River Park Tax Plan Draws Critics

Hudson Street resident Sonia Stock stands at a map of the proposed Neighborhood Improvement District and argues that the boundaries should be expanded. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Mar. 03, 2013

Proponents of a plan to help maintain financially strapped Hudson River Park with an added property tax got an earful last month from Tribeca residents who would see their tax bills rise.

Two dozen residents attended an informational meeting at the Down­town Com­munity Center, sponsored by Friends of Hud­son River Park. Many of them came to complain, saying the tax is unfair.

Called the Hudson River Park  Neigh­­borhood Improvement District (NID) and modeled after the city’s business im­provement districts, the Friends proposal calls for assessing residential and commercial property owners within a few blocks of the five-mile-long park. (The assessment would be based on the square footage of their space; commercial owners would annually pay 15 cents per square foot, and residential owners, 7.5 cents.)

The Hudson River Park Trust and its fundraising arm, Friends of Hudson River Park, paint a dire picture of the park’s future if the additional revenue is not raised. Rent from commercial tenants can’t keep pace with the expense of maintaining the park, they say. While city, state and federal funds paid to build the park, the Trust must find other sources of income to operate it. Through the NID, the Friends group is hoping to generate $10 million annually, 60 percent of which would go toward the $22 million needed for the park. (That amount is expected to rise to $32 million when the park is complete.) Most of the remaining 40 percent would fund safer West Street crossings, beautification of the medians and the enhancement of nearby public spaces.

“We’re at a crossroads,” the Trust’s executive vice president, Noreen Doyle, told the gathering. “From the first day we were able to take care of ourselves. But this year and last year we have found ourselves in a deficit position.” That deficit is $7 million, according to the Trust.

The road to approval of the NID is a long one. It requires multiple public hearings before community boards, the Department of City Planning, the Plan­ning Commission and, finally, the City Coun­­cil, which has the ultimate say.
The plan has been in the works for years, and its sponsors say that over the past three years they have consulted with a broad range of co-op and condo boards, individuals and groups.

But few residents seem to have been aware of the NID until recently.
“It feels like a steamroller effect,” said Lynn Ellsworth, a co-op owner at 165 Duane Street who started an online petition against the NID.

  Some complained that the lines drawn for the district seemed arbitrary.
“Why aren’t the boundaries further?” asked Sonia Stock,of 16 Hud­son St. “If you’re going to tax us, why not tax other people who enjoy the park?”

“We were trying to do something that was in the closest proximity to the park, which benefits some more than others,” replied A. J. Pietrantone, executive director of Friends of Hudson River Park.

“That’s not true,” Stock shot back. “You walk out in the park and there are people from the East Side, West Side, uptown. Everybody benefits from the park.”
Proponents cite a Regional Plan Association study showing that the value of property gets a boost from its proximity to the park. But critics are unconvinced by the argument.

“When the real estate gains value, we pay more property tax,” said Jacques Cap­souto, president of the co-op that houses his Capsouto Frères restaurant at Washington and Watts and an owner of the building across the street where he lives. “The city gains. We don’t gain anything. You should get [funding] from the city.”

“The state and city give us money for building the park,” Doyle responded. “And that is why there is a park today.”

Pam Frederick, a Hudson River Park Trust director and president of the Friends of Washington Market Park, said other parks in the neighborhood—Duane Park and Bogardus Triangle, for example—are well maintained because they don’t rely on funding from the city, but from residents who live nearby. (Washington Market Park is funded differently but also not by taxpayer dollars.)

“Battery Park City Parks is the gold standard. They look like that because every resident in Battery Park City pays 400 bucks per year,” Frederick said.
“No city park can keep up with that standard,” she added. “But that’s what we’re looking to achieve.”

The proposed district includes many different neighborhoods and three community boards between Chambers Street and 59th Street. Pietrantone said that the tenor of each forum around the district has been different. But in an interview he noted that others were more “balanced” and participants came more with questions than opinions.

Still, he added, “I don’t think there was anything we have not heard before.”