LOWER MANHATTAN — The long battle over the controversial construction of two residential towers inside Brooklyn Bridge Park at Pier 6 may soon be resolved by a private mediator.
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Lucy Billings on Tuesday urged the Brooklyn Heights Association — which filed a lawsuit in July against the 28-story and 14-story towers— and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, the nonprofit chartered by the city to oversee the park, to resolve their dispute through mediation.
She also, however, gave them the option to return to court next Wednesday if they wanted to “spend the resources to argue [in court] while in mediation.”
Many locals in Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill have long opposed the construction of residential development in the park, but under the park’s “general project plan,” issued in 2006, it was required to be financially self-sustaining — meaning that it would generate its own revenue to cover operating and maintenance costs.
The lawsuit, which claims officials for the park promised they would build only what was necessary to fund its needs, alleges the park misrepresented the anticipated profit from its other revenue-generating projects.
The park's approval of the Pier 6 towers were based on "a forecast of revenue that disregards key facts and defies reason," the suit claims, noting that the real estate values in the area have skyrocketed since the original plan was approved.
The Brooklyn Heights Association supports mediation, its lawyer Richard Ziegler said.
Park lawyers did not disclose whether they’ll go for it, but Ziegler told reporters that the groups have already made some progress since they met in Billings’ chambers last week.
“We think it’s a sensible step,” Ziegler said of mediation. “There’s been some movement on both sides.”
He was not, however, able to disclose the confidential information on negotiations, he said.
Opponents have long charged the park with inflating maintenance and operating costs to justify the need to build housing, hotels and retail in the park.
The Brooklyn Heights Association contends the park will have an excess of $300 million over the next 50 years without building the towers.
Members fear that the additional 266 units — 100 of which would be set aside for “affordable” housing — would take 3 acres of much-needed open space at one of the park’s highly trafficked entrances and would contribute to the overcrowding at neighborhood schools and “loom incongruously” over the historic homes of Brooklyn Heights, according to the group’s lawsuit.
The park already has housing in the park, including the converted warehouse at One Brooklyn Bridge Park (near Joralemon Street); the glassy new Pierhouse at Pier 1 (which brought luxury condos and a high-end hotel near the Old Fulton street entrance to the park) and the swanky new 12-story condo along Dumbo’s waterfront at 1 John St.
There’s also a splashy retail complex in the park at the recently refurbished Empire Stores, which is home to West Elm, Shinola and soon an outpost of the exclusive members-only Soho Club, the Brooklyn Paper recently reported.
Pier 6 is the last of the park’s sites approved in the general project plan to be developed.
“The proposed development at Pier 6 will provide essential long-term funding for the park, as well as needed affordable housing and union construction jobs. We look forward to next steps in the process,” a Brooklyn Bridge Park spokesman said in a statement.
Though many locals have railed against the residential development from the start, some in the posh area voiced concerns about the affordable housing, including a resident from One Brooklyn Bridge Park, who wrote on a Change.org petition against the buildings that he wouldn’t have purchased his pricey condo if he knew he’d be living next to “100 % subsidized housing,” according to Brokelyn.
The lawsuit raised flags about the affordable housing component — which makes up more than a quarter of the project — claiming that such housing violates the general project plan's limit on development required to support the park's financial needs.
Lawyers for the park told the judge last week they believed the Brooklyn Heights Association wanted the affordable housing component out of the project, and park officials have said that funds are needed to maintain the integrity of the pilings of the piers, that are constantly worn away by marine creatures.
“There’s no indication that anything short of preventing affordable housing and changing the project in a major way” would mollify them, park attorney Haley Stein said in court last week, the Brooklyn Paper reported.
But Cobble Hill resident Judi Francis, a staunch foe of the residential development in the park for more than a decade, said the conflict wasn’t over affordable housing. Many community activists were fighting the Pier 6 development when it was envisioned only as luxury housing.
“Housing has a corrosive effect on parks and park use and park planning,” Francis said. “We need our parks. This is 3.1 acres we will never get back.”
The lawsuit against the Pier 6 project, slated to be developed by RAL Development Services and Oliver’s Realty Group, is one of several that opponents have filed against the park.
Billings has yet to hear arguments, but did raise questions about the Brooklyn Heights Association’s call for the park to conduct additional environmental reviews to update the findings from more than a decade ago. She noted that the law states that the agency overseeing the park “may require” additional study but didn’t mandate such actions.