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Update: City to Unlock Columbia Waterfront Park Pending Discussion

Vacant for more than 35 years, a lot at Woodhull and Columbia streets was lovingly turned into a park by Brooklyn neighbors. HPD's reaction? "Get out."

Update, 1:20 p.m.: The Housing Preservation & Development Department did lock the gates at 12:25 p.m. Thursday—but those gates will be not be staying shut for long. Dr. Mick Maurer sent an email to Patch stating he had been contacted by Sen. Squadron just minutes after the gate was closed and said the lock would be removed while discussions with his office and HPD were conducted.

"NYC HBP came and locked the gate at 12:25pm.  Senator Squadron called me at 12:40pm to say the locks will be removed and we will have use while we go in to discussions with his office and HPD.  We will have an answer by the end of the summer if not sooner." — Dr. Mick Maurer

Assemblywoman Millman also confirmed via text the flip-flop decision to keep the park opened for the time being.

Is it true "no good deed goes unpunished"?

After watching a city-owned lot at the corner of Woodhull and Columbia streets remain vacant for more than 35 years, overrun with wildlife, vermin and drug paraphernalia, neighbor Lou Formisano decided to take matters into his own hands.

Using money set aside to repair his garage, Formisano cleaned out the lot, installed 4,000 square feet of sod, set up patio furniture and a sprinkler, then invited block residents to come by and enjoy the new green space. 

But after just two weeks the city has shut him down.

"They said, 'we’re not going to build but you can’t be here,'" Formisano told Patch, recalling his exchange with the Housing Preservation & Development Department. "They’re going to change the locks and told me get my patio furniture out."

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Formisano, who planted trees along the street 20 years ago and who recently installed flags at every neighboring home for his own altruistic reasons, said he offered to lease the lot from the city month to month and purchase insurance. Still, they declined.

"I got rid of six feet of garbage, rodents and rats. We made the block beautiful just to make things nice for the people that live here," he said. "I don’t see why they want us out. I'm hoping we can get something resolved."

While the Columbia Waterfront District has recently seen and owners, the neighborhood still lacks many amenities such as groceries and parks. 

"This allowed local children an enclosed open space to run free in," said neighbor Dr. Mick Maurer. "Neighborhood gardens like the have plants which prevent play. You have to go down into Red Hook or up to Columbia and Atlantic for play areas."

Furthermore, in its previous state the lot attracted drug use.

"They came once a year to clean it before," added Maurer. "The weeds were there since late summer 2011." Formisano said he has collected and held onto all of the drug packets he found in the lot before and during its cleanup.

But following an interview with WNBC4 on Wednesday night and after appealing to local officials such as and , neighbors are holding out hope that they can get the city to change its mind.

"I'm working with residents and HPD to find a solution that allows this otherwise unused, and much-needed, open space in our neighborhood to benefit the community," Senator Squadron told Patch. 

Lisamarie July 12, 2012 at 01:09 PM
I think this was a great idea, and for this man to do this is amazing. There should be more people like him who care about their neighborhood. I've lived here in Carroll Gardens 47 years & I've seen a decline in landlords keeping their sidewalks and gate area cleaned. The city should be more involved with people who don't clean up & not harassing people who try & make living in the city a nice place to live in.
Christina Gaffney July 12, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Poor opossum, the are only scared to be cornered. They were probably terrorized and their only defense is to pretend to be tough by showing teeth or by pretend to be dead, and also to be immune to snake bites (not very useful in Brooklyn). They don't attack and do not carrie rabies, very often mistaken by rodent, opossums are the only american marsupial species. Be understanding and proud of the opossums, not terrorized of it! Kittens are more "dangerous"...
Mary A. July 12, 2012 at 01:44 PM
The city should either sell the land and use the much needed money for city schools, etc., or they should let the park stay and turn it over to the Parks Commission. Mr. Formisano should be rewarded by the City, not punished.
Louise July 12, 2012 at 02:11 PM
We have known Louie for many years and anything he does is good..He was so happy to be doing this and on the hottest days he was doing this..On Columbia St there are empty lots with notes on them saying that they are owned by the city and a phone number to call if they lot is wanted for a garden. Lou was doing this so the kids and the adults as well can enjoy this space AND he asked the city OR the wonderful Mayor for NOT one cent. What is wrong with the City? Do they want it for another artist space? This is really sad and shame on the City!!!
Anthony July 12, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Squadron only showed up because there was a TV camera around. Once this issue die down, he's out of there. I hope I'm not right because this old timer is truly trying to do something for the better of the neighborhood that benefits all.
Ellen Thompson July 12, 2012 at 02:29 PM
It seems the Mayor is too busy with his soda ban to care about something important...what a shame...God bless Lou & everyone else like him...he should be Mayor.
Jenny July 12, 2012 at 02:54 PM
wow. i hope this gets resolved. what a shame it would be to have all lou's hard work go to waste.
Sara July 12, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Lou is really trying to do something that benefits the community...really hoping they can work something out. Would love to hear what happens with this...
nick July 12, 2012 at 03:25 PM
I've been on the block for a few years now, and this is honestly the single biggest improvement we've seen in those years. Louie did this because he cares about his neighborhood and his neighbors. The city should be embarrassed at their complete inertia on the matter, and Louie should be rewarded for his hard work & heartfelt generosity. But here come the bureaucrats to undo this wonderful improvement. and, christina g., the opossum was caught by Louie in a humane trap and retrieved by the ASPCA and released in a less populated area ONLY because of Louie's insistence. They didn't want to touch the thing and would literally rather have had Louie terminate the animal himself. good priorities.
james July 12, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Booo! so rude nyc!
Johnnie July 12, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Great example of people taking back their neighborhoods. Wonder what the city plans to do with the property?
Sara July 12, 2012 at 05:22 PM
That update is great news! A much more reasonable reaction than I expected from the govt agency. And fair I think
Sandi July 12, 2012 at 05:31 PM
I've also lived on this block for a couple years now and I'm always blown away by the generosity and love that Louie has for the neighborhood. He's always outside everyday, offering hot dogs from the grill, keeping the kids entertained in a sprinkler or pool, and just making people feel safe and comfortable. I wasn't surprised to see what he'd done with the lot on the corner, because that's just the kind of awesome thing he does. It would be a shame to see something that's already become so beneficial to our community go back to wasting away for no reason.
Jenny July 12, 2012 at 05:41 PM
great news indeed.
Sonia July 12, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Thanks for the update!
Peter Arriaga July 12, 2012 at 06:01 PM
If there's one thing I like about the "new" Carrol Gardens is a great story like that: neglected piece of land turned into something beautiful!
Stephanie July 12, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Just two weeks ago this plot of land was a vacant and over grown eye sore on a beautiful block; now it is a beautiful green space. With the interests of the kids and adults on our block, Lou took it upon himself to take control and make something beautiful out of this space. To close it down would be a bureaucratic shame, especially when an agreement can easily be reached. This little oasis is a beautiful and healthy addition to the block. The park should stay and Lou should be commended.
Louise July 12, 2012 at 09:55 PM
They should have a write up about him in the Red Hook Star Revue..now that is news that the whole neighborhood and beyond should know about..How about it George Fiala..you need to interview Louie....find out just what is going on...so happy to hear the good news that they unlocked the gates to this oasis...Yayyyyyyyy for Louie!!!!
DEBORAH HANLEY July 12, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Neighborhood beautification should be looked upon as a GOOD THING. Way to go Lou.......... Deborah H
Natalie Musumeci July 13, 2012 at 10:02 AM
Agreed ! :)
ANONYMOUS July 13, 2012 at 10:13 AM
You are all missing the point. Unless NYC pays 2M for a park with city monies they wont be happy with a free park and garden. Louie is depriving the city of spending their "cash strapped" municipal monies on a park. Bless you Louie..
Louise July 13, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Just heard on the news that the City has given the Park a temporary permit..Way to go Louie, wish you lots of luck with the park..Why didn't Mayor Bloomers get involved with this? Why? Because it was done out of love and Louie asked no one for a red penny, he did it with his heart like he does everything..God Bless you Louie!!!
Robin July 13, 2012 at 12:57 PM
I know Louie for years and eveyrthing he does is out of the goodness of his heart. He doesn't ask anyone for one cent and all he cares about is making people happy. His roots date by many many years in the neighborhood. He cames from an era where people spoke to their neighbors and looked out for one another. Louie you're an example of the way it use to be many years ago growing up on the Waterfront of Carroll Gardens/Red Hook. You still carry those old values in your hear which is GREAT. God Bless you and hope to see you on the pier soon. REK & ROBIN
Louise July 14, 2012 at 02:37 AM
Passed by Louie's park around 4:00 this afternoon and all the patio furniture is out and not a soul was in the park...I thought they were taking the locks off the gate...what happened?
Louise July 14, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Just heard Louie put everything back in the park..Good for Louie....hope it is there for many years...
Jenny July 14, 2012 at 09:41 PM
i think the community reaction to this has been great. i hope Louie is aware of it.
Robin July 15, 2012 at 12:54 PM
Louise, I drove by Saturday afternoon and everything was out. There's now a large slide for the kids along with the tables, chairs, etc.
Louise July 15, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Leave it to Louie..2 years ago he had a block party on his block..unbelievable. He had water slides..pools.. jumping big rubber thingies. He is one heck of a man!!!! This is what he enjoys doing and he WILL do it for the kids..I know Aiva had a ball that day...Good for Louie...

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