Hundreds of Brooklynites flooded City Hall on Thursday to protest the city’s slow action on buying land for Bushwick Inlet Park, as real estate prices have soared in line with condo construction along the East River.
In 2005, seeking to increase development in the area, then-mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration approved plans to create a 28-acre park along the waterfront. The park was a source of comfort for residents of Greenpoint and Williamsburg who were unhappy with the luxury condos that would also be developed nearby.
But even though city officials designed, planned, and even built part of the park, they never actually took the time between all that back-patting and ribbon-cutting to buy up the area’s land and finish the job.
Currently, the first completed phase of the park sits at just over nine acres, with “a multi-purpose field for soccer, football, lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, and ultimate Frisbee, a green building with a green roof, a viewing platform, playground and public access to the waterfront,” according to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation website. Much of the rest of the land, however, has remained in limbo.
By 2011, real estate in Williamsburg had skyrocketed, and city officials said they didn’t have the money to buy one of the nearby lots to finish the project. That lot, which currently houses a CitiStorage warehouse, is now in the heart of The New Brooklyn. In 2006, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services pinned the price of the lot at $19 million. But in 2011, the site’s owner told the New York Times he would sell the lot for more like $120 million. Whoops!
An email from the parks department to the Voice confirmed there is still no funding allocated to buy a major portion of the land and “no schedule” for its acquisition.
After a recent fire hit the CitiStorage warehouse, residents are saying time is of the essence. They’re demanding that the city seal the deal before the burnt lot’s owner can sell the eleven-acre property to a private developer.
“While extremely unfortunate, the CitiStorage fire provides an opportunity for advancement of environmental due diligence and environmental assessment work on the CitiStorage parcel prior to the City’s potential future acquisition,” the parks department said in a statement. “Funding availability and environmental conditions at CitiStorage will inform the City’s decision making on when and if to proceed with acquisition of this parcel.”
The department has been working diligently on buying another piece of the park, the spokesman said. New York City has just thrown down nearly $68 million to buy a former oil depot. And in 2014, the city bought just over seven acres from another nearby site, worth about $5.5 million.
To force the issue, supporters of the park crowded outside city hall to demand the city buy the lot now.
“In 2005, Bill de Blasio voted to make this a park when he was a member of the City Council. Now what we’re saying is, live up to the vote that you made,” said Adam Perlmutter, a board member for the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn. “This is a matter of character. It’s a moral imperative. It’s a matter of moral integrity.”
The issue has brought young parents, City Councilmembers, crusty hippies, and Polish old-timers alike into a surprising alliance. Some toddlers asked their mothers to explain what was going on, while others played games or ran around along the sidelines. Meanwhile, after the courtyard hit its capacity, at least 50 more protesters stood outside the city hall gates and held signs with slogans like “Where’s Our Park” and “Flowers Not Towers.”
Stephanie Booth, who brought her seven-month-old son, Dalton, from South Williamsburg, is one of those locals. “When Dalton grows up,” she says, “I want to make sure he has a safe place to go.” Radek Szczesny, who moved to Greenpoint in 1999, is another. “People need a certain kind of wild space in New York,” he says.
Brad Lander, a City Councilman for Park Slope and Gowanus, says the completion of Bushwick Inlet Park will set a precedent for other neighborhoods like East New York, Harlem, and the Bronx, where communities are being asked to help the city rezone low-density areas and make plans for more housing developments.
If communities “all over the city are going to be asked to engage in genuine planning for the future of their communities, then they have to be able to count on the fact that when the city makes a promise for infrastructure…that promise is going to be kept,” he says. “Otherwise, all we’re getting is a swindle.”