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Ball Fields Win at Bloomingdale Woods
by Anne Schwartz - Gotham Gazette

A bitter three-year battle over a plan to put recreational fields in Staten Island's Bloomingdale Woods came to an end with a snowy ceremonial groundbreaking in early February. Mayor Michael Bloomberg dug into a pile of dirt instead of the frozen ground to inaugurate a scaled-down version of the project, a compromise he negotiated between the Parks Department, which originally opposed the project, and its chief proponent, Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro. The compromise also involves building additional fields at the nearby Charleston site, most of which is slated for a retail complex.

While South Shore sports leagues and civic groups celebrated, former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern characterized the groundbreaking as a "dark day in park history," although he gave the mayor credit for reducing the size of the project, "so it's far better than the earlier plan."

The Parks Department and environmental groups opposed the project because thousands of trees would be cut down and wildlife habitat destroyed, and because they believed the park's sloping and soggy terrain would be unsuitable for playing fields. A study commissioned by the Parks Department showed that fields could be built more quickly and far more cheaply at other sites on the South Shore. "From the moment this controversy began, parks offered them recreational fields on flat lands," said Stern.

Former borough president Guy Molinari, however, had plans for the other potential sites, none of which were under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department. He made the building of fields in Bloomingdale Woods a top priority and used his political clout to win the support of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The mayor silenced the Parks Department and had the project moved to the Department of Design and Construction.

Environmentalists, led by the local Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, sued to stop the project, raising the ire of sports and civic groups on the South Shore. In recent years, the area has developed rapidly, without an accompanying investment in schools, recreational facilities, public transit and other infrastructure. "We have all these new homes and new developments, huge new developments, I might add, and there is no place for these children to go," said Dee Vandenburg, president of the Staten Island Taxpayers Association, a civic organization addressing quality of life issues.

Protectors lost its final appeal last summer.

Chuck Perry, a board member of Protectors, said that he agreed that the area needed ball fields and recreation for the children. But, he said, "we should be upgrading the areas that are degraded, not cutting the natural areas we have left." He noted that a privately owned forest near Bloomingdale Park was recently clear cut for a large development. Perry also said it was "fiscally irresponsible" to spend three or four times the money to build fields in an area not suited for them.

To Mike Nagy, the borough engineer who did the redesign, the natural setting is the key to the appeal of the park. "Engineers can build many things," he said, "but we can't build fully grown trees." Nagy envisions the park, with three ball fields, two half-court basketball courts and a playground surrounded by trees, to be like a park somewhere in Connecticut - "where kids can sit under a tree and have lunch, where the temperature in the summer can be ten degrees cooler that it is on the street, where you can take a walk and see a ravine."

The final $9.1 million plan for Bloomingdale Park, which also includes a perimeter greenway, walking trails, bridges, and wetland boardwalks, is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2004. An additional $6.5 million has been allotted for roadwork to increase access to the park, including two cul-de-sacs leading into the park. At the Charleston retail site, 42 acres will be transferred to the Parks Department, which will build a new 42-acre park with 12 acres of ball fields, tennis and basketball courts, and a fitness trail. The Staten Island Advance reported that the Parks Department has asked the contractor of the retail complex to provide a $7 million maintenance endowment for the new park, which is expected to be ready in the fall of 2004.

About the Writer

Anne Schwartz is a freelance writer specializing in environmental issues. Previously, she was the editor of the Audubon Activist, a news journal for environmental action published by the National Audubon Society, and an editor at The New York Botanical Garden.

Related Links

Gotham Gazette
National Audubon Society


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