It seems that the owners of these large empty spaces (empty lots) do not want to build anything on the lots, but they don't want to sell the lots either. They may be waiting until the lots become more valuable (so they can make more money) or they just don't care that they have empty lots that are not being used.
So the new mayor of New York has come up with what I think is a good plan. He wants to place a large tax on empty lots. This way the owner of an empty lot finally has to make a decision: either sell your lot to someone who will build something on it, or build something on it yourself (or pay the huge tax). Any way you look at this, the city will win.
In the article we can see that the Catholic Church owns most of these empty lots. So I think it is time for the Catholic Church to start building or selling - the people of New York need this unused space.
Here is the article: http://therealdeal.com/blog/2013/11/26/roman-catholic-church-tops-nycs-vacant-lot-owners/
Vocabulary to help you understand the article:
to top a list - to be on the top of a list, to be the number one item on a list
to take a tax hit - to be forced to pay a huge tax fee
Mayor-elect - he has been elected the mayor but has not started yet
vacant - nothing there
residential - where people live
a sizable impact - a considerable impact, a big impact
the five boroughs - Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island ...the five areas that make up New York City
exceeds - goes beyond
if the proposal is passed - Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio is proposing or arguing for this tax. If the tax is accepted by the City Council, the Catholic Church and the State of New York will have to pay a lot of taxes or give up the land. This is a good idea. What the hell have the church and state been doing with all this land for so many years? Nothing! Why didn't (that idiot) Bloomberg (the current mayor) do something? This has been a huge waste. It's also another example of how NOTHING good happened during the 12 years of Bloomberg's terms as mayor.
a hike in taxes - a raise in taxes
a phase-in period - this means that ultimately, or finally, the tax on a large vacant piece of land will be about $15,000. But this will be phased in. So in the first year the tax might be $3,000. Then $6,000 the next year etc. To phase something in means to make it a reality slowly but surely.
an economic burden - a burden is something heavy. An economic burden would be economic trouble or economic difficulties.
critics doubt the plan will have the intended effect - so de Blasio is hoping the tax will force the lot owners to sell or develop the space. Critics - people who don't like this idea - say that this will not happen. I disagree. The Church and New York State are just sitting on valuable, unused land. This is ridiculous.