Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mid-Queens Leader - Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano - Disputes Race Claims - Michael Lanza - Queens Chronicle

Read original...

Outraged community leaders are firing back over comments made by former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, who said that racial and economic tensions were fueling controversy over plans to develop Ridgewood Reservoir.

Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano (Photo - left) said Stern’s allegations just aren’t consistent with the facts — citing support for preservation at Brooklyn’s Community Board 5 and efforts by the Queens community to ensure that Highland Park gets a share of development funds to improve existing ballfields.

“We’re going to bat for them because we have an opportunity now — there’s money on the table. We’re saying, gee, put some of this money into Brooklyn,” Giordano said. “That’s the real story — the current condition of the ballfields at Highland Park, the people that use them and the fact that they’ve been treated by the Parks Department, in my opinion, as second or third rate citizens.”

Stern, the current New York Civic director, claimed middle-class Queens residents were organizing to fight efforts to replace the reservoir with ballfields — a plan favored by community groups representing the East New York section of Brooklyn — in a socioeconomic turf war.

“A lot of it is territorial: ‘This belongs to the uphill people, and the uphill people should decide how it’s used — not the downhill people,’” Stern said of the reservoir debate.“They’re organizing to keep them down at the bottom of the hill.”

Giordano, offended by the claims, argued that advocates for the reservoir have a genuine interest in preserving the unique natural space.

“I’m certainly not organizing to do anything like that. We live at the bottom of the hill on the other side,” Giordano said. “All we’re doing is taking the opportunity to have a beautiful natural space that people can visit so we can promote the environment.”

The reservoir’s declining condition became the center of a battle between preservationists and developers in recent years.

During public hearings throughout the past year, the Parks Department presented three initial plans to develop the reservoir: preserving the site as a natural habitat; filling in the reservoir basins and replacing them with baseball and soccer fields; and a hybrid plan where only one of three basins, the largest one, would be converted into a recreational sporting area.

The agency is currently drafting new development plans for the site after a public hearing tour earlier this year. The plans will be unveiled sometime this fall.