Ahead of city demo plans, petition launches to save Williamsburg’s Bayside Oil Depot

July 29, 2019

Photo by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft. 

For the past four years, a team of designers and environmentalists led by co-founders Karen Zabarsky and Stacey Anderson has been rallying to save a series of ten 50-foot, decommissioned silos on the Williamsburg waterfront and transform them into a unique, 21st-century park. The project, known as THE TANKS at Bushwick Inlet Park, would be a small part of the larger 28-acre park planned for the waterfront, an area known for it’s “toxin-soaked soil,” as described in a recent New York Magazine article. Zabarsky and Anderson believe in adaptive reuse over demolition, so as the city’s bulldozers draw near, The Tanks team has started a petition on Change.org to save these pieces of Brooklyn’s industrial history.

Maker Park, THE TANKS at Bushwick Inlet Park, Bayside Oil Depot, Williamsburg waterfront, fuel tanks, Karen Zabarsky, Stacey Anderson
Zabarsky and Anderson; photo by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft. 

The Tanks team is made up of lawyers, environmental-remediation experts, and lobbyists alongside architects and landscape designers from STUDIO V and Ken Smith Workshop. They envision a novel postindustrial park that would retain the history of the Tanks but transform them into a range of contemporary venues—housing anything from performance spaces to gardens. It’s an approach that acknowledges how the Tanks have historically contributed to environmental degradation in the area, but that seeks to translate “the problems of the past into solutions for the future.”

“Years of research with our environmental team and community consultation have shown that preserving the Tanks, which account for less than 3 percent of the future 28-acre Bushwick Inlet Park, not only gives the chance to create a truly special and contextual public space, but is also the more affordable, safe, practical and sustainable option,” Zabarsky told 6sqft via email. “These tanks are a treasure of Brooklyn’s industrial history. As their demolition nears, we are rallying our supporters to ask the City to consider a more creative option.”

On the other side of the argument, the city contends that the tanks have to be removed before the remediation process can begin—and neighborhood activists largely support this approach. “It’s pretty cut-and-dried where the community stands on this,” said Willis Elkins, chair of the local community board’s environmental protection committee, in an interview with New York Magazine. “There’s nothing to debate. The tanks are coming down.”

For many, the Tanks represent the memory of the nation’s second-biggest oil spill which happened just half a mile away in Newton Creek and still hasn’t been fully cleaned up. Combined with the ongoing impact of more recent, active oil spills in the area, it’s not surprising that local residents are eager to see the steel cylinders disappear. “There have been 20 to 25 years of community planning and activism towards overcoming exactly what the tanks represent,” said Ward Dennis, a member of Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park. “To say that we should keep them as symbols of environmental attacks on the community when we haven’t dealt with the problems yet is not popular.”

The city plans to send in bulldozers to start dismantling the oil tanks within the next few months. So far, 928 out of a hoped-for 1,000 people have signed the petition.


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