Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Four Sparrows Meeting Review

Just a quick bit of scribbling (note later: quick bit of scribbling? who was I kidding, when did I EVER do a meeting writeup that was "quick"??? oh well, at least it's done!) out my recollections of the updated plan for the Four Sparrows - I'd gone looking for the updated version of the plan, found an older version over on Sheepshead Bites & figured I'd just do one of my Microsoft Paint-jobs on it. Not very pretty but it gets the idea across. This isn't perfect, I should have done it sooner as sitting here 5 days after the meeting I'm not sure I'm remembering it right, but this is my best recollection.

The great thing is that the area I outlined, crosshatched & marked Gone in blue, covering buildings "Retail A", "Retail B" and the parking to serve them, are relics of the Ratner plan. Those are GONE now, thank goodness -- although as the invitation to the Community Board meeting pointed out, developers are likely to keep taking flyers at that unless it's eventually properly handed over to the parks department.

What's left is a couple of businesses that are already operating in the area, Toys 'R' Us (owners Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., Bain Capital Partners LLC - and did that get a gasp when the manager started reading out the owners - and Vornado Realty Trust, who also owns the Kings Plaza Mall where the meeting was held) and Kristol Motors trying to rearrange things a bit. I've outlined the lot that they're working with in orange. The squarish building marked "Old" is the Toys 'R' Us. The polygonal building marked "New" is the car dealership. Where the marsh comes into play is that that new building will be taking up what is currently a large part of the Toys 'R' Us parking lot, so to replace that parking, they are proposing that a 60 foot wide "easement" be carved out of Four Sparrow (comprising roughly 5% of that land that everybody thought was a park)and handed over for a parking lot.

The developers were making all kinds of reassuring noises about how it was being set up so that nothing but a parking lot could ever be built on that strip, as though a parking lot is somehow a completely neutral thing to add in and of itself.

Ida Sanoff, president of the Brooklyn/Queens division of the Natural Resources Protective Association called them on that one, and I was glad to hear that as it seemed to me that putting a parking lot right on the edge of a marsh is pretty much going to guarantee that every time it rains, it's going to mean oil and gas and anything else that leaked from the cars that park there are going to wash into the marsh.

Dan Mundy from the Jamaica Bay EcoWatch followed up and said that by pointing out that with all of the money that's being poured into the maintenance and restoration of the marshes of Jamaica Bay, not protecting the Four Sparrow Marsh just didn't make sense. Well, he said it better than that but that's what it boils down to.

The residents seemed to have mixed emotions - on the one hand, Kristol is a genuine local businessman and they'd like to see him do well, but chairwoman Dorothy Turano expressed a lot of frustration with the way the developers had evaded requests for a preliminary meeting, and concern about how the development was going to deal with the increased traffic (there'd been hopes for a bus turnaround and that didn't seem to be part of the plan), and most of all, she was quite vehement about the residents not wanting even the smallest piece of that park used.

A couple of other comments that stick out in my mind -

An individual asked Kristol about his role in the brownfield status of the land where his current dealership stands - he said he inherited that when he took over the land & had nothing to do with it but that was something people seemed to be pretty clearly concerned about.

There was a very strange moment when Councilman Lew Fidler began talking about how it was his understanding that the strip of marshland was just going to be used a buffer, tree plantings, etc. etc. - he must have arrived late because the fact that that land was intended for parking cars had been one of the first things the developers said. The developers corrected him although he didn't really seem to acknowledge it - hopefully that did sink in. That mistaken assumption was also posted on Sheepshead Bites & I made a comment I sort of wish I could revise, I was just there looking for the map, saw that the Councilman had posted a comment saying the same thing & posted a rather snappish correction, thinking he'd just ignored the developers' correction...then realized he'd posted that the day before the meeting. Oh well, at least there's a correction with it now.

hmm, and back to "I'm not sure I'm remembering it right", I swear they said the strip was for parking but Dan Mundy's report says " 'some parking but mostly as a buffer area with trees and plants' according to EDC. " Maybe I misheard...still, definitely not just trees.

Most depressing moment of the evening was when someone proposed that approval be hinged on guarantees that the park be left alone. A gentleman who I believe was representing the Empire Development Corporation was quick to remind everyone that a community board doesn't actually have any power to DO something like that, they're only there in an advisory capacity.

Weirdest moment of the evening was actually before the meeting. I'd made a poster and while I was standing in line, the guy in front of me said "Nice pictures". I said thanks & told him I'd taken them from my kayak & that I paddle out of Sebago. He paused for a second & then said, "You know, I'd like to like your club but you want to ban all the motorboats from the Paerdegat". Coulda knocked me over with the proverbial feather - sure there are a couple of turkeys who just WON'T slow down when they come under the bridge, but the neighboring yacht clubs are just that, our neighbors, I can't imagine asking to have them turned out! Anyways, turned out that he was from Canarsie and some club member had said something to that effect at some planning meeting - somebody's personal opinion clearly got mistaken for club policy. Bizarre though.

According to my notes, the next meeting on the topic will be on February 8th at 5:30 at Brooklyn Borough Hall, and then there'll be a followup in March, and in April or May it'll go to the City Council.

Guess I won't throw away my poster yet.

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