Bill would help turn vacant lots into parks, gardens

Bill would help turn vacant lots into parks, gardens
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Public gardens and pop-up parks may soon dot the borough’s landscape if a plan to give vacant-lot owners a new tax break comes to fruition.

The state legislature is currently considering a bill that would offer owners of vacant land bucks off their property-tax bill if they let community groups use the land for “public benefit.” The bill would potentially eliminate all the taxes on a property, depending on what portion of the lot is used and how long the project is open to the public. Currently, residents say these vacant lots are a scourge, or just a plain waste of space, in their neighborhood.

“Vacant lots in New York City are blights to our communities,” said Councilman Steve Levin (D–Willliamsburg). “With this legislation, the property owner benefits by not having to pay property taxes on land they aren’t using and the community gets publicly accessible, environmentally friendly, healthy open space. It is a win-win for the public and property owners.”

One of the main drivers of the legislation is 596 Acres’ NYC Community Land Access Project, a group that works to find uses for the hundreds of acres of vacant lots throughout the city.

“We’ve been looking for ways to create benefits for private landowners to make it easier for neighbors to start conversations with them,” said Paula Segal, executive director of the project.

Segal worked with state Senator Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights), Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D–Williamsburg) to draft the state legislation, and Levin to pass a city resolution in support of it.

In the draft legislation, “public benefit” is defined as including, but not limited to, “open spaces, community gardens, urban farms and pop-up parks.”

Carly Giglia is one resident who has been trying to convince the owner of an overgrown, vacant lot on 20th Street and Fourth Avenue to let her take over the space.

“I just wanted to make some sort of outdoor space, whether it be a garden or a few benches,” she said. “Anything would be better than looking at falling construction and garbage.”

One of the inspirations for the legislations was the creation of Havemeyer Park and Brooklyn Bike Park on a vacant lot slated to be the site for one of the future Domino towers. The space was loaned by developer Two Trees to Ride Brooklyn, Bobby Redd and North Brooklyn Farms until the company begins construction on the towers. The parks have a space for events, parties and films, a mountain bike track, and even a small farm. Two Trees did not receive any money or tax breaks from the deal, but company officials said tax benefits would be even more of an incentive.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.

If the law allowing landowners to get tax breaks from loaning out their vacant land to the community goes through, they might be more willing to lend it out, rather than allowing it to become overgrown like this lot at the corner of Utica Avenue and Fulton Street.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini