Greenpoint Elected Officials Slam MTA For 16-Year Wait on Box Street Park

An overhead view of the draft design for Box Street Park with labeled features (Via NYC Parks)

North Brooklyn’s elected officials are calling out the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) for failing to deliver on a 16-year-old promise that would allow for a new Greenpoint park.

At a virtual press conference Monday morning, local Council Member Stephen Levin appeared alongside State Senator Julia Salazar, Assembly Member Emily Gallagher and other local advocates to demand the MTA move its vehicles from the future site of Box Street Park, which borders the Newtown Creek, to a newly-created parking lot nearby.

The administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg committed to building a park on the three-acre, city-owned site at 65 Commercial Street as part of a 2004 rezoning of the Greenpoint and Williamsburg waterfront. Most of the lot had been used by the MTA to store Access-A-Ride vehicles, while the remaining half-acre is a parking lot for cars used by the agency’s Emergency Services Unit.

The Access-A-Ride vehicles were transferred to the Bronx in 2015, but the emergency vehicles remain stuck in place. A plan to move them to a space under the Williamsburg Bridge unravelled in 2012 when the city’s Department of Transportation, which owns the space, pulled out over concerns about violating federal regulations.

Since then, Levin said at the press event, “the MTA has not lifted a finger to help try to relocate these emergency vehicles and make good on their promise.”

Council Member Stephen Levin at Monday’s virtual press event.

In 2013, the city sold the air rights above the Greenpoint site to the developer Chetrit Group, allowing them to build a 30-story apartment building next door at 77 Commercial Street, in exchange for covering some park construction costs as well as offering parking space for the MTA vehicles and office space for MTA personnel.

Chetrit was purchased last year by the Brooklyn-based developer Clipper Equity, which has started construction on the site. But Levin said the MTA refuses to make the move.

“The issue is that they want to have their own entrance and exit into the parking lot,” he said at the press event. He said the developer had committed to creating a wide entrance at the lot, and to giving the MTA parking spots closest to the shared entrance to address concerns that their vehicles could be blocked.

A spokesperson for the MTA pushed back on Levin’s characterization of the dispute, and on the appropriateness of the Clipper Equity lot to store its vehicles.

“The MTA from day one has been committed to upholding its agreement to relocate its paratransit and emergency response vehicles from 65 Commercial Street, stands ready, willing and able to do so, and maintains an active and open dialogue on the matter,” said the MTA spokesperson, Shams Tarek.

“Our commitment and efforts have been met with external obstacles including the developer which despite repeated entreaties has failed to provide a turnkey space that ensures the safe and seamless operation of our Emergency Response Unit vehicles,” he said. “Any assertion to the contrary is false and advocacy should be directed towards ensuring that public transit operations are not compromised.”

The 65 Box Street site in July 2018 (Image: Google Maps)

Bklyner has reached out to Clipper Equity, and will update this story if they provide a comment.

The City’s Parks Department, meanwhile, has designed the waterfront park—which includes a basketball court, dog runs and a public restroom—around the MTA’s lot.

“We’re really not asking very much,” said State Senator Julia Salazar. “There’s no reason communities should have to give that up because the MTA is being obstinate and refuses to move.”