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Fueled With Cash, Park Critics Say They’ll Continue to Press Fight

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Record-breaking snow was not enough to dump on a fundraiser aimed at raising cash for legal action to block present plans for Brooklyn Bridge Park. Advocates say they raised more than $11,000 at a brunch held at Caffe Buon Gusto, 151 Montague St., on Feb. 12. “It was not a bad number for a one-day effort,” said Judi Francis, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund. “We are in this for the long haul. We now have enough in our war chest to go for a legal suit.” Francis declined to say how much there is in that war chest. The future lawsuit could challenge the park developers for allegedly failing to follow legal procedures and mitigate “negative important stuff,” she said. Opponents of the current plans criticize the park planners for including luxury housing, creating an “enclave for wealthy owners.” “It is wrong to have housing in public park land,” said Francis. “We need every single square inch as park.” Francis, who spoke at the “Save the Park” event, said the community she represents wants state and city comptrollers to audit the $15.2 million annual maintenance budget for the self-sustaining park, which the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation calculate is needed for upkeep. Critics say the budget is bloated by unnecessary costs, including $1.97 million for private security; $202,000 for maintaining a $1.6 million vehicular fleet; and $3.6 million for upkeep of the piers and marine areas. She also says that maintenance equipment should be outsourced. While Francis does not deny that the aging piers may need substantial repair work, she says that they should come from an up-front capital investment so they are in “good shape” when the park is handed over. “We are asking for capital funds to pay for that,” Francis said. She says that cutting these items would bring the budget closer to the one envisioned in an earlier master plan created through a public process between 2000 and 2001, which did not include housing. They also say that a large marina planned for the park could generate income to help meet maintenance costs — something that park planners say is unlikely. The prospective plaintiffs even allege that the budget was created to justify the housing proposed for the park. But the Empire State Development Corporation says that the maintenance budget meets the needs of the waterfront park and no more. “The budget for the park reflects the revenues necessary for the annual maintenance and operations for the park as determined by professionals who are experts in their fields,” said Deborah Wetzel, vice president of public affairs with the Empire State Development Corporation, but she declined to comment on any potential lawsuit. Brooklyn Bridge Park officials maintain that housing is the most land-intensive way to generate the money, allowing them to keep development to below a 10 percent threshold. Opponents of the current plans cite the Hudson River Park, also self-sustaining, which does not allow housing and hotels within its borders, as evidence that residential dwellings are not necessary. That five-mile, $360 million park with some 13 piers generates its income by lease and commission payments from private companies providing food and recreational facilities within the park. Other speakers included Kathy Madden, senior vice president of the non-profit Project for Public Spaces, Roy Sloane, vice president of the Cobble Hill Association, and Irene Van Slyke, from the Sierra Club. “Raising money for litigation contradicts what they are saying area about being in support of the park,” said Virginia Terry, from the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, “Litigation will stop parklands, not improve them.” The budget compares very well with a couple of precedents, including the Hudson River Park and Battery Park City, Terry said. “Years down the road we will want every penny,” she said. “There is never enough money for parks.” Francis says that she is reluctant to consider legal action, but is forced to because politicians are not opposing residential development in the park. “I don’t think there is anyone here who wants to stop the park,” said Sandy Balboza, president of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment. Association. “What people want who are in opposition is to stop the housing in the park.” The Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund is a not-for-profit organization.

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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