Another budget season, another trashed Southern Brooklyn park.
At a Parks budget hearing last week, Councilman Mark Treyger raised with Commissioner Mitchell Silver the issue of the dilapidated and overgrown Calvert Vaux Park, which in 2007 was promised a full renovation by the Bloomberg administration — a plan that would transform the 77-acre space into a regional park.
The original $40 million plan included three baseball fields, six soccer fields, kayak launches, picnic areas, a central lawn, a bicycle path, nature trails, an amphitheater, a playground, a recreation center, and a pavilion.
But after recession-related budget cuts hit, followed by a required environmental cleanup that turned out to be pricier than expected, the plan was shoved to the wayside. The park ended up with just two soccer fields and a parking lot, and Calvert Vaux — which is home to some of the most exotic wildlife in Brooklyn — is still best known for its overgrown fields, discarded shopping carts and tires, craters, and the occasional dead body.
“It has the potential to be a real gem and the vision should really be actualized. All that was accomplished is two soccer fields and a parking lot, and the rest is just park land that is in great need of care and in need of environmental remediation,” said Treyger, who is on the City Council’s Parks Committee.
A major setback for the project was the enormous amount of pollution found at the park, which was extended in the 1960s by dumped construction fill from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, noted the New York Post in 2011. Two soccer fields that were supposed to cost $10.8 million wound up costing the city $14.5 million because of contaminated soil, drainage problems, and other issues, officials told the paper.
While the city claims not to have the $40 million needed to honor Bloomberg’s commitment to fix up Calvert Vaux, the de Blasio administration did find the money to build a $176 million waste station (also a Bloomberg-era plan) right beside it, Treyger noted. Community members, politicians, and environmental activists have been fighting the Gravesend Bay Marine Waste Transfer Station, citing fears that construction could dredge up toxic chemicals found at the site.
The Calvert Vaux conversation arose when Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin confronted the Parks Department commissioner about the sluggish pace of another project inherited from the former mayor: Bushwick Inlet Park — a 28-acre green space along the East River. All the city has to show for that waterfront development plan, which was introduced by Bloomberg in 2005, is a single soccer field, reports the New York Observer.
Redistricting recently placed Calvert Vaux Park into Councilman Vincent Gentile’s area, and a spokesperson for his office said that the councilman has already designated more than half of his capital budget towards other Parks-related projects such as repairs on the playground at Bensonhurst Park, leaving little left for Calvert Vaux.
Earlier this year, Treyger and Gentile took the mayor’s office to task for failure to include Bensonhurst Park, which is in desperate need of a full renovation, in the mayor’s Community Parks Initiative — $35 million set aside for Parks-related improvements in densely populated, growing, and lower-income communities.
“I’m still going to reiterate my prior call there has been inequity in the Parks capital budget, where Southern Brooklyn really needs its fair share,” said Treyger.
In a statement to Bensonhurst Bean, City Council’s Parks chair and Manhattan Councilman Mark Levine agreed that Southern Brooklyn green spaces warranted better representation in the initiative.
“The criteria for CPI parks is that they be heavily used parks in low-income areas, with little or no investment in the past 20 years. Undoubtedly, a number of parks in South Brooklyn meet this criteria, and I, together with my colleagues from these communities, are advocating for the inclusion of Southern Brooklyn in the next CPI round,” said Levine.