The lack of open space in Williamsburg and Greenpoint following the 2005 rezoning is one of the key issues in campaigns for City Council and citywide races this fall, but with tax revenues falling, city officials are in a difficult position.
Despite these challenges, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made several appearances in Williamsburg regarding open space and new park construction in the neighborhood and faced community criticism head−on.
“Among the announcements he has made this summer in Williamsburg were the groundbreaking for Bushwick Inlet Park, one of the most expansive parks being built anywhere in the city, and the expansion of Summer Streets from one of its new sites, Williamsburg Walks,” said Andrew Brent, a spokesperson for Bloomberg.
While there has been significant progress regarding new parks construction in North Brooklyn, community leaders remain frustrated and worried that the mayor and the city Parks Department have not done more to fulfill the promises of the 2005 rezoning, which include several park spaces along the Williamsburg waterfront.
“I think there is a recognition by the administration, explicit or not, that the promises made in the 2005 rezoning are late in being fulfilled,” said Michael Freedman−Schnapp, Co−Chair of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, an organization that advocates for open space in Williamsburg.
Much of the burden of the rezoning promises has fallen onto The Open Space Alliance, a nonprofit with a public−private partnership with the city Parks Department. The majority of funding that OSA has raised privately and with the help of public officials has gone to supplementing the Parks Department’s budget for maintaining facilities in North Brooklyn Parks, as well as opening long−delayed parks projects like the Manhattan Avenue Street End and the WNYC Transmitter Park at Greenpoint Avenue.
“These are heavy budgetary lifts for the city and no amount of private funding can make those major parks a reality,” said Freedman−Schnapp. “The city must invest enough money to create these parks soon, before even more development happens because our current parks are incredibly overused.”
This year, the city has announced budget cuts of $57 million for parks priorities in North Brooklyn, which will have the effect of further delaying two phases of construction at Bushwick Inlet Park (North 11th Street and Kent Avenue) and a park on an MTA lot at 65 Commercial Street.
The financial picture for the city looks bleak. The state’s revenues for April through June dropped $4.1 billion, or 25 percent, compared with the same period last year, according to a report issued July 27 by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The city’s tax revenues had dropped so much that Mayor Bloomberg proposed increasing the sales tax to 8.875 percent.
Williamsburg resident and New York Community Coalition Chair Phil DePaolo is worried that Parks will be the recipients of further cuts next year.
“Parks will get hit hard. They’re the first thing that gets slammed,” said DePaolo. “It’s going to be time to pay the piper and nobody seems to realize that. Next year, there won’t be an election year.”
Evan Thies, a City Council candidate for the 33rd District and former Community Board 1 member, praised the work of the Open Space Alliance and its Board Members, but was pessimistic about the Bloomberg administration keeping its promises from the rezoning agreement.
“There’s a difference between saying there’s a bad economy and screwing us out of the money which is still in the capital budget,” said Thies. “That’s outrageous. The money’s there.”
Stephanie Thayer, executive director of OSA, recognizes the challenges that her organization faces. She does not believe that the mayor has been coming to Williamsburg to secure votes, as one Council source asserted, but that OSA has been effectively pressuring the administration to follow through on its rezoning commitments.
“I want the mayor here as often as he will come. I want his staff here as often as they can come and be on the ground here,” said Thayer. “It only helps us. People who have the power to make changes, present in the community. It only helps us get what we want.”