By Conor Greene
As the Parks Department prepares to begin the first phase of work at the Ridgewood Reservoir, local elected officials and community leaders have questioned aspects of the plan, and were not impressed with the response they received from the city on their input.
Parks is planning $7.7 million worth of improvements to Highland Park, which includes the Ridgewood Reservoir. Work will include replacing existing perimeter fencing around the reservoir’s three basins, upgrading the lighting and improving the pathways.
Phase one work will take place as the department and community continues to debate the overall future of the park and reservoir property. Many, including Community Board 5 members, want the city to preserve the reservoir in its natural state and upgrade existing ballfields in Highland Park, instead of filling in one of the basins and constructing fields there.
While the debate over the future of the property continues, CB 5 members and elected officials including State Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) are asking Parks to reconsider aspects of the phase one plan.
In July, CB 5 informed Queens Borough Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski in a letter that the board had unanimously adopted several recommendations concern- ing phase one, including that perimeter fencing be six feet high, instead of four feet as planned; that the electrical service conduit be installed on the reservoir side of the pathway, where the lighting fixture will be installed and that an existing stone stairway not be removed.
In an August 24 response, Lewandowski informed the board that the fence is not meant as a security barrier, since public access to the basins is planned for the future. “The four foot proposal provides a clear view into the basins which will allow the public to better appreciate the interior as well as provide easier observation by the police and parks patrols.”
Regarding the electrical setup, Lewandowski said the decision to locate the light poles on the reservoir side “was made for both ecological and aesthetic reasons.” She argued that since the electrical conduit can’t be placed between the pathway and the basins due to a lack of soft surface, Parks “decided that spending an additional $90K now to locate the conduit in the grass area [on the other side of the path] is a price worth paying to make maintenance in future less complicated and less expensive.”
Parks did agree that facing the lamp post panels away from the path to help prevent vandalism and theft “is a very good idea” that has been incorporated into the design. In addition, Parks has accepted the board’s recommendation that the northeast stairway should be restored. This can be done within phase one “barring any costly surprises revealed in our ongoing structural investigations.” Either way, the stairs will not be removed as planned.
While the board’s push for a pedestrian bridge over Vermont Avenue “is an idea worth studying in-depth,” Parks has determined that it is “cost prohibitive at least in the initial phase of work at the reservoir.” However, the department has directed consultant Mark K. Morrison and Associates to ensure that the current plan would allow for a pedestrian bridge in the future.
Board members expressed displeasure at a meeting earlier this year after receiving Parks’ response to the suggestions. “We’re not dumb – we suggest things for a reason,” said CB 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri, vowing at the time to “fight this politically.”
In September letter to Lewandowski, Addbbo noted that he generally agreed with the board’s suggestions and said he also has “concerns” over the current plan. He agreed that the light fixtures and related electrical wiring should be on the same side of the path to save money, and also called for a six-foot high perimeter fence. “While six foot fencing might hinder some public access viewing, that issue is far outweighed by the greater issue the of public safety and security of people visiting the site,” wrote Addabbo.
“As you are aware, in these difficult fiscal times, the city needs to allocate funding efficiently,” the senator continued. “I am hopeful that prior to any work commencing on Phase I at the reservoir, your department conducts the necessary research and public input consideration to create a safe and accommodating venue.”
Crowley also wrote a letter to Lewandowski last month, calling the board’s proposals “a good set of improvements to the current plan.” She agreed with the board and Addabbo on the issues of the electrical wiring and fence height. She also noted that she continues to support “ a passive recreation option” at the site and wants a portion of the $19 million earmarked for phase two on renovations of the existing ballfields in Highland Park “before even considering the decon- struction of a basin.”
A Parks Department spokeswoman did not provide information regarding when phase one construction is slated to begin, or a response to Addabbo and Crowley’s letters.
On Wednesday, Arcuri called Parks’ response “foolish” and said that six-foot-high fences are used in other projects around the city, including the promenade along Flushing Bay without complaints of obstructed views. “I think they’re a little hard-nosed; their consultant came up with a design and they want to stick with it,” said Arcuri. “I think part of it is the ego of the designer, and the ego of the agency.”
Looking ahead to phase two, Arcuri agreed that some of the remaining $19 million should be used at the existing ballfields. “They can develop a program for the restoration of the upper ballfields and playground so the reservoir can stay a natural preserved area as every- one wants it,” he said. “There really isn’t a need for additional facilities; the need is for the facilities that exist to be restored.”
Arcuri charged that recent surveys of parks users con- ducted by the city “weren’t realistic” and didn’t reflect the desires of many to preserve the reservoir. “The results of that survey were contradictory to the results of all the public meetings, so we question that... We think that if we have enough political support we could get them to go along with the idea of a nature preserve [at the reservoir] and fixing the upper ballfields. I think we need the mayor to come out and side with the people who are familiar with the area.”