From A Walk in the Park:
“We believe the residents of Maspeth would benefit from more and better access to public parkland," Mr. Benepe wrote. "The owners of the St. Saviour's site previously indicated their intention to develop the land for housing and had no interest in selling the land to the City. While we could not justify the forcible acquisition of the site through condemnation, we would consider purchasing the land if the current owners are now willing sellers. In addition to the completion of a rigorous municipal land use review process, this would require specific funding covering the full purchase price of the property, its improvement as a park and the cost of maintaining the site into the future. At this time we have no such funding, but we would welcome allocations from the area's local elected officials.”
While this represented a change of heart by the Parks Department, which previously said they were not interested in acquiring the site at all, Benepe’s letter was very troubling in that he stated that the community and local elected officials must not only commit money to purchase the property and build the park but maintain the site in the future as well. This directive favors wealthier communities. Why is this community being asked to come up with these funds? The decision to allocate Mayoral funds for these vital public purposes should not be based in politics but should instead be needs based. We also notice that other communities that are getting new parks are not being issued ultimatums like this. Park maintenance is something our tax dollars are supposed to pay for automatically from the city's expense budget. According to the City Charter, the Parks Department is responsible for this. It shouldn’t be up to the elected officials in each community to designate regular maintenance as special member items, nor is it appropriate for them to be asked to do so. The truth is that if the wasteful spending that goes on in this city were curbed, there would be money for a new park project in every community with funds left to spare.
Benepe's statement was also disconcerting because it revealed the administration’s preference for catering to developers’ interests at the expense of the greater interests of the community. Right off the bat, the Bloomberg administration removed eminent domain from consideration. "While we could not justify the forcible acquisition of the site through condemnation..." Mr. Benepe wrote. Being that parks have always been considered a public use, and given that the site is now a blight on the community and that property owners tend to inflate their asking prices when in negotiations with the City, the declaration is rather startling.
Borough President Helen Marshall’s office asked the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to conduct an appraisal of the property. They did, but would not release that figure publicly or confidentially to the elected official who asked for it. The market value of the property as listed by the Department of Finance is $2.5M. The owners came back with an asking price of $9M. Not having eminent domain as an option will make negotiation that much more difficult.
Independent Budget Office Director Ronnie Lowenstein on March 4th reported to the City Council Finance Committee that the City of New York would end Fiscal Year 2009-2010 with a surplus of almost $3 billion. Apparently the city's financial straits are nowhere near as dire as had been predicted when Benepe issued his ultimatum last summer. Compared to the more than $100M the Parks Department has already blown on a golf course in the Bronx and $64M they are pouring into an amphitheater in Coney Island, the St. Saviour's project would be a drop in the budgetary bucket.
Sorry...no luxury condos or sports stadiums, no eminent domain. That's the Bloomberg way. BTW, Bloomberg found $16M for a bike path along the Hudson (even though the city has no money).