City won’t promise to finish two long-stalled North Brooklyn parks

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The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

City officials will not promise to finish building two stalled North Brooklyn parks before Mayor Bloomberg’s term runs out, adding to fears in Greenpoint in Williamsburg that the long-promised waterfront recreation areas will never materialize.

Two top Bloomberg aides deflected multiple questions from councilmembers over the future of Bushwick Inlet Park and a planned open space at 65 Commercial St. last week, refusing to estimate when both projects would be complete and citing budget constraints as the cause of the delays.

“We don’t have a bottomless pit of money — right now it’s just not possible to acquire property,” said Parks Assistant Commissioner Joshua Laird. “The city has an obligation to its taxpayers.”

But open space advocates say the city also has an obligation to North Brooklyn after approving a controversial rezoning of 200 industrial blocks Williamsburg and Greenpoint seven years ago in exchange for a commitment to build hundreds of units of affordable housing, a mile-long esplanade abutting the East River, and several new parks.

A handful of sky-scraping luxury towers have sprouted at the water’s edge, but the city has only acquired half the lots between N. Ninth and N. 15th streets necessary to build Bushwick Inlet Park and failed to move Metropolitan Transportation Authority vehicles from a Commercial Street lot that’s slated to become open space.

Councilman Steve Levin (D–Greenpoint) accused the Bloomberg administration of favoring projects that could make the city money, such as the McCarren Park Pool set to open this month, while putting waterfront parkland on the back burner.

“I’ve noticed that when something is a priority of this administration, it gets done,” said Levin. “It’s a question of priorities and these parks are not priorities.”

Financial mismanagement and planning gaffes have also stood in the way of both planned open spaces.

Bloomberg officials originally valued one site on the southern edge of the 28-acre Bushwick Inlet Park at about $12 million, but a judge ruled that the area’s residential rezoning meant its value was almost eight times higher.

The city eventually settled with the property owner and bought the parcel for about $93 million, according to court papers and Council testimony.

Last year, the city informed N. 10th Street property owner Norm Brodsky that it doesn’t have the funds to purchase his lot, which has been rezoned for parkland.

City officials blamed Kent Avenue property owners for highballing the administration and rejected calls to seize the properties by eminent domain.

“The last conversation we had didn’t leave us very optimistic,” said Carolee Fink, senior advisor to Deputy Mayor Robert Steel. “If that property owner will decide to reenter negotiations we’ll do that.”

Money to build a park at Commercial Street dried up too.

In 2007, city budget hawks removed $13 million of the $14 million allocated to the park’s development and spent it on other projects.

And last month, The Brooklyn Paper learned that a deal to move MTA vehicles stored at the Commercial Street lot unraveled when the Department of Transportation refused to house them on its South Williamsburg property, forcing negotiators to scramble for an alternate site.

Bloomberg aides believe the city could raise funds by selling the air rights around 65 Commercial St. to developers and may find a new location for the MTA’s trucks in the coming weeks.

But Levin doubts the city will follow through on its new promises.

“This is about credibility, doing what you say you’re going to do,” said Levin. “You have no concrete plan. When you want to do something, you have a plan.”

Reach reporter Aaron Short at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2547.

This stretch of waterfront is supposed to become part of Bushwick Inlet Park, but city officials say they can't afford to build it.