Squadron & Dennis: Community deserves its promised park: To fund it, consider borrowing a trick from de Blasio’s proposed BQX streetcar
NY Daily News Opinion
Senator Daniel Squadron & FBIP’s Ward Dennis
May 14, 2016
n 2005, the city approved a major rezoning in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, resulting in an explosion of waterfront towers and residential density. As a key part of that rezoning, the community was promised a new, nearly 30-acre Bushwick Inlet Park.
Eleven years later? Thousands of new residents are here; the park is not. The city says it’s too expensive.
In that time, the rezoning and other factors have led to residential and commercial growth throughout Greenpoint and Williamsburg that has strained the community’s transit system, as well its parks and open space. According to data compiled by Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, the local Community District has an open space ratio of 0.58 acres per 1,000 residents — far below the 2.9-acre citywide ratio.
Commercial and residential growth in these neighborhoods, and beyond, is also a driving force behind Mayor de Blasio’s Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar proposal. The BQX is an interesting opportunity to expand transit. It merits more discussion about its impacts and cost. The city has proposed an innovative way to get some green for the BQX: paying the bill by utilizing increased municipal revenue generated by the project, based on the fact that property values increase in areas adjacent to transit expansion.
Could the city use a similar funding mechanism to get some green for green space too?
We know that, like transit, parkland increases property values. The Friends of Hudson River Park found residential property value increased by 35% more in areas near completed sections of Hudson River Park than in areas adjacent to parkland still under construction. Commercial property values are impacted too. When Bryant Park reopened in 1991, office space listings near the park increased by 78% more than those farther from the park.
The city already owns a good chunk of the land for Bushwick Inlet Park. But the biggest outstanding parcel — the 11-acre site that includes the former CitiStorage warehouse, part of which burned down last year — still needs to be purchased. This is the land the city says it can’t afford.
It’s true that acquisition of this land, as well as build-out, won’t come cheap. Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park estimates that the outstanding CitiStorage parcel should cost in the range of $80-$100 million. This is in part because of the 2005 rezoning itself (property values in Greenpoint and Williamsburg have increased drastically since) — ironically, the same source as the promise to build Bushwick Inlet Park in the first place.
Much like the BQX, the city could pay for Bushwick Inlet Park by capturing the new revenue generated by a fully-built park. The increase in residential and commercial property values from proximity to this local waterfront greenspace would fuel increased municipal revenue to pay the bill.
Senator Squadron and Assemblymember Lentol have introduced state legislation — which passed a Senate Committee this week — to authorize the state to pursue eminent domain at the site, and encourage the city to move forward with the project. But Albany was not where the promise was made; the city should be taking action to fulfill its promise.
At its core, this isn’t just a local parks issue. It’s about being able to trust a clear commitment from city government.
Proposals like the BQX are important. But the city has an outstanding commitment to the residents of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Running a multi-billion dollar streetcar through the neighborhood without also making progress on this commitment would not be fair.
If an increased revenue model is good enough for the streetcar, it should be good enough to fund this unfulfilled promise over a decade in the making.
Squadron is a state senator representing lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Dennis is a member of Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, a community organization.