Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ridgewood Reservoir Plans to be Presented in Fall

Survey, Meeting Results Released by Parks Dept.

By Conor Greene

The city Parks Department will release three conceptual plans for the future of Ridgewood Reservoir this fall, now that the results of public input generated through listening sessions and paper surveys have been released.

At a meeting Tuesday night in Oak Ridge, the findings of the March 30 and May 2 listening sessions was presented, along with the feedback of 253 paper surveys distributed at prior meetings and in parks. Using this information, landscape architect firm Mark K. Morrison Associates (MKM) will present the three plans to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe in late September. The plans will also be presented to community boards.

Under an agreement with city Comptroller William Thompson, one of the three plans must be dedicated to passive recreation, with no major development of the basins. The others will likely include athletic fields and other facilities for active recreation.

According to the combined results of the two listening sessions, residents favor construction of a boardwalk as their top choice for all three basins. The only options among the top three priorities for any of the basins that involve development was at basin three, where a nature center was the second choice, followed by recreational opportunities.

However, some audience members took exception with the paper surveys, questioning where they were distributed and why they weren’t handed out to all meeting participants or sent to local community boards. Also, some questioned why the results of a 2007 survey on Ridgewood Reservoir were not taken into consideration. Of the 253 paper survey respondents, 11% ranked baseball or softball fields as the highest priority in terms of the new facilities they would like build at the reservoir site.

Kevin Quinn, the department’s Queens team leader for capital projects, stressed that the surveys don’t take into account the wishes of every resident. “We didn’t go around and ask every single person in Queens what they want,” he said. “It’s not going to be statistically perfect, but I think it’s a good start… What I want to know is, do you disagree with the results?”

When asked why the 2007 survey was dismissed, Quinn said there were concerns that it was flawed or not thorough enough. “We spent a lot more time on this survey,” he said. Still, many in the room felt the prior results should also be taken into account. “To me, its mind boggling that you threw it out,” said Lou Widerka.

Ozone Park resident David Quintana also questioned the validity of the paper surveys, and accused Parks of using them to get the results they favored. “These surveys have no transparency at all,” he said.

Several others questioned whether those surveyed knew the questions pertained specifically to Ridgewood Reservoir, as opposed to the entire Highland Park property, which includes the reservoir along with existing ball fields that are in poor condition.

“I really feel there should have been a distinction between Highland Park and Ridgewood Reservoir because a lot of people don’t know about the reservoir,” said Woodhaven resident Maria Thompson. “If you wanted a survey of Highland Park, you should have made a survey on Highland Park.”

Quinn said that Parks saw this as a chance to also solicit information about Highland park in general. He said that that contract with MKM only pertains to the reservoir section, but that Parks is looking into the overall conditions of Highland Park.

Widerka and several others also argued that if the city would simply fix the existing fields at Highland Park, there would be no debate over whether or not the basins should be preserved. “If you fix Highland Park, there would be no issue of ballfields in the basins,” he said. “Fix Highland Park, preserve the reservoir and then everyone will be happy. It’s easy and here we are banging our heads against the wall.”

Vincent Arcuri, chairman of Community Board 5, said that the city needs to “bite the bullet” and look at the conditions at the existing fields. “We have not paid proper attention to Highland Park in recent years,” he said. “You ask anyone what’s needed at Highland Park and they’ll tell you the same thing – those fields are garbage.” Instead of building fields in the reservoir basins, Arcuri said Parks has to “be realistic” and address the existing fields.

Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who was represented at the meeting by Jeff Gottleib, and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who was in attendance, both said they don’t want the basins developed.

While the future of the actual basins remains up in the air, everyone seems to agree that the perimeter area around the basins is in need of upgrades to improve access and safety. As a result, contract bid documents for phase one work, which includes new fencing, lighting and pathways, will be completed by the end of the summer. If a contract is awarded by late fall, construction could begin in early winter 2010.

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