000. That’s a lot of miscellaneous.

Question: Can we obtain a breakdown of this large miscellaneous cost?

5. Architects and engineers?

The construction budget shows “Architecture and Engineering” costs of $20,400,000. In answer to a question of mine at the January 29 public meeting, Regina Myers of the BBPDC revealed that, so far, Van Valkenburgh Associates has been paid $18 million. That leaves only $2.4 million for all remaining landscaping design and architectural work, not to mention all past and future engineering.

Question: Since the architecture and engineering costs have almost entirely been spent already just on the landscape architect, how will the engineers’ and architects’ fees be paid as the project moves forward?

6. How much development?

The acreage devoted to private development has grown from 7 acres in 2006, to 8 acres in 2007, to 10.2 acres at the January 29 meeting. We do not understand why the acreage keeps growing since the total park area has not grown.

Question: What accounts for the progressive growth in land area occupied by the development parcels? Can we see the development acreage broken down by building and surrounding private amenities?

7. Alternative funding?

The unique, controversial funding scheme for the park’s maintenance and operations budget relies chiefly on housing, a revenue source that is subject to huge market swings. We know that there will also be concessions and automobile parking in the park, yet these were not included in the financial disclosures, nor was the revenue generated by the River CafĂ©.

Question: What amount of revenue is expected to come from park concessions and automobile parking, and might it be enough to allow reductions in the height of the development parcels? Will the revenue from the hotel restaurant and a possible grocery store at 360 Furman Street go to the park, or will it be kept by the operators of the development parcels?

8. Furman Street Freeze-Out?

The building at 360 Furman Street is expected to generate annual revenue of $2,982,000 towards the park’s Maintenance and Operations budget through PILOTs and ground rent.

Question: If the developer of 360 Furman Street, Robert A. Levine, defaults on his loan, who will be responsible for paying the revenue that the site is expected to generate?

9. Pop-up money?

We learned at the January 29 meeting that the BBPDC incurred costs to create the so-called “pop-up park” for the summer of 2008, but no other details were provided.

Question: Can we see a detailed breakdown of the costs to create the pop-up park and the revenue that it generated? We are particularly interested in itemized costs for design, construction, programming, security, operations, food, and liquor, as well as to whom the costs were paid.

10. Old data or new?

The Final Environmental Impact Statement was issued in December 2005. Appendix C devoted many pages to explaining in detail the park’s Revenue Assumptions and Maintenance & Operations budget.

Question: Since the financial data released on January 29, 2009 are so different than the data that were the basis of the 2005 FEIS, would the BBPDC provide similarly detailed explanations of its Revenue Assumptions and M&O calculations in 2009?

One more point: the federal stimulus

We are aware that our elected officials are considering asking Governor Paterson to direct some of the state’s 2009 federal stimulus money to pay for the $150 million in marine infrastructure costs mentioned above. I myself publicly asked Senator Gillibrand on February 18, 2009 to consider lending her support to this idea.

We believe that the stimulus money should be used for this purpose but only on one condition: that in exchange for removing this massive cost, which the BBPDC classifies as Maintenance and Operations, the hotel and the new housing in the park should be eliminated forever from the park plans.

Why do we feel that this arrangement would be justified? The reason for the new housing has always been explained in terms of the park’s uniquely expensive operating costs. But consider this: With the annual $3 million from 360 Furman Street and without the need for the annual $4 million for marine infrastructure costs, the park would no longer be uniquely expensive to operate. With this combined $7,042,000 plus the unknown revenue from concessions, the park’s operating costs would be cut in half. Why then would we need new high-rise apartments at Pier 6 and a hotel at Pier 1?

Let’s find a way to use the federal stimulus money to make the new housing and the hotel unnecessary. Haven’t we all said that we do not want housing if it proves unnecessary to pay for the park?

Please let us know when we might be able to meet with you in person to discuss these questions and to ask your support in finding the answers.


Jeff Strabone
President, Cobble Hill Association

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dock Street statement at City Planning Commission

Many thanks to Linda Blyer for delivering the CHA's testimony regarding Dock Street to the City Planning Commission yesterday. Here is our statement.
Statement of the Cobble Hill Association to the City Planning Commission
regarding matters C 090181 ZMK, C 090183 ZSK, C 090184 ZSK,
10 Dock Street, Brooklyn

March 4, 2009

City Planning Commission
Spector Hall
22 Reade Street
New York, New York 10007

Good afternoon, members of the Commission. My name is Linda Blyer. I am testifying today on behalf of the Cobble Hill Association in the matter of 10 Dock Street. We urge the Commission to oppose the application at its current height.

The three greatest icons of New York City are the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the Brooklyn Bridge. All three appear on calendars, logos, billboards, book covers, tourist info, and in the hearts and minds of all New Yorkers. Aside from their grace and beauty, all three benefit from their unobstructed visibility from multiple directions and prospects. The matter before you today would forever destroy the greatest set of views of the Brooklyn Bridge. It is every New Yorker’s responsibility to stand up for our City’s great history and to defend it from attack. Members of the Commission, the application before you represents an attack on Brooklyn’s greatest historic icon.

The application has gotten as far as it has because the developer, Two Trees Development, has cleverly tacked on a school to the project. Of course we all want more schools. But forcing the City to choose between historical preservation and school construction is a cynical false choice. We can have both. By pitting preservation against education, the applicant has set the past against the future. This tactic is reminiscent of the colonial policy of divide and conquer. The applicant is trying to divide our community, but we are one in rejecting this false choice and insisting on both education and preservation. Everyone who wants the historic views of the bridges preserved also wants a school in Dumbo. Indeed, the reason we want the views preserved is precisely because we want to pass our City’s legacy on to the next generation.

This developer, Two Trees Development, is the same one who is responsible for 10 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. That is the now famous case where they tried to build sixth-floor luxury penthouses in the Cobble Hill Historic District by calling them 'stair bulkheads' on the official architectural drawings that they submitted for approval to the City. These same so-called 'bulkheads' were then pitched to the rental market as 'penthouses' when the City's back was turned. Are we now supposed to trust this same developer to build a 'school'? What is their idea of a 'school'? Do we want to find out? This developer has no regard for history, for laws, for neighborhoods, or for Brooklyn.

Members of the Commission, we ask you to defend the City's historic legacy and reject this application as presented. We ask that you limit the applicant, and all others, to build no higher than the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge. Any building this close to the Bridge should be prohibited from towering over the Bridge. The developer can build high-rises further away from history. Please stand up for the Bridge, for the City, for the past, and for the future by opposing this application.

Thank you.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dock Street hearing: March 4

In January, we told you about the proposed building planned for Dock Street by Two Trees Development. The picture above shows before and after views. The next hearing on the matter will be very important. It will be held on Wednesday, March 4 at the City Planning Commission in Manhattan during the afternoon session.

As we have explained before, all of Brooklyn has a stake in preserving the historic views of the bridges. The main point to make is that no building that close to the bridges should exceed the height of the roadway. Again, this is the same Two Trees that tried to pass of penthouses as 'stair bulkheads' at 194 Atlantic Avenue.

What: City Planning hearing re Dock Street.
When: Wednesday, March 4, 2009, after 12.30 p.m.
Where: 22 Reade Street, Manhattan.

Please attend the hearing if you can and defend the integrity of historic Brooklyn and the bridges. The next step after this is contacting our City Council members to oppose the plan.