Saturday, November 27, 2010

NYTIMES 11/26 article on Floyd Bennett

November 26, 2010

On an Edge of Brooklyn, New Hopes for a Park in Neglect


The hangar on the edge of Floyd Bennett Field has the familiar, post-apocalyptic look of urban decay, with “Danger Keep Out” spray painted in red across one of the building’s doors.

Many of the door panels have disappeared; so has most of the hangar’s roof. Inside, a forest of weeds has sprouted through the floor. Sections of guardrail lie on the ground beside large drain pipes, rotted pallets and discarded road signs.

This building — just steps from Flatbush Avenue and part of what maps identify as the “Hangar Row Historic District”— is an example of what Theresa Scavo, who grew up in the area and is chairwoman of Brooklyn Community Board 15, often refers to as the “total neglect” of this historic site, home to New York City’s first municipal airport and for almost four decades part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

“It’s always been like this,” Ms. Scavo said. “It’s just, every time you pass, it looks a little worse.”

But if Floyd Bennett’s many users, boosters and officials can agree on a vision of the field’s future, better years may be ahead.

A blue-ribbon panel organized last April by Representative Anthony D. Weiner and Senator Charles E. Schumer has been asked to make recommendations for the park’s future. It will focus on the “overall vision” for the field, along with practical fixes, said Robert Pirani, a senior planner with Regional Plan Association, which is working with the panel.

The recommendations will be just that — ideas that could be incorporated into a larger National Park Service plan with the intention of making Floyd Bennett “worthy of being a national park,” as Mr. Pirani put it. Financing for the proposals is unclear.

The panel, which has two chairwomen, Marian S. Heiskell, a longtime conservationist, and Deborah Shanley, dean of the School of Education at Brooklyn College, is expected to release its report this winter.

Some panel members, park users and advocates have pressed for big and ambitious plans — building a drive-in movie theater or an Olympic-size swimming pool, for instance — while others have argued for more low-key, pragmatic repairs: erecting clearer signs, improving transportation to the field and within its more than 1,000 acres, and fixing a boat launch with potholes so large you can see the rebar below.

The park already has an archery range, a campground, protected grasslands, a private sports complex and a community garden. It is also used by fishermen, cyclists, kayakers, a large model airplane club and a historic aircraft renovation project.

There is “broad unanimity” among panel members that the park can be improved while keeping these multiple uses, Mr. Pirani said. The challenge is making sure that the recommendations can be addressed in a realistic way, he said.

Linda Canzanelli, the acting superintendent of Gateway National Recreation Area, said the process of improving Floyd Bennett Field has already begun with the restoration of the Ryan Visitor Center — once the airport’s grand terminal and administration building — which a Park Service spokesman described as “the heart” of the park. Work began this year, and the building is expected to reopen in 2012.

Pointing to the success of Aviator, a private sports and recreation complex that opened in 2006 in several run-down hangars, Ms. Canzanelli said the key to fixing the still-crumbling hangars was in public-private partnerships and leases to schools or nonprofit organizations.

“We inherited a bunch of older military buildings, but we don’t have a Department of Defense budget,” she said. “We need to do a better job of reaching out to the public, because the days of big government coming in and solving all the problems are over.”

At a well-attended public hearing in September, the Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, who is also a panel member, suggested bringing major trade shows to Floyd Bennett, starting a high-end antique fair — similar to the Brimfield Antique Show and Flea Market in Massachusetts — and building a drive-in movie theater.

The last idea drew jeers from Jill Weingarten, a longtime member of the Floyd Bennett Gardens Association and the editor of its newsletter.

“Everyone turned to each other,” Ms. Weingarten recalled, “and I went, ‘Boo.’ ”

One afternoon, Ms. Weingarten tended the tomatoes, jalapeƱos and water irises in her garden, which is close to nearly 500 other plots. She has had her garden since 1997, and has transformed it into a kind of sanctuary, with a pond, grapevine, barbecue and sunshade. She hesitated at a suggestion to expand the garden, which has a two-year waiting list, to accommodate more plots and urban gardeners.

“I see people who want this place to remain secret and quiet — and in a way you can’t blame them,” she said. “In another way, why not? Why not make it bigger and give people more opportunity?”

Ms. Weingarten said the association had pushed to make solar energy central to the park’s future.

“A lot of the buildings are closed because they can’t pay electricity,” she said. “Then they get vandalized.”

Ms. Scavo had a more modest request for the panel. “Fix what we have,” she said.

Ms. Scavo is just one interested party among many. There is New York City Audubon, which has run a grassland restoration project at the park since the mid-1980s, and has argued for more protections for sparrows, larks and other ground nesting birds that use the property. There is the Pennsylvania Avenue Radio Control Society, a 200-member model airplane flying club that has requested that development projects be kept modest; it has also asked for electrical hook-ups and wireless Internet.

There is the archery range and the Historic Aircraft Restoration Project. There are visitors like Jimmy Reco, 68, and David Davidson, 75, who have spent many mornings over the last 20 years on the park’s eastern shore, fishing, drinking coffee and reading the paper.

The men said the surrounding beaches are no longer plastered with garbage the way they once were — “It was a like a city dump,” Mr. Reco said — but that afternoon there was still plenty of trash around: beer bottles, wine bottles, soda bottles and, eerily, an empty urn from St. Michael’s Cemetery in East Elmhurst.

The scene was sufficiently disturbing to Mr. Reco, who had a simple message for the field’s overseers.

“We need help here,” he said. “S.O.S.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Update Ridgewood Reservoir

Agency Is Still Weighing Wetland Ruling For Reservoir

Designation Could Alter Park Plans

by Robert Pozarycki

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) remains no closer to making a decision regarding the potential declaration of the Ridgewood Reservoir on the Brooklyn/Queens border as a wetland, according to an agency spokesperson.

“At this time, DEC has not made any determination to map the ponded or vegetated areas within the Ridgewood Reservoir as regulated freshwater wetlands,” said Thomas Panzone in an e-mail to the Times Newsweekly in response to a statement made during Community Board 5’s Oct. 13 meeting that the agency was “90 percent certain” that it would classify the 55-acre site as a wetland.

The co-chairperson of Board 5’s Parks Committee, Steven Fiedler, told board members on Oct. 13 that the statement was made by a DEC representative during a recent meeting convened by State Sen. Joseph Addabbo and community residents regarding the fate of the reservoir.

According to Panzone, “DEC is in communication with New York City Parks and DEP, which have committed to conduct hydrological studies of the reservoir district to determine the current sources of water entering and leaving the reservoir basins.”

“Once these studies are concluded, the [DEC] will determine whether to conduct further studies of the vegetation and make a decision regarding whether to map this area as freshwater wetlands,” Panzone said.

Should the agency declare the reservoir as a wetland, the spokesperson said, the city’s Parks Department would then be required to submit permits to the state agency for any potential improvements it wishes to make in any or all of the basins. All applications would be restricted to “certain regulated future activities in the freshwater wetland or 100-foot freshwater wetland adjacent area.”

“The designation would mean that the city would have to demonstrate, through a permit application, that future uses of the area would be consistent with protection and preser- vation of the wetland resources,” Panzone added. He noted that the Parks Department would maintain responsibility for the management and maintenance of the reservoir if the wetland designation is administered.

Formerly used as the source of drinking water for Brooklyn and Queens, the Ridgewood Reservoir was taken completely out of the city’s water system in the late 1980s. Since being shuttered and left inactive, the site has evolved into a natural habitat filled with a wide assortment of plant and wildlife.

In 2004, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection transferred ownership of the reservoir to the Parks Department. The agency later declared its intention of developing the site—along with the adjacent Highland Park—into one of eight regional parks as part of the PlaNYC 2030 master plan launched by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007.

Community and environmental activists fought plans initially put forth by the Parks Department to develop athletic fields in one of the reservoir’s three basins as part of a $50 million overhaul. Funds for the project were eventually scaled back due to the fiscal crisis that gripped the city and country in 2008.

Currently, the Parks Department is in the midst of the first phase of improvements to the reservoir, which includes installing new fencing and lighting around the perimeter of the site. The project would not be affected in any way by any potential wetland declaration, it was noted.

Posted By Rob Jett to Save Ridgewood Reservoir at 11/05/2010 09:38:00 AM

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pine Barren Society action on Carmans River

Long Island Pine Barrens Society – November Update

Carmans River Plan Faces Calmer Waters

On October 20, the Society joined Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko and other government officials to announce an agreement to protect the Carmans River from intrusive development. The initiative calls for a 90 day time out on all final development decisions surrounding the river. In the interim, a scientific based study will be conducted to analyze cumulative impacts associated with existing and proposed development in the watershed area and define a defensible watershed boundary. A formal Carmans River Study group led by Lee Koppelman, joined by several members of Brookhaven Town, the Central Pine Barrens Commission, the Department of Environmental Conservation and non-governmental stakeholders will draw upon the expertise of an appointed Technical Advisory Group to develop an official Carmans River Watershed Comprehensive Preservation and Management Plan. A final plan is set to be presented to Brookhaven Town Board for consideration of approval in January.

The Carmans River stretches 10 miles from North of Middle Country Road to the Great South Bay. It is designated by New York State as a “Recreational River” and is home to many species of endangered wildlife and native plants.

Society Sues Legislature for Making a Gift of Public Assets for Private Benefit

The Society has filed suit against the Suffolk County Legislature to prevent farmers from building on land where development rights have been sold and purchased by the County with taxpayer’s money. The suit asks that Suffolk prevent farm owners who have sold their development rights from developing on the land nonetheless.

The Society is challenging recent changes to the County’s Agricultural Regulations, which for the first time, explicitly authorizes development on land from which the public has purchased the development rights. It is unconstitutional for government to make a gift of public assets for private benefit, the suit says.

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