Saturday, May 23, 2009

Preservationists at Odds with City Over Ballfields in Ridgewood Reservoir by John Lauinger - NY Daily News

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Controller William C. Thompson walks through the Ridgewood Reservoir with preservation community member Rob Jett.

The City Parks Department has exaggerated the need for new ballfields in the forests of Ridgewood Reservoir, preservationists charge, pointing to newly unearthed documents.

The agency is considering active and passive recreational uses as part of a $50 million restoration of the long-dormant reservoir, which is part of Highland Park, along the Brooklyn-Queens border.

But a preservation group that opposes adding ballfields in the upcoming revamp recently obtained copies of Parks Department permits given out for Highland Park's existing ball fields over the last two years.

The records, obtained through the Freedom of Information Law, show that they were used less than 5% of the total available time in 2007 and 2008.

"The usage calendar had even more holes in it than the Parks Department's arguments for destroying the reservoir habitats," Robb Jett, a leader of the Highland Park-Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance, wrote on the group's Web site.

The agency has had three "listening sessions" over the last month for public input on the project - part of some $400 million in park upgrades proposed in Mayor Bloomberg's sweeping PlaNYC initiative.

That feedback will be presented at a public meeting planned for next week.

Three conceptual plans - including one dedicated to passive recreation - are expected to be unveiled in the fall.

While the Parks Department has not committed to a particular design, Commissioner Adrian Benepe previously told the Daily News that Queens needs more ball fields for its fast-growing youth population.

"We have a very strong obligation to provide sports and recreation facilities, so kids can get exercise," he had said.

In 2007, the agency issued 410 hours of permits for Highland Park's existing ball fields. That jumped to 753 hours last year, but included a two-week carnival that accounted for 195 hours.

Parks spokeswoman Patricia Bertuccio said the permit lists don't account for countless pickup games and practices on those fields that don't require prior approval from the agency.

East Brooklyn Congregations, an umbrella group of more than 30 Brooklyn churches and community groups, wants 8 acres of the 50-acre reservoir to be developed into two regulation-sized fields - one for soccer and football, the other for baseball.

"Everybody that we have talked to has said, 'If you want to give us anything in that reservoir, give us fields for active recreation," said Bishop David Benke, head of the Lutheran Church in the eastern region of the state.