City Offers Tax Exemptions For Politically Connected Parking Operator

The well-connected Jamaica First Parking garage earned a slew of tax exemptions, ostensibly for reducing traffic congestion. Image: Google Street View.

The well-connected Jamaica First Parking garage earned a slew of tax exemptions, ostensibly for reducing traffic congestion. Image: Google Street View.

Raking in millions by inducing more traffic on Jamaica’s congested streets? It’s charity, says New York City, and the business that does it should not pay taxes.

A local non-profit with politically powerful friends managed to get its off-street parking garages classified as tax-exempt, despite being used exclusively for commercial purposes. The Daily News’ Juan Gonzalez has the scoop about the shady set-up:

The firm, Jamaica First Parking LLC, got the unusual exemption for its 2,000-space parking system from the city’s Finance Department in 2007.

The garage company is a subsidiary of Greater Jamaica Development Corp., a nonprofit tied to several major Queens political figures, including the Rev. Floyd Flake, a former congressman and ally of Mayor Bloomberg, and Rep. Gregory Meeks.

Gonzalez goes on to detail the many pieces of the city’s machinery that work together to subsidize both the car owners who use the garage and the political interests of local elected officials.

There’s the Finance Department, which over the objections of rank-and-file tax assessors granted property tax exemptions for the garages. There’s the Economic Development Corporation, which gave the garages $13 million in tax-exempt bonds.

And then there are the politicians. Gonzalez lists Congressman Meeks and his powerful predecessor, Reverend Flake, but they’re not alone in supporting these tax-free garages. The project also received the support of Council Members Leroy Comrie and James Gennaro and their former colleagues Archie Spigner, Thomas White, and David Weprin.

From a transportation perspective, another scandal is the big lie that makes this possible: that building parking actually reduces traffic congestion. That’s the excuse that the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation’s spokesperson gave to explain why parking garages serve a public purpose and therefore deserve tax-exempt status.

It’s also the assumption written into the state’s environmental review law, which presumes that a given number of people will always drive, and that getting them into a parking space faster will actually reduce traffic. In this world, the same number of people will drive no matter how many parking spaces exist.

Of course, in reality parking has a huge effect on the decision to own a car and to drive. That’s common sense — if you can’t park a car somewhere, you can’t drive there — and it’s also been backed up by rigorous research. For example, one study found that guaranteed personal parking in Jackson Heights led residents there to drive far more than residents of Park Slope, even though Park Slope households have higher incomes and higher rates of car ownership.

The sweetheart deal for this Jamaica parking garage is further evidence that City Hall has failed to convey the message that building and subsidizing parking leads to driving and goes against the sustainability goals of PlaNYC. Parking policy may play a bigger role in PlaNYC 2.0, hopefully including strong policies that bring EDC and the Finance Department into line. It could go a long way just by stating that the city no longer believes that parking garages reduce traffic congestion.