Brooklyn Borough Hall parking lot on parkland gets new review

September 25, 2019 Yoav Gonen, THE CITY
Several vehicles were parked in a public plaza outside Brooklyn Borough Hall, Sept. 19, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on Sept. 24 by THE CITY. 

The Parks Department is reviewing a longstanding arrangement that lets officials at Brooklyn Borough Hall use a busy walkway and popular plaza as 24-hour employee parking lots, THE CITY has learned.

Over the course of three work days last week, THE CITY observed 21 different vehicles left in the public areas — both officially parkland — next to Borough Hall.

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That included one driver who parked at 7:50 a.m. Wednesday — then walked down the block and into a New York Sports Club.

THE CITY also found unofficial parking placards, generated by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ office, on the vehicles’ dashboards — and discovered some of the autos have racked up numerous violations, including for speeding through school zones.

The ad hoc parking lot — which has expanded over the years — has generated a growing public backlash, aimed squarely at Adams.

“It’s not fair. We have limited public space in this city,” said Armenoush Aslanian-Persico, who formerly worked near Brooklyn Borough Hall. “These city employees are illegally getting free parking and stealing our park space.”

Aslanian-Perisco was among those who questioned Adams about Borough Hall parking at a town hall meeting he hosted on Sept. 4 — an event sparked by a Twitter fight over illegal parking and abuse of city-issued parking permits.

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An Old Space Race

Adams defended his office’s practices, saying it was a continuation of his predecessor’s agreement with the Parks Department, according to multiple media reports.

Former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz confirmed to THE CITY that his office was granted permission in 2002 to park up to six vehicles on the wide walkway on Borough Hall’s east side.

His team told the New York Daily News in 2008 that the arrangement, which Parks Department officials say was never formalized but dates back decades, prohibited parking in the public plaza behind the building.

That agreement was extended for Adams when he took office in 2014 — and was expanded by removing the cap on vehicles allowed, according to parks officials.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams speaks at a press conference near his office about supporting public transportation, Sept. 19, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams speaks at a press conference near his office about supporting public transportation, Sept. 19, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Adams’ spokesperson, Jonah Allon, said the borough president welcomed the Parks Department review. He emphasized that Adams “inherited the same system that was in place for years.”

Still, in a Feb. 1, 2016, letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio about congestion in Downtown Brooklyn, Adams raised the prospect of eliminating parking from the grounds of Borough Hall.

“I am interested in looking for ways to end the practice of allowing cars to be parked on the plaza… but Brooklyn Borough Hall must also have ready-to-access vehicles,” Adams wrote in the letter, which was obtained at the time by StreetsBlog.

There are also 13 on-street spots reserved for Adams’ office, and eight subway lines with stops near Borough Hall.

Parks officials wouldn’t provide the rationale for expanding the parking perks for Adams, saying it was the work of a former Brooklyn borough parks commissioner.

But they noted Adams’ Sept. 4 town hall meeting sparked their re-examination of the parking policy. “We are reviewing this matter and will make a determination on a path forward in the coming weeks,” said Crystal Howard, a Parks Department spokesperson.

Placard That’s Not a Placard

Many of the vehicles parked around Borough Hall sport numbered placards issued by the borough president. The placards say “parking permit” in red-block letters across the middle and “Brooklyn Official Business” up top. They also bear the seal of Borough Hall and Adams’ signature.

Last week, the placards on display were numbered as high as 29, and bore no written restriction on where they could be used.

But in most cases, only the city transportation, education and police departments can issue official city parking permits — more than 125,000 of which are currently in use by municipal employees and drivers with disabilities.

A vehicle parked in a public plaza outside Brooklyn Borough Hall had a placard signed by Eric Adams, Sept. 19, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
A vehicle parked in a public plaza outside Brooklyn Borough Hall had a placard signed by Eric Adams, Sept. 19, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Officials in Adams’ office initially said they had the authority to create the placards because they’re used exclusively for the parking areas in the vicinity of Borough Hall.

But when pressed on where their authority came from, they said the parking permits aren’t actually placards — but rather “labels.”

“We give people labels to put in their cars to indicate that they are allowed to park in the borough president’s city-designated spots, which are around Borough Hall,” said Allon.

City Hall officials, who are on their second attempt in three years to reduce placard abuse, said the permits are kosher because they’re used solely to identify vehicles parked in approved spaces.

“However, if they are used outside those areas, they would be fraudulent and NYPD would issue a violation,” said Seth Stein, a City Hall spokesperson.

Speeding and Other Violations

While Downtown Brooklyn residents and workers have been complaining about the parking arrangement for years, a new database created by software engineer Brian Howald — called How’s My Driving NY — has raised additional questions about the vehicles parked at Borough Hall.

Of 21 Borough Hall license plates entered into the database by THE CITY, 15 of the vehicles had multiple parking, speeding and other moving violations.

The speeders included a Toyota Highlander parked Wednesday near an orange cone bearing a taped sign reading “Parking Spot for B P Car.”

The sign on the cone in the public space outside Brooklyn Borough Hall reads: “Parking Spot for B P Car.” Photo: Ben Fractenberg
The sign on the cone in the public space outside Brooklyn Borough Hall reads: “Parking Spot for B P Car.” Photo: Ben Fractenberg

The SUV has been hit with 27 parking and speeding tickets since August 2013, according to How’s My Driving NY. This includes five school-zone speeding violations this year.

A Chrysler Jeep parked Wednesday on the east side of the building logged 11 school-zone speeding tickets in the past seven months. That was out of 14 violations, including failure to stop at a red light, according to How’s My Driving NY.

The site also showed that a black SUV parked at Borough Hall has racked up 53 parking and moving violations since October 2013 — including 14 for speeding in a school zone. A dozen of the violations were for failing to stop at a red light.

Twelve other vehicles, which had personal rather than City of New York plates, recorded at least one school-zone speeding ticket since 2015 — including seven autos with total violation counts in the double digits.

“No one is above the law,” said City Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), who last year introduced legislation that would force drivers with five or more school-zone speeding tickets in a 12-month span to attend a driving safety course. If they don’t, their vehicle could be impounded.

“Providing free public parking to people who drive recklessly is not the model we want for New York City public officials,” he added.

Asked about the speeding and other violations, Allon said the cost of any tickets issued is borne by the drivers — not taxpayers.

“We believe this creates a culture of accountability,” he said.

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.


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