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07.09.2014
Affording the Waterfront
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issues RFP for affordable housing at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Pierhouse by Marvel Architects.
Courtesy Marvel Architects

As under-construction condominiums on the north side of Brooklyn Bridge Park shatter borough sales records, affordable units are slated to bookend the other end of the 85-acre site. The park has issued an RFP for two new towers at the south end of the park. Nearly a third of this new development is expected to include affordable apartments. The towers—one 16 stories and the other twice that size—would rise on currently vacant sites adjacent the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

Given the mayor’s plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade, this news is not surprising in its own right. The inclusion of affordable housing at Brooklyn Bridge Park, though, marks a significant turn in the park’s history, and, possibly, its future.

The park was created as a public-private partnership with the city and state fronting money for construction, and property taxes from development at the park covering the upkeep—about $16 million a year. The 550,000-square-foot, Marvel Architects–designed condo and hotel project currently rising at the park is a key part of that plan.

Courtesy BBPC
 

Some local groups have opposed residential development at the park, claiming that it would block views of Manhattan and turn the public space into a backyard for the wealthy. But since the first phase of the park opened in 2010 it has been wildly popular with the public, and the planned towers at the site will likely do little to change that. In many ways, the fact that there is any green space at the site at all is a victory.  When the park was being planned, the Port Authority proposed using the piers for high-rise development and parking lots.

The two new towers proposed under the de Blasio administration are also receiving their fair share of backlash, but not just for their size. Opponents point out that affordable units would provide significantly less revenue for the park, if any revenue at all. This has noticeably put community groups on the awkward side of opposing affordable housing in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city.

 

Creating new affordable housing and continuing to provide funds for the park is not a zero-sum game for mayor de Blasio. A spokesperson for his administration told the Wall Street Journal, “We can secure the necessary funding to maintain this world-class park while simultaneously providing an affordable housing component to ensure the community actually represents Brooklyn.”

While this plan is in its early stages, the reception it has already received foreshadows the many development debates to come. As mayor de Blasio sets out to build 80,000 new affordable units over the next decade, he will certainly get pushback from local groups about the size, location, and design of new projects.

This is nothing new—development will always have its detractors, and that is not always a bad thing. But in de Blasio’s New York, opposing new development will increasingly mean opposing new affordable housing. It is a complicated and thorny debate and one that is about to play-out all across the city.

Henry Melcher