Plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park Withstands Challenge

Citizens group challenged inclusion of private residential development. In 2002, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki created the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation as a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation and charged it with the responsibility to design and build a proposed park on Port Authority land along Brooklyn’s East River waterfront. The 2002 agreement required that no less than 80 percent of the acreage be park space, all revenue generated from commercial uses would be exclusively used for park maintenance and the final development plan would be guided by a master plan created for the area in 2000.

The newly-created Park Development Corporation adopted a general project plan for an 85-acre parcel in July 2005, proposing 77 acres of park space and eight acres of revenue generating space, including residential buildings, private parking, hotels and retail/ restaurant space.

A not-for-profit citizens group, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Legal Defense Fund, filed an article 78 petition, challenging the plan approval as arbitrary and capricious. The Defense Fund claimed the plan violated the public trust doctrine since it called for private use of public park land. It also alleged that residential development violated the 2002 agreement between the mayor and governor and the master plan of 2000 since neither called for residential uses and, in fact, the master plan specifically discouraged it. The Defense Fund claimed that no document required the park to be economically self-sufficient.

The state and the City responded that the governor and mayor always intended the park to be economically self-sufficient. Estimating a $15.2 million operations and maintenance budget, the state and City claimed that self-sufficiency required high-revenue generating uses that occupied small footprints, such as residential or hotel uses. Financial projections indicated that restaurants and snack bars alone would not generate sufficient revenues, and that high-traffic uses would be incompatible with the park use. The state and City pointed to other parts of the final plan that differed from the 2000 master plan, such as a swimming pool that it later found to be infeasible, arguing that the 2000 plan was only a guide.

Justice Laurence Knipel dismissed the case, finding that the plan did not violate the public trust doctrine since the site was not designated parkland and would become parkland only after it was developed and transferred to the state. After first noting that the Defense Fund had no standing to enforce an agreement between the mayor and governor, the court found that the agreement was not violated since it called for a “sustainable” park with revenues used towards park operations. The court relied on affidavits submitted by the City and state, concluding that it was a political decision whether the park should be self-sustaining or funded by taxes.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Legal Defense Fund v. NYC Urban Development Corp., 2006 NY Slip Op. 26466, Nov. 27, 2006 (Kings.Cty.Sup.Ct.) (Knipel, J.) (Robert Chira & Associates, for Defense Fund; David Paget, for Empire State Dev. Corp.; Michael A. Cardozo, Carrie Noteboom, for NYC).

CITYLANDComment: In February 2006, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation received approval from Landmarks to demolish the Purchase Building warehouse, which stood on the project site within the Fulton Ferry Historic District. 3 CityLand 2 (March 15, 2006).

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