By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Calling on New Yorkers with green thumbs!
Thousands of vacant lots all over the city would become community gardens, urban farms or parkland under a plan by Councilman Stephen Levin. The councilman is introducing a bill that would provide a property tax exemption to property owners willing to allow their lots to be developed for community use.
“Vacant lots here in New York City are blights to our communities. With this legislation we have an opportunity to put vacant lots to positive use,” Levin said. “The property owner benefits by not having to pay property taxes on land they aren’t using and the community gets publically accessible, environmentally friendly, healthy open space. It is a win-win for the public and property owners of New York City,” he said.
There are over 22,000 privately owned vacant lots in New York City, totaling over 3,300 acres of privately owned lots across the five boroughs that stand vacant, according to Levin, who said most of the lots are fenced off to keep the public out.
If Levin’s bill becomes law, property owners would be relieved of paying 100 percent of the taxes on the vacant lot if it is put to use in a way that provides a public benefit. Levin (D-Brooklyn Heights-Greenpoint-parts of Williamsburg) said he will introduce the legislation at the July 24 council meeting.
The city legislation is similar to state legislation proposed by state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn Heights) and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Greenpoint-Williamsburg).
“We can’t rely on private landowners who actually care for the betterment of the environment and community to step up to the plate. We must encourage the use of unused land to provide our neighborhoods with much-needed open green space," Lentol said.
"By providing innovative short-term solutions for space that would otherwise sit vacant we can create networks of open space that the concrete jungle of New York City so desperately needs,” Lentol said.
The legislation has the support of 596 Acres, a non-profit group that promotes public access of vacant city land. Paula Z. Segal, the director of 596 Acres, said the tax abatement would be an efective tool in the effort to gain the cooperation of property owners.
"People who are looking to engage with privately-owned vacant land in their neighborhoods reach out to us constantly; at least one new group a week. As we guide them through the process of starting a conversation with land owners, we're really looking forward to having this tax abatement be a tool that they can use to get a conversation started and get a project off the ground, harnessing the potential of New York City's space for community benefit," Segal said.