‘It’s become a dumping ground’: W’Burg luxury high-rise residents sue city for failing to upkeep waterfront

Keith Berger points to haphazardly filled-in pavers where park benches used to be at N. Fifth Street Pier and Park.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

They’ve had it with the city!

The condo boards of three luxury developments along the Williamsburg waterfront are suing the city for upwards of $2 million, claiming Parks Department officials have failed to maintain the publicly-managed private greenspaces and piers fronting their buildings for years, while also allowing raucous revelers to party late into the night.

“It’s become a dumping ground, where you can drink, smoke weed, and party at night,” said Keith Berger, the president of the condo board for 1 Northside Piers at Kent Avenue and N. Fifth Street. “If you look at Brooklyn Bridge Park or Long Island City … they have become a destination point in a positive way, our [waterfront park] has become a destination point in a negative way.”

Berger’s building, along with neighboring 2 Northside Piers and the Edge condo complex, filed a complaint against city officials with the state Supreme Court in Manhattan on Sept. 30, alleging that Park stewards have violated their commitment to take care of the waterfront lawns and piers — which the developers built, and still privately own, as part of a city zoning deal to allow them to erect their tall glass towers, but handed over upkeep to the city after completing them.

The three plaintiffs are asking for their money back for hundreds of thousands of dollars they paid in annual fees since 2014 to the city for park maintenance of the so-called Waterfront Access Areas between N. Fifth and N. Seventh streets, along with costs for third-party repairs, attorney fees, and costs for this lawsuit, according to the Wednesday court filings. They claim the city owes the board of the Edge buildings at least $1.4 million and the boards of both Northside a total of $700,000.

The affidavit details a laundry list of complaints that residents say have been an issue for years, including rat infestations due to large leaking dumpsters, more than a dozen street lights that have gone unfixed for 18 months, pavers either jutting out creating a tripping hazard or missing entirely, off-leash dogs peeing all over the place, and skateboarders destroying benches that are then never replaced.

Parks gurus installed these unsightly orange barriers on a broken spot of the Williamsburg piers.Photo by Caroline Ourso

But this summer things got significantly worse, say residents, as pent-up New Yorkers frequently gathered at the park until long after closing time and deep into the night, hosting loud “block parties,” drinking booze, driving up and down the piers on their cars and motorcycles, and launching fireworks which in one case hit one of the buildings, according to the plaintiffs.

“Large groups of people have congregated in the Waterfront Access Areas after hours on a near-nightly basis throughout the Summer months, causing a significant disturbance to the Condominiums’ residents by … gathering for noisy ‘block parties’ at which attendees play loud music and consume alcohol in public, and by setting off fireworks from the Waterfront Access Areas,” the complaint reads. “During one such incident, fireworks launched from the Waterfront Access Area struck the façade of one of the Condominiums, causing damage and significant risk of fire.”

Under the maintenance agreements for all three building complexes, Parks Enforcement Patrol is supposed to enforce the lawn’s laws 24-7, but the plaintiffs say that on multiple occasions their calls to the agency or the police went either unheard or cops didn’t show up until hours later. 

“PEP personnel have never taken action to prevent the ‘block parties’ from taking place, nor have they responded to calls from Plaintiffs and the Condominiums’ residents requesting that Parks disband the parties,” the complaint reads. “Despite numerous calls to Parks and to the New York City Police Department, responding police officers did not arrive on the scene until over two hours later.”

Berger said residents have tried to work with the agency for years, offering volunteer programs or installing a dog run, but those proposals have gone nowhere. 

“We’ve been complaining about a number of the same things since it started with the Parks Department [taking over management],” he said. “If they do take action it takes a long time to get anything done.”

Busted pavers at the N. Fifth Street Pier and Park.Photo by Caroline Ourso

He added that he understood that the city faces a historic budget gap due to the coronavirus, but that Parks has still received their six-figure annual payments.

“I appreciate that there’s a budget gap but we pay hundreds of thousands a year for this,” said Berger, who floated the idea that some of the space’s maintenance might be better handled under private control, which would allow them to circumvent the city’s bureaucracy. 

“I do think that private management could be an option, we could make much better use of that money rather than send it through the red tape of the Parks Department,” he said. 

But the local said that under new management, the park shouldn’t go as far as nearby Domino Park, whose private operators instituted controversial barriers and bag checks at the greenspace’s entrances earlier this summer following similar concerns. 

“Not in the sense that I agree with the idea of controlling who uses that space,” he said. 

A spokesman for the city’s Law Department declined comment pending litigation. 

“We’ll review the case once we are served. The Law Department will decline further comment while the litigation is pending,” said Nicholas Paolucci in an emailed statement. 

Editor’s note: A publisher at Brooklyn Paper’s parent company Schneps Media lives in one of the buildings that is part of this lawsuit.