Developers, City Have Decided Epic Views Only For People With Epic Bank Accounts

(Photo: Brooklyn Heights Blog)

Ten years ago the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA), a well-organized neighborhood specific activist network, came to an agreement with private developers. In the interest of raising much-needed funds to complete construction of Brooklyn Bridge Park, the community group agreed to let developers build a hotel and three-building condo cluster, despite the fact they were “not thrilled with the thought of a large new structure that is out of character with the rest of the neighborhood.” But in exchange for co-opting what are, um, multi-million dollar views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Skyline, the developers agreed to pay for the maintenance and operation of the park.

The BHA also pushed for a height limit that capped the new structures at 100 feet, so the park’s views would be somewhat protected. But according to an article published by the Times yesterday, the Toll Brothers, the developers behind Pierhouse (a luxury condo complex the developers have dubbed a “natural evolution”) have managed to skirt the initial agreement to account for “mechanical structures,” and build 30 feet beyond the limit. The result has been a ruthless fight between neighborhood activists, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (the non-profit that runs the park), and the developers. According to the Times, the architect Jonathan Marvel claims he’d heard nothing of the limit prior to construction.

The Times article also makes clear that, never mind the differences between the original agreement and the reality of Pierhouse are only “minor,” locals are furious. Brooklyn Heights and nearby Dumbo have some of the most expensive real estate of all neighborhoods in the city, and it’s safe to assume a lot of those enormous dollar signs have to do with, oh, I don’t know, the waterfront zone’s sweeping views of money island Manhattan.

But as of this summer, according to Curbed, Pierhouse already had claim to “some of the borough’s most expensive homes,” including a 4-bedroom home listed at a mere $7.2 million. Another penthouse was the object of a record-setting contract for $11 million. So far, more than half of the 106 available condos have been sold. And according to earnings reports dug up by the Real Deal last year, the Toll Brothers are projecting revenues of $250 million from the Pierhouse complex, which will also function as a luxury hotel. In short, these buildings are worth shit tons of money.

The BHA charges that the building in question obstructs views of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and parts of the Brooklyn Bridge. The community group is now making an almost completely hopeless demand by calling on the developers to stick with the original height limit plan and, like. get rid of the extra 30 feet. They’ve have launched a Save the View Now campaign, and a petition, which reads “We have been misled; It is time to fight back,” has gathered over 4,000 signatures and reads.Lena Dunham, who in December bought a Brooklyn Heights apartment for $4.8 million– which, let’s be real, is pretty much chump change compared to what those Pierpoint condos are raking in– tweeted her support for the campaign.

Other groups are also doing their part to preserve the park’s sweeping views of the city, but some are seeking to halt further housing development altogether. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund has fought tooth-and-nail against the encroachment of affordable housing in the immediate area of the park. Judi Francis, President of the advocacy organization, told the Times back in August: “Affordable housing is a noble and fine thing. But a park that has to pay for itself is not supposed to pay for the ills of the city.”

That line of argument will leave a less than amazing taste in anyone’s mouth who doesn’t have, like, putrid meat for a heart, and sort of brings attention to the question of who is really benefitting from “the views.” Tourists? Local park goers? But maybe what we should really be asking is why some New Yorkers feel they are entitled to “views” and stunning parks in well-developed, moneyed neighborhoods (i.e. luxuries) ahead of people in need of practical things such as affordable housing.

In all the midst of all this grossness, the Toll Brothers have managed to keep some people happy, specifically the board members of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, the non-profit in charge of maintaining the park. The BBPC’s President, Regina Myer (who was nominated for the position by Mayor de Blasio), penned a blog post for Gothamist earlier this week claiming that the building’s 30-foot addition shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone: “From the earliest community meetings on Pierhouse, we made it clear that mechanical equipment—known as ‘permitted obstructions’ in NYC zoning parlance—would be placed on the roof of the 100-foot building.”

Myer included in the article a photo taken in 2010 depicting the view from the promenade near Pineapple Street before a decrepit warehouse on what is now the site of Pierhouse was demoed. The photo makes it appear as if the view will actually be slightly improved with the addition of Pierhouse.

The whole mess is a depressing sort of a microcosm for where the city is quickly heading: rich people versus the astronomically wealthy, with everyone else as something of a footnote. Thankfully some people have spoken up. But while the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation has pushed forward with plans to develop Pier 6, as of now their stance is that the plans “may” include affordable housing. Yeesh.

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