The reservoir's historic structures & ecosystems are an opportunity to create a unique environmental education center for our children & their future.

Friday, April 10, 2009

DoPR March 16th Meeting Summary

The Department of Parks & Recreation has responded to City Comptroller Thompson's demand to create three new plans for Ridgewood Reservoir by organizing a new round of community input sessions. I was contacted by parks with the dates; March 16th, March 30th, May 2nd.

Here is a summary of the March 16th meeting, which was held in the parks department's Oak Ridge offices. The meeting was described as being the introduction of Phase 1 of the project which would only address safety and accessibility issues around the perimeter of the reservoir basins. The 7 million dollars being released by the comptroller would not be used for any work within the basins.

Over 100 residents and community leaders attended. Their requisite PowerPoint slide presentation contained the historical information that has been used for all meetings since June 2007. There wasn't anything new added. Members of the design team presented different sections of the slideshow. One surprise was the section entitled "Topography and Ecology". Chris Syrett from the design team reviewed the results of the Draft Ecological Assessment as performed by Round Mountain Ecological, LLC. He couldn't have been more forthcoming with the data and reiterated what we posted on the blog long ago - the reservoir site represents "unique and important habitats that are rare in NYC".

There was a small degree of antagonism from the assembled audience towards the design team in that they either didn't trust the Department of Parks & Recreation's level of honesty with regard to Phase 1 of the project and/or that the city is not willing to spend any of the money on Highland Park.

It seemed clear that the purpose of the meeting was only to discuss the first phase of this project. That would involve safety and accessibility issues around the perimeter of the reservoir. Fencing, lighting and repair of the stairways were the only items that the DoPR were intending to discuss. When questioned about the type of fencing that they are designing for the perimeter of the basins they replied that it would be in keeping with the historical nature of the site. It is still unclear if either of the through paths will have 24/7 access. Some members of the community, understandably, dwelt on issues more specific to Highland Park and Ridgewood Reservoir as a whole unit, including money to improve Upper and Lower Highland Park.

Many people seemed a little irritated when the microphone was turned over to Bishop Benke, ostensibly, to ask a question. Unfortunately, he used the opportunity to commandeer the room and, as one person in the audience put it, deliver an "advertisement" for his church and its "40,000 members". The upshot of his message was that all his parishioners want more ballfields and preferably inside the basins. I'm not sure why Benke is so set on pushing for such an unreasonable use of funding when he clearly understands that Highland Park has been underfunded and under-maintained for decades. Also, he seems to have done a 180 degree shift in his attitude from his stance on this date:

"During that meeting Recreation and education at the reservoir were the central themes of a renovation plan developed by a team consisting of Bishop David Banke [sic], pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church of Cypress Hills, Roy Sawyer, community liaison for Assemblyman Towns and Sam and Ana Franqui of the Highlanders East New York United Front."

"According to Bishop Banke, the team was focused on recreating Ridgewood Reservoir as an educational and passive recreation center for residents in Brooklyn and Queens. One main component of the plan, as he described to participants, would be the formation of an environmental center at the easternmost basin ideal for students who can venture to the park on field trips to study wildlife and plant growth in the chamber."

"While reserving the middle basin as a man-made lake with fish, the bishop explained, the westernmost basin would be created into a botanical garden with greenhouses and a picnic area for students and parkgoers to gather. Banke also suggested that a new observation deck could be built in the southern section of the chamber to allow visitors to see sections of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Jamaica Bay from one of the highest points on Long Island."

A better use of his "40,000 member" leverage would be to campaign for more funding to fix up Highland Park.

Melissa Hick's, also from the design team, presented the results of surveys. Apparently, the team had gone out to the park and reservoir and surveyed people about what they thought SHOULD be done with the reservoir, as well as, what facilities should NOT be constructed. I wasn't surprised by the results because many of the people in this alliance have done less scientific surveys of people at the reservoir. 100% of those surveyed thought it should be used for nature. I don't remember the exact numbers, but significantly less than 50% thought active recreation facilities should be built. We will attempt to acquire that information as the data is important to share with everyone.

Documentary producer Bambi Bogert got permission from the DoPR press office to videotape the event. While I was speaking with her after the meeting, Queens Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski approached us. I heard her tell the commissioner that she would like to set up an appointment to interview her. The final project should be very interesting.

In general, I was pleased with the meeting. People asked a lot of very good questions and made it clear to the department of parks that the communities are watching the process very closely.

Later today I will post a summary of the second meeting, which was billed as a "working meeting".

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