It’s been seven years and North Brooklynites have been more than patient. In 2005, residents agreed to the Bloomberg Administration’s massive waterfront rezoning of Greenpoint/Williamsburg in exchange for an infrastructure that could sustain their growing population: 3500 units of affordable housing and over 30 acres of parkland. Since then, a soccer field at Bushwick Inlet and a trail of broken promises are all the city has to show. And with a year and a half left in the mayor’s term, the community refuses to wait a minute longer.
On Thursday, June 14th, residents held an emotionally charged rally on the steps of City Hall to demand its waterfront parks, including the 28-acre Bushwick Inlet Park, 65 Commercial Street and green spaces at Barge Park. Among the many officials and activists who came to rally the troops were Councilmember Steve Levin, CB1 Chair Chris Olechowski, District Leader Lincoln Restler, and representatives from Assemblyman Joe Lentol, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Brooklyn Borough President Markowitz.
“They’re going to have to answer for their actions today!” shouted Councilmember Steve Levin to a sea of banners. “They have obfuscated; they have spun; they have come with all kinds of excuses, and we’re sick of it! We want answers and we want a plan!”
Immediately following the rally was the City Council’s first comprehensive oversight hearing of the 2005 hearing. During a tense two-hour session, Levin and Councilmembers Diana Reyna and Brad Lander grilled administration officials who still offered no concrete plans to build the long-pledged parks, claiming it was “difficult to speak in the hypothetical.”
Carolee Fink, senior policy advisor to Deputy Mayor Robert Steel, declared that Administration was still committed to fulfilling its end of the bargain, but proved vague on questions of a timeline, funds and the operations of city departments. In fact, both she and assistant Parks Commissioner Joshua Laird laid blame on the economy and at the feet of virtually all the other parties involved in developing the waterfront. Among those accused were waterfront property owners, who, according to Laird, wanted $175 million for the purchase of property on Bushwick Inlet. “We don’t have a bottomless pit of money to throw at this.”
Levin countered Laird, noting that $54 million had just been spent restoring McCarren Pool and massive funding had been provided by the City for other recent gargantuan projects, such as Yankee Stadium.
65 Commercial also continues to be trapped in bureaucratic mire. An earlier deal to move the site’s MTA vehicles fell through when the Department of Transportation rejected their relocation to its space under the Williamsburg Bridge. To make matters worse, the city scrapped $13 million of the original $14 million budget to develop a park at the site. Barge Park has fared no better.
And while Fink pointed to the new Transmitter Park, the restoration of McCarren Park Pool and (privately built) waterfront esplanades as proof of the city’s goodwill, Levin warned the official not to conflate issues, reminding her that the first two were not part of the original deal. “The Pool is not what we’re here to talk about. This is about credibility. This is about doing what you say you’re going to do. We want a concrete plan.”
Residents and activists who testified at the hearing also did not hold back their frustration. Many felt marginalized at the expense of special attention given to private developers. “When we were talking about the rezoning, we should have asked, ‘Build our parks first, then we’ll allow you to build everything else’” said Christine Holowacz. “It seems like nobody cares. It’s just absurd.”
Greenpointers and their outer borough neighbors were particularly worried about the fate of an acre of Bushwick Inlet owned by George and Janice Weinmann. The couple has been planning to build the Greenpoint Monitor Museum on the site since its donation in 2003, but face the threat of their land’s seizure by the city through eminent domain. “I was dismayed about this threat of eminent domain hanging over the site for the Monitor Museum,” said Carl Ellman, a resident of Rego Park. “To me that seems like shooting oneself in the foot. This private property is just one acre and appears to be the most compatible with the development of the park, and would actually enhance the park experience. I don’t think the city taxpayers would be paying for this.”
A full video recording of the hearing can be viewed at the City Council website at http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=197719&GUID=92D32302-D6D0-4BF1-B4CE-ACC6D1B760F0&Options=&Search=.=
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