Mitchell Silver, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Parks Commissioner, today refused to guarantee concerned council members that the administration would meet explicit promises Mayor Michael Bloomberg made about the creation of one Brooklyn park and the refurbishment of another.
Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin hammered Mr. Silver in a Committee on Parks budget hearing about Bushwick Inlet Park, a promised 28-acre East River green space Mr. Bloomberg’s administration packaged with the 2005 rezoning of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfront for development. A decade later, the city has completed a soccer field in one part of the park’s outlined footprint and is still acquiring land to develop the rest.
Mr. Levin noted that the city has yet to obtain a crucial parcel: the CitiStorage warehouse that burned down in January, and which Crain’s New York reported that private investors are eyeing for construction—construction that could potentially contribute units to Mr. de Blasio’s ambitious affordable housing plan under new zoning regulations.
“The city mapped 28 acres as the Bushwick Inlet Park. It was mapped, it was in every press release from Mayor Bloomberg, the City Council, our current mayor, Bill de Blasio, as a council member voted in favor of the rezoning,” Mr. Levin recalled. “Does this administration continue the commitment on the part of the city of New York to build, to acquire and build a full 28-acre park at Bushwick Inlet?”
Mr. Silver refused to promise the 28-acre figure the previous administration had named, despite Mr. Levin’s repeated questioning. Instead, he would only state that the city had allocated more than $300 million to the project and was “moving forward,” and was in the process of closing on two other parcels and redeveloping them.
“We are moving toward a full development of the Bushwick Inlet, but these are the immediate steps we are focused on at the present time,” he said, shying away from the 28-acre number and acknowledging that the administration had no plans in place to obtain the CitiStorage site. “What we’re committed to doing is moving on the pieces that we have right now.”
He repeated several variations of that line, apparently infuriating Mr. Levin.
“Commissioner, do you believe it’s important for the city to honor its commitments that it made, not just in words, but in actions, zoning actions, mapping the area as parkland, do you believe it’s important for the city to honor those commitments?” the councilman demanded.
Mr. Silver still would not guarantee the full 28 acres, or taking steps to buy CitiStorage.
“The goal has always been to develop Bushwick Inlet Park, the full park. The city is compartmentally purchasing what they can, on a good faith effort,” he said.
Brooklyn Councilman Mark Treyger highlighted that the Bloomberg administration had promised a massive $40 million refurbishment of Calvert Vaux Park—formerly known as Dreier Offerman Park—in his district in 2007. The renovated green space was supposed to become a “regional park” with multiple baseball and soccer fields and an amphitheater, but the budget was whittled back drastically after the 2008 financial crisis.
“All we have is two soccer fields and a parking lot,” Mr. Treyger lamented, noting that Mr. de Blasio is pushing ahead with an unpopular Bloomberg-era municipal waste depot nearby as the park languishes. “The needs of the park are far greater than what Councilman Gentile and I can come up with as local members.”
Mr. Silver said his department was doing a full capital needs assessment of all parks across the city to determine future investment.
Speaking to the Observer after the hearing, the commissioner noted that his department was honoring at least one Bloomberg administration parks commitment: the continued development of Fresh Kills Park on Staten Island, which he had previously warned the Staten Island Advance could fall behind schedule, but to which the current executive budget allocates $45 million. The massive project will transform the city’s former landfill into one of its largest parks.
“It may not be at the pace that everybody would like, but this mayor is committed to promises made, and parks that are being developed, across the city,” he said.