Like I said, its Spring and everyone is thinking parks. And that includes Councilmember (and Comptroller candidate) David Yassky, who has been thinking about 65 Commercial Street for a while now. Tomorrow (14 May) at 1:30, Yassky will be holding a rally on the steps of City Hall to protest the lack of progress in the City’s acquisition of 65 Commercial Street.
65 Commercial Street is one of North Brooklyn’s non-parks. It sits at the far north end of Greenpoint, opposite Box Street. The site, which is owned by the MTA, is situated pretty much at the mouth of Newtown Creek, with great views of the East River. In terms of acquisition, this was supposed to be easy. Prior to the rezoning in 2005, the MTA agreed (in writing) to turn the parcel over to the City in exchange for the City finding an acceptable alternate site for the buses and other vehicles the MTA had been storing on Commercial Street. The City kept up its end of the bargain, and located a number of alternate sites, all of which were rejected by the MTA as being inappropriate for their buses’ needs. But lately, the MTA has removed the buses on their own, and are using the site to store Access-a-Ride vehicles. Presumably, then, since the MTA no longer 65 Commercial Street to store buses, it can now turn the property over to the City.
65 Commercial is not just about parks and open space – its also about affordable housing. That’s because once it acquired it, the City was to have sold the air rights from the property to the developer of the adjacent site on Commercial Street. In exchange for these air rights, the developer was to construct 200 units of affordable housing on Commercial Street.
But wait – there’s more. The air rights sale itself was projected to net the City $12 million (in 2005 dollars). $10 million of that was to go to a “Waterfront Affordable Housing and Infrastructure Fund” – basically a pot of money to facilitate the construction for parcels that made use of the inclusionary housing program on the waterfront. The other $2 million was to go to the creation of a Tenant Legal Fund intended to protect “existing tenants from displacement and harassment”.
So, because the City can’t find a suitable location, the MTA can’t relocate its buses (even though they have already relocated their buses). Because the MTA can’t relocate its buses (which they’ve already relocated), the City can’t acquire 65 Commercial Street. Because the City can’t acquire 65 Commercial Street, it can’t build a park or waterfront esplanade there, nor can it sell the air rights from the property. Because the City can’t sell the air rights from the property, the developer next door can’t build 200 units of affordable housing. And because the City can’t sell the air rights, it also can’t make $12 million. Because the City can’t make $12 million, it can’t help fund new waterfront affordable housing elsewhere (ahem, all of Greenpoint?), and it can’t provide funds to help tenants who are being displaced from their homes. I think its called leverage, and clearly the lever isn’t long enough or the fulcrum is in the wrong place.
Did I mention that this was supposed to be the easy site to acquire?