State could seize land to finish Bushwick Inlet Park, fine city $1M a year for not building it

When the smoke clears: The CitiStorage facility, part of which burned down this past winter, is the only thing between Williamsburg and Greenpoint residents and their contiguous 28-acre park.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

This is one way to get a park looking like a million bucks.

The state could seize a Williamsburg waterfront property the city has long promised to buy and use to expand Bushwick Inlet Park then slap Mayor DeBlasio with a $1-million fine every year he doesn’t turn it into green space, if local lawmakers succeed in passing a new bill they hope will force Hizzoner into action.

“My objective was to allow the [state] to buy the property, give it to the city, and say, ‘We’ve got you a park Mr. Mayor — now it’s your job to outfit it,’ ” said Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D–Greenpoint), who drafted the legislation with state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Williamsburg).

The pair say they got sick of the city claiming it can’t afford to purchase the 11-acre CitiStorage warehouse at 10th Street, which it needs to finish the 28-acre park that officials promised to build between the East River and Kent Avenue as compensation for rezoning much of the waterfront for luxury housing in 2005.

Lentol and Squadron’s bill allows the state to seize the property via eminent domain — which means the owner has to sell, but receives a market-rate price — and then work out a deal to either give or sell it to DeBlasio.

Once the land changes hands, the state could then slug the city with a penalty of a million smackeroos for every year it doesn’t build the park.

A senate committee just approved the legislation, which the lawmakers say is a promising sign the Republican-controlled house will actually vote on it this session.

But even if it clears both houses, Gov. Cuomo would still need to sign off on the plan. He spiked Lentol’s last do-gooding eminent domain bill — to seize an imperiled Williamsburg senior center — though this one offers a particularly high-profile chance for the governor to show up his nemesis DeBlasio.

One legal expert says it would be very unusual for a government body to use eminent domain to force another into paying for land — though it is common for the state to lump city pols with unwanted programs.

“This is a constant criticism of the state by virtually every municipality — that the state tries to take credit for programs that provide benefit to the public, and then shifts the costs onto the municipality,” said Stewart Sterk, a professor of real estate law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Lentol insists the bill would only allow the state to seize the land, however — the transfer to the city would be a separate deal between the two parties, and the only pressure for it to agree or pay would come from members of the public.

And locals backing the legislation say it is only asking city officials to do something they devised in the first place.

“It’s promised as a park,” said Greenpoint resident Steve Chesler, who is a member of activist group Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park. “It’s not like they’re taking people’s homes away — it’s definitely for the common good, for the taxpayers.”

Indeed, CitiStorage owner Norm Brodsky does wants to sell the property — much of which burned down last year.

He claims it is worth upwards of $325 million, though the park activists believe $75 million to $92 million would be a more realistic price tag, as the land is not zoned for residential buildings and DeBlasio has promised he won’t rezone it for housing.

A City Hall spokeswoman says it is currently reviewing the proposed law.

The Daily News was first to report on the bill.

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