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Plan to Turn Old Fuel Tanks Into Tech Hub Shot Down By Park Advocates

By Gwynne Hogan | May 20, 2016 3:44pm | Updated on May 23, 2016 7:48am
 Should the site's industrial character be preserved or destroyed?
Bayside Parcel Bushwick Inlet Park
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WILLIAMSBURG — The plan to preserve the fuel tanks in a section of the future Bushwick Inlet Park has met resistance from park activists who want to tear them down in favor of open green space.

A former tenant of the seven-acre Bayside Fuel site on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront, the most recently purchased section of the future Bushwick Inlet Park, is pitching the idea of a "Maker Park" for the site, where the industrial buildings and the steel oil drums would be preserved and restored as the new park is built around it.

"There's potential with the structure," said Zac Waldman, who's working with two others to flesh out the ideas to turn the site into a center for innovation with 3D printers and other high-tech gear that would be open for public use. "The site itself has so much more to give than just a lawn."

But the proposal, presented to at community board park's committee meeting earlier this year, frustrated park activists, who've been pushing for a completed Bushwick Inlet Park for years.

"Everything those tanks represent — contamination locally, climate change — to kind of turn that into a playground," would go against everything they've been working for, said Steve Chelser, an activist with Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park. "We have been fighting for this park...We're trying to get every inch of open space where people can go to touch the water."

Waldman met last fall with the Park's Department, who swiftly shot down the Maker Park plan, saying that the structures there have to be demolished in order for proper remediation of the contaminated site, according to Parks Department spokeswoman Maeri Ferguson.

"The presence of the buildings and other infrastructure on the Bayside site has hindered efforts to complete testing of potential underground contamination," Ferguson said. "The structures need to be demolished to ensure the property is safe for recreational use."

The city has already allocated $22 million for the demolition and remediation, she added.

But that didn't dissuade them, said Stacey Anderson, Waldman's partner in the Maker Park vision. They're working with a pro-bono team of legal and environmental specialists in order to figure out the feasibility of remediation without demolition, she said.

"We're fully aware of these challenges with our proposal and we're working with a number of experts," Anderson said. "We're trying to build a case for why that might work."

In March, the city finalized the purchase of the Bayside Parcel, a seven-acre section of the future Bushwick Inlet Park.

As part of the area's 2005 rezoning that allowed residential towers to sprout up along the waterfront, the city promised North Brooklyn residents a 28-acre contiguous park, that has yet to be completed.

The city now owns about half of the land it needs to make good on it's promise, but it still doesn't have a budget to buy the CitiStorage site, an 11-acre piece of land in the middle of two other sections. Its owner Norman Brodsky has said he's hoped to fetch more than $200 million for the massive, waterfront property.

Pushing the city to commit to buying that property has been the main thrust of Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park.

And while Waldman said he appreciated their concerns about the problem of keeping steel drums on the polluted site, he hoped that re-purposing the industrial structures would be akin to "rising from the ashes."

"There's a past and there's a future," he said. "The future of Williamsburg is more about building things and making things and creating things."

"This is about building something greater than what existed, and that's what we're trying to do."