Thursday, February 26, 2009
Initial Contract for Ridgewood Reservoir Approved
Comptroller Gives Parks OK for Perimeter Work
By Conor Greene
After a false start last summer, the city comptroller has signed off on a contract for design work around the perimeter of Ridgewood Reservoir.
Comptroller William Thompson announced last week that he has approved a preliminary design contract between the city Parks Department and Mark K. Morrison Associations. It allows for design work to begin at the perimeter of the Ridgewood Reservoir, which is located within Highland Park near the Brooklyn boundary.
The project, which comes following substantial community input, will include installation of fences, lighting, steps and benches and will increase public safety on the reservoir’s walking paths. The contract also calls for MMA to issue “three conceptual plans” concerning the overall construction and design of the reservoir, including one design dedicated to “passive” recreation.
“I am happy to announce the approval of a contract to begin the design of the perimeter of Ridgewood Reservoir, which will greatly improve the safety of those who utilize the space as a means of recreation,” said Thompson in a statement. “Under this new agreement, we have ensured that the public will have a say in the ongoing design and construction process of the rest of the reservoir each step of the way.”
Last summer, Thompson rejected a $3.3 million contract Parks attempted to enter into with MMK which would have involved converting one of the property’s three basins into ballfields. Doing so would have required that between 11,700 and 27,500 large truckloads of fill would have been transported through local streets.
When he rejected the contract last July, Thompson noted that he has “consistently urged the city to rethink its plans to develop” the 50-acre site, which he called “an accidental wilderness” in a New York Times op-ed piece he co-wrote with Robert F. Kennedy.
In the letter to Parks rejecting the first contract, Thompson argued that due to the “sensitive ecological nature of the location,” the project’s environmental review process is of heightened importance and “must have maximum transparency.” He also expressed concern that under the proposed contract, the vendor responsible for the environmental review would be a subcontractor working for the architect, “who has a vested interest in pursuing construction of a $38 million project.”
The news was well received by advocates who are pushing to have the reservoir’s thick shrubs, trees and wetlands preserved for hiking, bird-watching and other passive recreation. On the other side are those who want the property developed for active recreation, including ballfields.
To prevent the public from being excluded from discussions about the future of the property, Thompson and Parks “also have established a protocol within the contract that requires the public to have a say in the design process prior to and after the initial design concepts are created.”
The reservoir, which sits on the Brooklyn-Queens border, was built in 1848 to provide drinking water to Brooklyn residents. It was converted as a back-up reservoir in 1959 and taken off-line in 1989. Since then, tree, plants, turtles, fish, frogs and more than 137 bird species, including eight rare ones identified on the National Audubon Society’s “Watch List,” thrive on the land, according to the comptroller’s office.
Since rejecting the initial contract last June, representatives from Thompson’s office have attended a number of meetings to address the concerns of the project with community members. “This contract creates a level of community input that enables this process to be open and transparent,” he said. “By involving all parties in the process, the final result will better reflect the best interests of all involved.”
The reservoir property was controlled by the city Department of Environmental Protection until 2004, when it was turned over to the Parks Department. Through Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative, $50 million has been allocated for improvements there – leading to the current battle over what type of development should occur.
“The Parks Department is pleased that the Comptroller has approved the preliminary design contract so that the Parks can begin the design process and incorporate the input gained in numerous public listening sessions, meetings, surveys, and tours with the community, local elected officials, community boards and local environmental organizations since 2007,” a spokeswoman wrote in a statement.
The statement adds that Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe took Comptroller Thompson on a tour of the reservoir last fall, and that Highland Park is one of eight large parks being redesigned through PlaNYC, which aims to ensure that every New Yorker lives within a ten-minute walk of a park or open space.