Thursday, June 25, 2009

City to Discuss Ridgewood Reservoir's Future

By Conor Greene

The future of Ridgewood Reservoir and Highland Park will be discussed on Tuesday, when the city Parks Department releases the results of input residents provided at three prior listening sessions.

Highland Park, which includes the 50-acre Ridgewood Reservoir, is one of eight large parks across the city that is being redesigned as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative. The property, which is on the Brooklyn-Queens border, supplied drinking water to city residents until the 1960s. Since, a natural habitat that is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life, including endangered species, has flourished. There is now debate as to whether the land should be developed for active recreation or preserved in its natural state.

Initially, $48.8 million was earmarked for Highland Park, but it was recently announced that the allocation has been reduced to $19.8 million due to the economic crisis. About $7.5 million already allocated to replace lighting and fencing around the reservoir’s three basins is not affected by the cuts. A contract was awarded to Manhattan-based landscape architect Mark K. Morrison Associates for that initial phase, which began several months ago. That portion of the project is expected to take a year- and-a-half to complete.

The landscape architect firm is now charged with creating three plans for the reservoir: one that preserves the site’s natural features, one that involves building athletic fields in the three basins and a compromise plan under which only the largest of the three basins is filled in for development of sports fields. It is not clear how the funding reduction will affect those plans, as Parks has said it is waiting until the budget is finalized until the plans are revised. In a statement, a spokesman said that the funding cut will be spread out over six years. “If the reduction in funding is not restored or supplemented by another funding source, a new phasing strategy will be implemented,” the spokesman said.

Over the past year, the Parks Department has held three listening sessions to gain public feedback on the future of the 50-acre property. During those meetings, many Queens residents pushed to have the reservoir preserved and argued that a portion of the funding should instead be used to fix up the existing ballfields in Highland Park, which are in poor condition. In April, Community Board 5 approved a resolution requesting that between $10 million and $15 million of the funding be used to accomplish that.

In a statement, Parks announced it is holding Tuesday’s session “to discuss community ideas and concerns for the Ridgewood Reservoir redevelopment. The meeting will summarize what we have learned at previous meetings from community input and discussion, and to relay the results of the paper surveys that have been distributed over the past weeks.”

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Park’s Oak Ridge office at Forest Park. Attendees can enter at Park Lane South and Forest Parkway or at Woodhaven Boulevard and Forest Park Drive. For details call 311 and ask for the Forest Park Administrator’s Office.

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