Will Bushwick Inlet Get Its Park?

A portion of the Williamsburg/Greenpoint waterfront formerly off limits (pictured here in 2010) is planned to become part of a public park under deal currently in the works. Photo: Ryan Kuonen/Flickr

A portion of the Williamsburg/Greenpoint waterfront, formerly off limits (pictured here in 2010), could become part of a public park under deal currently in the works. Photo: Ryan Kuonen/Flickr

A previous version of the article misspelled the name of the Greenpoint Monitor Museum president Weinmann as Veinmann. The article has also been changed to clarify the nature of the Greenpoint Monitor Museum.

Slowly but surely, as if assembling a puzzle, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is trying to gather up pieces of land between Greenpoint and Williamsburg, in what is know as the Bushwick Inlet, where the city wants to build a public park.

The park is part of larger project envisioned back in 2005 by the Bloomberg administration as part of a rezoning plan for the North Brooklyn waterfront. The 2005 rezoning plan included a full reimagining of the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront, converting the historically industrial site into a commercial and residential space. Part of the project includes the Bushwick Inlet Park, which would ideally take up 28 acres between North 7th Street and Quay Street, along the shore known as the Bushwick Inlet. The idea for the park was to provide the community with some peaceful green space among the high-rise buildings that may soon dominate the promenade, and to placate the residents who will face a drastic change in their neighborhood landscape.

So far, though, the city has not acquired many pieces of the puzzle, and little green space has flourished. The City Department of Parks and Recreation already owns a few of the necessary parcels, where a soccer field has already been built, facing the Manhattan skyline. Little by little, the city is trying to put together the rest of the puzzle to complete the project.

On March 27th, in fact, a public announcement appeared in the City Record revealing the city’s intent to acquire some lots of land that add up to “approximately 7.55 acres of vacant land consisting of approximately 5.66 acres of land underwater, and approximately 1.89 acres of upland located in the Borough of Brooklyn.” A public hearing on the proposed acquisition will be held on May 14th. Interestingly, no contract of sale is yet available since the terms of the agreement are “still being negotiated,” according to an email from the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

The lots that the city is seeking to buy are owned by Motiva Enterprises LLC, a joint venture that belongs to Saudi Refining and Shell Oil. There is no active business on Motiva’s parcel, according to the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning, a Greenpoint community organization dedicated to the North Brooklyn waterfront.

As noted in the City Record announcement, the city is willing to pay “no more than $5.5 million” for the parcel. Funds for the acquisition have been allocated to Parks Department budget for fiscal year 2014. A spokesperson from Motiva Enterprises refused to comment on the negotiation, stating that the company “cannot provide any information as [it] cannot comment on speculation or rumor.”

With its 1.89 acres of dry land, the parcels owned by Motiva Enterprises LLC represent a small portion of the total 28 acres being eyed for the public park. So the Parks Department will need to find funds to purchase the remaining land, consisting of two parcels owned by Norm Brodsky, an entrepreneur who rents his lots to CitiStorage Inc., a warehouse deposit for files, where documents from the City of New York are stored as well as other records.

For his part, Brodsky says he would “love” for the city to take the land, but that the offering must reflect current land values. “I would love there to be a park,” he said. “But the city has no money. They have been negligent. They have waited too long. It has been nine years since the rezoning, and now the value went up.” In his opinion, the city should come up with “innovative ideas” to raise the money because the community was promised a park back in 2005 by the Bloomberg administration. Brodsky said the value might have to be determined in court.

Meanwhile, the Parks Department is moving toward negotiations with Motiva Enterprises, which could be tricky. Back in 2004 Motiva donated one acre of their land to the Greenpoint Monitor Museum – a New York State Chartered Museum run by Janice Lauletta and George J. Weinmann and intended, with a future museum, to celebrate the historical heritage of Greenpoint’s U.S.S. Monitor steamship, the first ironclad steamship and the first iron warship commissioned by the U.S. Navy. The U.S.S. Monitor was built at the Continental Iron Works owned by Thomas F. Rowland, and it was deployed to fight the Confederates.

That piece of land, too, seems to be part of the puzzle that the city wants.

When the puzzle will come together is hard to say. “The plan is to acquire the land to build the park, but there is no timeline at the moment,” said Ed Janoff, executive director of the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn, a nonprofit organization that raises private funds to expand and improve open space in the neighborhood. “The city is in the process of raising money to acquire a number of parcels around Bushwick Inlet Park,” Janoff says.

Funding may be a challenge. “The problem now is that there is no money to buy the rest of the land. Motiva is the low hanging fruit – it is the cheapest piece of property. But its acquisition certainly shows the city’s good will,” said Trina McKeever a member of the board of the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning and also the co-chairperson of the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, a community group that supports the 28-acre waterfront park.

Janice Lauletta Weinmann argues that the museum wouldn’t interfere with the construction on of the rest of the land. “Nobody is fighting the park,” she says. “The park is 28 acres. Our property is only one acre. There is no reason for them to put eminent domain on us. We are not in the middle.”

Weinmann claims that the Greenpoint Monitor Museum would represent something good for the community because of its historical and educational mission. She worries that the city “is going to give us a hard time, and this is not right.” However the Department of Parks and Recreation seems to look favorably on the museum: “We would be happy to meet with the owners of the Monitor parcel to find ways to make their museum happen and still allow the public full access to the entire Bushwick Inlet waterfront,” said a spokesperson for the Parks Department, in an email.

The Weinmanns say they would resist eminent domain – “Somebody’s got to,” said Janice Lauletta Weinmanns. But the city spokesperson said that eminent domain would be a last resort.

A version of the story ran in New York World.