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2006 IN REVIEW - The people and events that shaped Brooklyn Heights

No matter how one looks at the issue, 2006 ended on a decisive note with the state giving final approval to the $4 billion Atlantic Yards project. But while the thought of the first major sports team – the Brooklyn Nets – coming to the borough since the Brooklyn Dodgers left in 1957, is major news, it is far from last year’s only news in the Downtown Brooklyn area. Development in general continued as the major story stretching from the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges to just past Atlantic Avenue. Chief among these developments is the continued controversy surrounding the proposed Brooklyn Bridge Park, and whether luxury housing should be used to sustain the park. Among other economic and development-related issues is the planned conversion of the former Williamsburg Bank Building to luxury condominiums and the opening of the new Office of Emergency Management building. Residents of the Downtown Brooklyn area also saw a new pedestrian plaza and voiced continued support for pedestrian parking permits and traffic mitigation on Atlantic Avenue in 2006. Finally, crime continued its downward spiral amid one or two worrying trends. Atlantic Yards The year began and ended with the specter of lawsuits over the controversial $4 billion plan for an arena to house the Nets and 17 high-rise buildings for housing, commercial and retail development. The January 2006 lawsuit centered on two issues -- FCRC’s plans to tear down six buildings it owned in the footprint of the project, and the Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) use of the same environmental attorney that had previously represented FCRC in the project. The buildings in question included the Underberg Building at 608-620 Atlantic Avenue; 461, 463 and 585 Dean Street; and 620 and 622 Pacific Street. FCRC contended the buildings were not structurally sound and posed chemical hazards such as asbestos. Opponents of the project contended FCRC wanted to tear the buildings down to further the impression that the site was a “blighted” area. Among the groups signing on to the lawsuit included Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB), the Fort Greene Association, the Pratt Area Community Council, the Fifth Avenue Committee and the Prospect Heights Action Coalition. In February, the State Supreme Court rendered a split decision ruling FCRC had a right to demolish the buildings, but that the attorney in question, David Paget, had to step away from representing the ESDC. The ESDC appealed the case and won the appeal in May. However, to avoid any hint of conflict of interest, they hired the Brian Cave law firm to replace Paget to represent the organization in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process. For the next several months, as the ESDC was readying a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the project, opponents, supporters and FCRC continued to spin various events and press releases in trying to sway public opinion. At the same time, Borough President Marty Markowitz convened a series of meetings with experts related to scoping issues covered in the upcoming DEIS on the proposed project. These meetings included such issues as traffic, sewage, shadows, and other environmental impacts. The interim also saw the continued rise of the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN), a coalition of about 25 longtime civic organizations, who ultimately received City Council funds to hire an independent consultant to go over the environmental review process. Among the spins brought on by FCRC and supporters was a hearing in Albany, several mailings, including some resembling a newspaper, and a informational hearing drawing several thousand people looking for some of the proposed 2,250 units of affordable housing in the project. Not to be outdone, DDDB and opponents held a series of meetings and rallies decrying the plan, and created a celebrity-filled advisory board. However, DDDB’s much publicized July rally in Grand Army Plaza drew hundreds of people and not the thousands that were anticipated. On July 18 the ESDC and FCRC released the long-awaited DEIS, which set off a 60-day timeline for the public to respond before the ESDC could vote to approve a final GPP (General Project Plan and EIS. Supporters and opponents then battled publicly through a public hearing and two community forums on the issue at the New York City College of Technology, 285 Jay Street. In the interim, opponents suffered a major blow in the court of public opinion, when their candidates running largely on an anti-project stance were trounced in the September Democratic primary. Then in November the ESDC approved the release of the final EIS, and after yet another review due to some missing public comments, certified the FEIS and GPP in December, sending it to the state Public Authorities Control Board (PACB). Then on December 20, the PACB approved the plan, ending the legislative part of the process. However, DDDB and other opponents have filed another two lawsuits and promise more to come charging the project abuses the use of eminent domain. “The federal eminent domain lawsuit brought by citizens protecting their constitutional rights is rock-solid, and without those plaintiffs’ properties, Atlantic Yards as we know it – an arena studded with 16 outmoded super block towers – cannot be built,” said DDDB spokesman Daniel Goldstein. Brooklyn Bridge Park Also seemingly moving forward is the Brooklyn Bridge Park stretching along 1.3 miles of the downtown Brooklyn waterfront and including 85 acres. That after the a lawsuit seeking to stop the housing component of the planned Brooklyn Bridge Park on the grounds it betrays the Public Trust Doctrine was dismissed in late 2006. The petitioners of the suit were the Brooklyn Bridge Park Legal Defense Fund, Inc, and individuals Judith Francis and Robert Stone. The defendants, including the city and state and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation, contend the money generated from the housing on less than 20 percent of the land is needed to sustain the cost of maintaining the park. In dismissing the suit, New York State Supreme Court Judge Lawrence Knipel ruled that the city and state “have wide discretion in creating the subject Park, and in implementing it as a financially self-sustaining entity.” The court added that disagreement over whether a park should be self sustaining “is a disagreement of philosophy, not law.” With the dismissal of the lawsuit, Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation (BBPDC) President Wendy Leventer said Requests For Proposals (RFP) regarding residential buildings to help pay for the park will be released shortly. Specifically, the RFPs will go out for the development of Pier 6 and the former Con Edison lot at the Manhattan Bridge on the north end of DUMBO. Leventer’s comments came despite pleas of several elected officials to hold off issuing the RFPs before some of the parkland is developed as it would increase the value of the aforementioned properties. But Leventer argued there is nothing to gain from deferring the issuance of the RFP’s because the park has a lot of momentum and it doesn’t make sense to defer what is the major funding vehicle for the park. Elected officials including Markowitz, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, State Sen. Martin Connor, Assemblymember Joan Millman and City Councilmembers David Yassky and Bill de Blasio, also asked to delay the RFP until it is better known whether the Empire Stores needs to generate revenue for the park. But Leventer said she feels RFPs on the Empire Stores should also be issued. “We feel the best way to go is to issue all the RFPs simultaneously and get everything back and see where you stand,” said Leventer. Leventer further explained that if they get back better bids than expected on the properties, they can always scale one or the other back. Deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff said he expects work on the Brooklyn Bridge parkland and development to pay for upkeep to be done simultaneously. “It will be the horse and cart moving together,” he said. Meanwhile the Downtown Brooklyn Waterfront Local Development Corporation (DBWLDC) is spearheading a study to provide better access to the proposed park. Among the ideas being floated are a tunnel leading from the Clarke Street subway station to the new Brooklyn Bridge Park and a pedestrian bridge leading from the Brooklyn promenade over the BQE to the park. Other Development News In June, NBA Hall of Fame player Earvin “Magic” Johnson came to the borough to announce the planned conversion and marketing of the Williamsburgh Bank Building into 189 luxury condominiums. Under the plan, the 35th and 36th floor penthouses would sell for $3 million and $2.7 million respectfully, and feature outdoor rap-around terraces with panoramic views of the city and New York Harbor. “It’s an opportunity to own a piece of history. It’s the icon of the Brooklyn skyline,” exclaimed Corcoran Group Vice President Adam Pacelli, who is in charge of marketing the gold domed, 37-story landmark building with the largest four-sided clock this side of Big Ben. The building, which at one time also housed many dentist suites, will keep about 17 dental offices on the seventh floor. Development was also seen with the December opening of the new Office of Emergency Management building at 165 Cadman Plaza. The original headquarters was located in the World Trade Center and destroyed in the 9-11 terrorist attack. While construction was being completed at the 165 Cadman Plaza site, which used to house the Red Cross headquarters, OEM and EOC was temporarily located at 11 Water Street in DUMBO. “OEM plays an important role in ensuring coordination of city agencies during an emergency,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “This state-of-the-art facility will help make communication between agencies more seamless so that during an emergency, City resources are easily marshaled and dispatched to areas that need help.” The opening was also celebrated among local residents who previously were critical of citing the new OEM EOC facility in Downtown Brooklyn. “I have to say the feeling of their being our neighbors have really turned,” said Helen Pearlstein, president of Concord Village Board of Directors, a seven-building residential complex bounded by Tillary and Sands Streets, and Adams and Jay Streets. “We had safety concerns after 9-11 as well as concerns about the height and they type of building, but now we’re happy to have them as neighbors,” she added. Quality of Life Issues Among the main quality of life issues for Downtown Brooklyn residents in 2006 is the continued lobbying for residential parking permits (RPP) and traffic mitigation measures. Residents, local elected officials and civic organizations argue that Downtown Brooklyn is the third largest business district in the city, and includes the court system and much back office space for government offices, whose employees take up parking spaces often illegally. Jane McGroarty, who heads the Brooklyn Heights Association Traffic Committee, said in Brooklyn Heights a large percentage of people garage their cars because it’s not possible to park on street. “I’ve always been an advocate not only about parking for residents, but about mitigating the land use situation being next to one of the three largest central business districts in the city,” said McGroarty. City council member David Yassky said residential streets were meant for the people that live on them, not the people that work nearby. “Every day, thousands of Downtown residents are forced out of their own neighborhoods to park, making living here a burden, instead of a joy,” said Yassky. “Whether or not they can find a spot, residents deserve to at least have priority for an open space. It's the least the city can do,” he added. In so far as traffic mitigation, residents and shop owners along the Atlantic Avenue corridor staged a protest in 2006 and continue to pressure the city into doing more traffic mitigation between the BQE and 4th Avenue. The October protest came after two pedestrians were killed in the last year by errand drivers along the thoroughfare. “Anyone who drives and walks on Atlantic Avenue knows it is dangerous for pedestrians, children, seniors and motorists and it is getting worse,” said Sandy Balboza, president of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association (AABA). But Department of Transportation (DOT) spokesperson Chris Gilbride responded that Atlantic Avenue is a heavily trafficked corridor, carrying through traffic and trucks and bisecting a regional retail destination and residential neighborhood. “The safety and comfort of pedestrians while crossing Atlantic was identified as an issue of significant concern during the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project. As a result, DOT instituted numerous changes at intersections along the corridor,” Gilbride said. On the plus side, 2006 saw the DOT install a Pedestrian Plaza at the Adams and Willoughby Streets intersection. Crime Report According to official year ending police figures crime continued to go down in the 84th police precinct covering the Downtown Brooklyn area. However, the 3.53 percent decline in crime in the precinct did show an upward trend in murders with two reported in 2006 as compared to none in 2005. Also seeing slight increases were reported felony assaults and grand larcenies. However, reported rapes were down 40 percent from 10 in 2005 to 6 in 2006, and robberies were down over 12 percent with 209 reported burglaries in 2006 as compared to 238 in 2005. Marginal decreases were also reported in burglaries and auto theft.

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