A Promise Made to the Grasmere Community; A Promise Kept

Two years ago Councilman Oddo and Borough President Molinaro promised to forever preserve Whitney Woods; today the final stages in the city purchase of this environmental sensitive property are almost complete

On Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Grasmere Civic Association, New York City Council Minority Leader James S. Oddo (R- Mid-Island) and Borough President James P. Molinaro will announce that the city has entered the final stages in the purchase of Whitney Woods, the 1.5 acre piece of environmentally sensitive property, that they promised to preserve and save to prevent its development, preserve as open space, and mitigate area flooding issues. The closing on the property will take place shortly. The Grasmere Civic Association meets in the Fr. Epifanio Center at Holy Rosary Church, located at 80 Jerome Avenue, South Beach.

Without this action, current zoning rules would have permitted the construction of more than 70 housing units to be built on the space that currently remains green and pristine. This would have exacerbated severe flooding concerns that have long plagued the community surrounding Whitney Woods.

On October 24, 2009, Oddo, Molinaro, and the Bloomberg Administration announced that Whitney Woods was “identified as a priority for acquisition.” Since that time, Oddo and Molinaro have allocated the necessary funds for the purchase, the Bloomberg Administration has been negotiating with the property owner, and the required Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) has been conducted. The total purchase price was $2,735,000. Councilman Oddo contributed a total of $1,450,000 for the purchase ($1 million in FY 2011 and $450,000 in FY 12), Borough President Molinaro allocated a total of $985,000 ($535,000 in FY 11 and $495,000 in FY 12), and DEP contributed a total of $300,000 to the purchase.

Councilman Oddo said, “Many people know that I am a big fan of the show The West Wing. There was a line in one of the episodes that I have taken as a motto of sorts for my time in public service: ‘We came here to put the job first. To spend our lives for something that would outlast us.’ In this case, I am happy to say that the preservation of Whitney Woods will truly outlast us in several ways. First, it will forever remain in its current state, free of the type of development that has robbed us of too many of our green spaces on Staten Island. Second, it will help protect the local area by acting as a storm water drainage and management area. I would like to thank the Bloomberg Administration, particularly DEP, Borough President Molinaro and his staff, and my Chief-of-Staff, Steven Matteo, for their persistence in bringing us to this day. We made a promise two years ago to the Grasmere community that we would forever preserve this property and I am happy to say that we are living up to this promise.”

Borough President James P. Molinaro said, “This is great news for the people of Staten Island, and the residents of Grasmere in particular. It’s a win-win – we can now protect this area from development while enhancing our successful Bluebelt system. This neighborhood already experiences trouble with flooding, and any new, large-scale home construction would have worsened the problem significantly. Whitney Woods will now become part of the Bluebelt, a storm water-management system that protects our waterways and reduces flooding. I am proud that — with thanks to the Bloomberg Administration — Councilman Oddo and I were able to keep our promise to the Grasmere community and maintained Staten Island’s reputation as the Borough of Parks.”

Neighborhood residents first broached the possibility of purchasing the property in 2005 and DEP was receptive to the idea of utilizing the property as a means of stormwater conveyance. The movement to purchase the property gained steam after the release of PlaNYC when Councilman Oddo and Senator Andrew Lanza wrote to the Mayor’s office on June 11, 2008 making this request.

A Timeline of Events: Whitney Woods

From Stephanie Slepian of the Staten Island Advance:

NYC makes sure that Staten Island’s Whitney Woods will be forever green

A two-acre patch of land in Grasmere will remain forever green as the city moves to finalize its $2.7 million purchase of Whitney Woods, a forest-like landscape that could have contained up to 70 houses.

It was 2003 when the newly formed Grasmere Civic Association first asked the Department of Environmental Protection to acquire the property on Whitney and Parkinson avenues as a possible addition to the Bluebelt.

They quickly gained the support of Councilman James Oddo (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn), whose timeline of correspondence between then and now runs 82 pages long.

“Thoreau lived in the woods, and while we didn’t take it that far, we absolutely lived and breathed this issue,” said Oddo, who will be joined by Borough President James P. Molinaro in announcing the news before the civic association’s membership tonight at 7 in the parish center of Holy Rosary R.C. Church, South Beach.

“This will forever preserve a piece of Staten Island. Had we done more of this 30 years ago, we might have a different community now.”

DEP and the private land owner are expected to close in the coming weeks. Allocations include $1.4 million from Oddo, $985,000 from Molinaro and $300,000 from DEP.

It is slated to become part of DEP’s Bluebelt, a network of streams, ponds and other wetlands designed to collect storm-water runoff and prevent flooding in low-lying communities.

“This is great news for the people of Staten Island, and the residents of Grasmere in particular,” Molinaro said. “It’s a win-win — we can now protect this area from development while enhancing our successful Bluebelt system.

“This neighborhood already experiences trouble with flooding, and any new, large-scale home construction would have worsened the problem significantly.”

Over the years, there was talk of building anywhere from 27 to 42 townhouses on the wooded lots, leaving residents fearful that their natural flood barrier would be lost to development.

“We are relieved to know there will be open space in our community,” said Frank Ninivaggi, president of the Grasmere Civic Association, who acknowledged the efforts of the city and local elected officials in seeing the purchase through.

“It is all vegetation, there are no sewers and no infrastructure. It lends itself to the Bluebelt.”

From the SI Advance archive, an article by Jamie Lee

After more than five years of painstaking effort, residents of Richmond and Grasmere were rewarded yesterday with the news that the city has taken major steps toward extending the Bluebelt program in their neighborhoods.

Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler, Borough President James Molinaro, City Councilman James Oddo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn) and city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Acting Commissioner Steven W. Lawitts announced new developments regarding two separate properties during a press conference in Historic Richmond Town.

The first announcement was the finalization of plans to purchase 1.3 acres of Richmond wetlands, known as Richmond Creek, and the second was the prioritization of acquiring a two-acre parcel of Grasmere woodlands, known as Whitney Woods.

Both properties are slated to become part of the DEP’s Bluebelt program, meant to protect wetlands and waterways while reducing flooding in problematic locations across the city.

“The Bluebelts provide an ecologically sensible way to manage storm water and reduce flooding, while saving us the tens of millions of dollars it would cost to install conventional storm sewers for the same land area,” said Skyler. “It is an environmentally and financially sound approach to managing water on Staten Island.”

Just as important for those living alongside the soon-to-be protected sites is the knowledge that overdevelopment will not infringe on their quiet communities.

“The Bluebelt was originally planned to be 33 acres [in Richmond Creek], but scaled back to 18 acres,” said the Richmondtown and Clarke Avenue Civic Association’s Richmond Creek Watershed Committee chairwoman Kathy Meaghan. “Many of these properties have already been lost to development.”

Ms. Meaghan and her committee have been fighting for the preservation of Richmond Creek, which is located between St. George Road and Nugent Street and west of Aultman Avenue, since 2004.

“It is so worthy of preserving for so many reasons — flood and storm water control, surface and groundwater protection, erosion control, fish and wildlife habitat, pollution treatment and for nutrient cycling,” she said.

Whitney Woods, which is located east of Whitney Avenue and Parkinson Avenue in Grasmere, is a collection of vacant, low-lying, heavily-vegetated lots that could house as many as 70 separate homes if built on.

With flooding already a major issue for the area, additional construction could serve to worsen that condition.

“This is great news for Grasmere and great news for all of Staten Island, which is still threatened by overdevelopment” said Grasmere Civic Association president Frank Ninivaggi.

Richmond Creek is currently going through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), and negotiations with the property owners are anticipated to begin early next year. Certification of the ULURP application for Whitney Woods is anticipated to take place in 2010.

“I know these projects are going to outlive me,” said Oddo, who secured $500,000 in the city budget for the purchases, while Molinaro set aside $350,000. “We are going to preserve them and protect them, and keep these woods green forever.”

Also, here is a 2009 report by Amanda Farinacci of New York 1:

What it may look like a bunch of overgrown weeds badly in need of trimming, a swampy wetland area represents for some residents of Richmondtown a solution to a flooding problem that has plagued their neighborhood for years.

“People in the area used to have their basements flooded and this contained the water, and helped a lot of people from having their homes damaged. I think this is great,” said resident Louis Cugno.

On Saturday, the city announced it is working to acquire the 1.3-acre property and to maintain it as part of the city’s Bluebelt Program, which protects wetlands, waterways and reduces flooding across the city. The land is currently owned by a private homeowner, but the city is in the process of purchasing it and hopes to own it by next year.

Staten Island Councilman James Oddo said owning the property is the only way the city can make sure the land isn’t purchased by a private developer and built on, which would end the relief that residents with no traditional storm systems gain from the wetland area when it rains.

“There are some communities on Staten Island that will never have the traditional steel and cement sewer system,” said Oddo. “Geographically, technically, you can’t build it without raising all the roads and sinking all these homes, and the Bluebelt concept has been a huge success. It started on the South Shore, came to Richmond Creek, and now we’re doing it all along the East Shore. And it’s the only relief for certain communities.”

Currently, the city maintains 400 acres of wetlands on Staten Island’s South Shore, and the city Department of Environmental Protection is working to double that amount in the near future.

“It’s a good way to control storm water, it’s environmentally responsible, and it’s beautiful, and you’re a good neighbor to the residents of Staten island,” said acting DEP Commissioner Steven Lawitts.

The city has also identified a two-acre parcel in Grasmere called Whitney Woods that it plans to acquire in the next fiscal year.