City’s $100M Offer to Buy Land for Promised Williamsburg Park Just Expired
August 9, 2016
By John V. Santore
The city offered a businessman $100M for land needed to complete Bushwick Inlet Park — but he didn’t bite. So what happens now?
WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN — The city’s offer of $100 million for the land needed to complete Bushwick Inlet Park expired Monday, leading activists and legislators to call for the parcel to be seized using eminent domain, barring a breakthrough in negotiations.
On June 9, New York offered Norm Brodsky $100 millionfor about 7 acres he owns west of Kent Street between North 10th Street and North 11th Street. (The property formerly hosted a CitiStorage site, as well as a home Brodsky owned, but they were destroyed by a fire in February 2015.)
The land is needed to grow Bushwick Inlet Park to 28 acres, a condition of the 2005 Williamsburg waterfront rezoning that has produced a wave neighborhood development ever since.
The city’s offer was good for 60 days, expiring on August 8, but Brodsky has made no public indication that he’s interested. Instead, he set up a private auction for the plot which ended on July 20. The owner reportedly estimates his land’s value at north of $300 million.
Cushman & Wakefield, which handled the auction for the businessman, declined to comment about the land on Monday.
With its offer apparently rebuffed, the city could still seize the property using eminent domain. That approach was called for at a Monday press conference on the steps of City Hall.
Steve Chesler, one of the leaders of community group Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, said the city should “cut to the chase and use eminent domain” to take possession of the land.
State Senator Daniel Squadron, whose district includes the park, emphasized that if rezoning agreements aren’t followed, “the entire process falls apart.”
“We will not rest until we have acquired that park,” he said, urging the city to either “make a deal” or “use eminent domain.”
Similarly, Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, who represents Williamsburg, said he would ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo to use the state’s eminent domain powers if the city won’t, while Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams also voiced support for an eminent domain seizure, if necessary. (Williamsburg Councilman Stephen Levin has taken the same position.)
Public Advocate Letitia James, who also attended the press conference, said that “greed should not get in the way of a park that was promised to this community,” but would not go on the record in support of using eminent domain. Instead, she called for a negotiated settlement.
An eminent domain seizure would require a judge to determine the value of Brodsky’s property, putting the city on the hook for any value higher than $100 million.
On Monday, City Hall spokeswoman Natalie Grybauskas said that “the city remains open to discussions with the owner,” adding that the administration remains “committed to providing green space for North Brooklynites.”
However, Grybauskas also said that “a negotiated sale is the most expedient way to acquire this property.” A City Hall source added that using eminent domain isn’t in the public’s best interest, considering the risk that the city would have to pay significantly more for the property.
But activists with Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park have rejected that reasoning. They say Brodsky’s claims about his land’s value are based on comparisons to land that has gone up in value since the 2005 rezoning, itself conditional on the creation of a park. The group says legal precedent shows that when it comes to valuing land, Brodsky can’t benefit financially from a public project (like a park). Whether that argument would hold up in court, however, remains an open question.
Meanwhile, on Monday, East New York resident Rebecca Loaisiga, a member of Brooklyn activist group El Puente, said she supports the park’s creation for environmental reasons.
Loaisiga, 17, said she grew up with asthma, adding that people are “not noticing the reason that happens is because we don’t have open spaces.”
Heidi Melendez, 16, another group member, said she grew up in South Williamsburg, explaining that “there wasn’t enough parks or green. My little brother, he needs a park. If you promise to give us something, you should deliver.”
Pictured at top: Steve Chesler speaks on the steps of City Hall on Monday. Eric Adams stands to his left, while to his right are Joe Lentol, with sunglasses, and Daniel Squadron. Photo by John V. Santore