This park’s delay is old enough to get a driver’s license!
Intransigent transit officials have refused to move their emergency vehicles off of a plot of land in Greenpoint to a planned new facility next door, further delaying a promised park along Newtown Creek some 16 years in the making, according to local pols.
“We are still faced with the MTA dragging their feet, throwing up roadblocks, and doing basically everything they can to avoid delivering this parkland they committed to 16 years ago and it’s really unconscionable,” said Greenpoint Council Member Steve Levin at a Feb. 1 virtual press conference. “This is so totally absurd.”
The proposed Box Street Park at 65 Commercial St, between Box and Clay streets, was promised by the Michael Bloomberg administration as a sweetener to make up for all the luxury condominiums slated to sprout up along the north Brooklyn waterfront as part of the 2005 rezoning — but the would-be recreational space has been marred by years of setbacks due to officials failing to agree on a new home for the Authority vehicles that currently live at the site.
Transit honchos use most of the 3-acre city-owned lot to store Access-A-Ride vehicles, and about half an acre to keep a fleet of cars for their Emergency Services Units.
Officials originally planned to relocate the cars to a Department of Transportation-owned lot beneath the Williamsburg Bridge, but that deal fell apart in 2012 when DOT rebuffed the proposal.
In 2013, the city agreed to sell air rights of the Greenpoint plot to Manhattan-based development company Chetrit Group — which planned to erect a 30-story apartment tower complex next door at 77 Commercial St. — in exchange for bankrolling part of the park’s construction and offering space in their parking lot for the emergency vehicles, along with office space for MTA personnel inside the building.
The city’s Parks Department, meanwhile, is forging ahead with a planned $21.7 million lawn for the space, which includes access to the waterfront, two dog runs, a basketball court, and a brand new bathroom facility — but the scheme excludes the corner section MTA is unwilling to give up.
Some $5 million for the park comes from private sources, while the bulk of $16.7 million is still taxpayer money via Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, according to a 2019 presentation by the Parks Department. A Parks Department spokeswoman did not immediately provide a timeline for the project.
Levin and other local advocates demanded MTA finally agree to a plan to move the rest of their cars to allow for a full build-out of the park as glitzy new condo towers are built up around the site.
“Since the 2005 rezoning there’s been no impediment to throwing buildings up, but when it comes to asking for a park space that we deserve, it’s a huge problem,” said area District Leader Kristina Naplatarski. “We have waited nearly a generation for this promised park to be delivered, that means that kids born around this time have grown up in a community that has been deprived of open spaces and we’ve had an opportunity for 16 years to give them a little sliver of open space with Box Street Park.”
Borough Park developer Clipper Equity bought out Chetrit in 2019, according to property records — and the new owner has started construction on the project, while still offering up the parking and office space to the MTA, according to Levin.
In 2015, the City Council approved plans to move the Access-A-Ride cars to the Bronx, which the MTA has agreed to, but the agency has remained stubborn against moving its smaller emergency fleet just one lot over into Clipper Equity’s planned building, saying the vehicles need their own dedicated entrance and exit.
Levin argued that the proposed parking lot would have a double-wide opening in and out of the facility — twice the Authority’s current single-wide access to the lot. The legislator added that the developers committed to reserving the spaces closest to the exit for MTA, and called for the agency and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stop stymying progress.
“This doesn’t cost any money, they just have to move their cars… next door,” Levin said.
The agency has “not lifted a finger” in the past years to work with the developer or the city on a solution, Levin said, adding that time is running out as Clipper Equity might back out of the proposal to provide offices unless they reach a deal with the MTA soon.
“The MTA and the governor need to step up and act like responsible government agencies and not just slap this community in the face which is really what this is, a slap in the face,” he said.
A spokesman for MTA responded saying that the agency is committed to upholding the agreement, but that the developer’s space may not provide the needed clearance and that sharing the parking lot with private cars could risk impeding the emergency vehicles.
“The MTA from day one has been committed to upholding its agreement to relocate its paratransit and emergency response vehicles from 65 Commercial Street, stands ready, willing, and able to do so, and maintains an active and open dialogue on the matter,” said Shams Tarek in an email. “Our commitment and efforts have been met with external obstacles including the developer, which despite repeated entreaties has failed to provide a turnkey space that ensures the safe and seamless operation of our Emergency Response Unit vehicles. Any assertion to the contrary is false and advocacy should be directed towards ensuring that public transit operations are not compromised.”
Update (Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 9:09 am): This story has been updated to include comment from the MTA.