Oasis! Park may open atop water tunnel

Oasis! Park may open atop water tunnel
Community Newspaper Group / Kate Briquelet

Crowded Clinton Hill residents could get some sorely needed open space — atop one of the city’s major water tunnels.

A vacant Kent Avenue lot owned that serves as a water shaft site could be opened to the public this summer, ending a decade of pleading and planning by residents who wanted it to turn it into a park.

The Department of Environmental Protection owns the site and kept it fenced off for years to build pipes below ground connecting to City Tunnel No. 3. Now that the heavy construction is complete, locals are ready to forge a park on the empty plot.

“We’ve been walking by this piece of land for years — it just looks like a park,” said Paula Segal, a law student and community organizer. “If we can get access to this, the neighborhood will really change.”

The former no-man’s land is nearly a full city block, stretching from Willoughby to Myrtle avenues in between Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Through the chain-link fence, passersby can see overgrown grass, rubble, and a few vent stacks jutting from the earth.

But there, residents envision a garden and playground behind the barrier. They formed the group Myrtle Village Green earlier this year to make their dream park a reality.

At a June 28 public meeting with Democratic District Leader Lincoln Restler and Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene), city officials announced that they’d finally begin the process to transfer the land to another entity, presumably the Parks Department — though who will take over is to be determined.

“I want to help give you as much access to as much of the site as quickly as possible,” said Caswell Holloway, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

The future park sits on an access site to City Tunnel No. 3, the largest public works project in city history, which snakes 60 miles up to reservoirs upstate. The $6-billion tunnel has been under construction since 1970 and is slated for completion sometime in the next decade.

The lot — which has been locked since 1988 — is zoned residential. Holloway said that a portion of the lot facing Myrtle Avenue will open by fall, allowing locals to plant flowers and enjoy the open space before permanent landscaping plans are made. Another parcel on Kent Avenue will open in 2012, while a third segment won’t be ready until 2024, when the city activates the tunnel.

Myrtle Village Green wasn’t the first neighborhood association to push for parkland at the site. The city first promised access in 2001, when locals drew plans for what they called Kent Avenue Park.

Organizers obtained a grant from the Percent for Art program — a law requiring 1 percent of city construction projects to be spent on public art — but the city quietly dropped plans for the green space in 2006.

Segal, a longtime resident of Clinton Hill, revitalized the effort in April, after recognizing that most nearby public spaces were paved lots — not parks.

The closest greenspace is the tiny Underwood Park on Lafayette and Washington avenues, about nine blocks away. Residents can also take a 20-minute walk to Fort Greene Park on Myrtle Avenue and Washington Park, and the Herbert Von King Park in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

“We need to keep the pressure on, because this could get lost very quickly,” Segal said. “We have people who are ready to get their hands dirty and commit to this park.”

At a community meeting last week, about 50 residents were eager to share their visions for the space.

Armen Reyes, who lives on Kent Avenue, wants housing and a community center on the lot. “They could build housing and the garden too,” he said. “But just standing like it is — it looks awful.”

Miriam Schwimmer, who lives two blocks away, said that in her Hasid community, there’s no place for children to play.

“There are families with seven to 10 children and nowhere to put them,” Schwimmer said. “We need a park and playground.”

James said that the competing ideas will be addressed over the next few weeks.

“I don’t see any obstacle to planting some grass or providing furniture or sandboxes for children,” James said. “There are lots of possibilities.”