Yassky’s Bargain: A Departing Councilman in Search of a Quo for His Quid

To make Bushwick Inlet Park the park it was meant to be, the city also needs to acquire the property to the north, owned by a heating-oil delivery company called Bayside Fuel. The city condemned the site in 2006, but a company named TGE already had the “option to buy” the site for the purpose of building a power plant. TGE argued that the site could not be condemned until the state denied the power-plant permit, which it eventually did, but not until last year. In the meantime it became clear that, as a place that once produced manufactured coal, the property would require extensive environmental remediation. That means, according to Metal, three to four years to study the problem, and maybe five to clean it up.

Before that happens, Bushwick Inlet Park will not actually reach Bushwick Inlet.

The second park that Yassky was promised, and the smallest, is where Greenpoint Avenue dead-ends at the East River. This is the WNYC Transmitter Park, a cramped piece of land about half the size of one one of the neighborhood’s blocks. The ground is covered in wood chips. There is a wooden walkway that leads to a platform with a wooden railing. It seems designed for wheelchairs. There is a fence along the far side that keeps visitors away from the water.

“It’s a work in progress,” Yassky said. “When I was elected there was a big transmitter tower somewhere around there. It was a big…like the Eiffel Tower. You know, 50 feet tall, it was a tall thing. And that’s what this was.”

It’s a third site that makes the councilman really mad. 65 Commercial Street is, as it was in 2005, a parking area for Access-a-Ride vehicles, a lot for emergency response vehicles and, at that moment, where Martin Scorsese’s new HBO series, “Boardwalk Empire,” was shooting. The city budget lists the development as a soccer field, but the site is still owned by the M.T.A.

I asked Yassky why the city thought this particular site would work.

“There are two possibilities,” he said. “They really didn’t intend to, they don’t really care, they just said it to shut me up. Like ‘OK yeah we’ll do this,’ and then–but it’s in writing, you know. They gave me a whole letter saying these are the three things we’re going to do.

“And the other possibility would be that, you know, they kind of meant it, but it’s hard. It is hard. It’s not undoably hard, it just takes some work.”

We stood looking at the chain link and the barbed wire and the gates and the pavement and Yassky said, “This one you should really write about. I mean this thing that they haven’t done–four years later–they said they would move this off and make this a park and it’s still here.”

There wasn’t much else to see and as we got back into the minivan, I asked Yassky about making deals with the city.

“Certainly one lesson,” he said. “One lesson of that is: whatever neighborhood improvements are supposed to go with a big development plan should be done up front–should be done before it’s passed. The commitment should be made enforceable in some way. And if not, then don’t bank on it.”
 
As we headed south on Franklin, Yassky told me there isn’t much he can do about the project now. “I mean, as of November 10, I’m passing the baton.”

I asked if his replacement, newly elected Steve Levin, would continue to push the city for the parks. “Absolutely,” Yassky said.

After a few seconds of silence, Yassky said, “In fact, we should get an actual baton.”

He turned to Rami. “Do we have one?”

They didn’t, Rami said.

A minute after we exchanged goodbyes on Wythe Avenue near N. 9th Street, Rami sprinted back and handed me a few sheets of paper–copies of letters from the 2005 rezoning. On April 28, 2005, in a letter about the Commercial Street site, the M.T.A. wrote to then-deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff to “confirm that the Metropolitan Transit Authority-New York City Transit would be willing to transfer the site to the City of New York for use as a publicly accessible open space within the context of the Greenpoint/Williamsburg rezoning.” 

That is, “dependent upon the City therefore having identified, acquired and fitted out a suitable alternative site” and “the replacement or relocation all the unit’s facilities to the new locations.” This Emergency Response Unit, the letter warned, “is extremely location-sensitive” and “the City would also need to have provided a replacement site for the New York City Transit’s Department of Buses.” That site “must be of equivalent or greater value.”