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Wildlife refuge proposed for East River lot

Ronald Pinzon, a marine biologist with the state Department of Environmental...

By Dustin Brown

A once-abandoned East River lot will be transformed into a refuge for local plant and wildlife if the Hunters Point Community Coalition realizes its vision for the site.

Ronald Pinzon, a marine biologist with the state Department of Environmental Protection, met with coalition members Monday to evaluate their proposal to create a habitat restoration project out of a dirt parking lot along 44th Drive and the East River.

“The representative was quite encouraging,” said Tom Paino, chairman of the Hunters Point Community Coalition. “He could envision a habitat taking shape there.”

The coalition was formed in 1990 in response to the Queens West Development Corporation’s plans to develop the Hunters Point waterfront with commercial and residential properties.

Although the Queens West plan sets aside land for parks and a waterfront esplanade running the length of its shoreline, Paino said the influx of new residents would outweigh the benefits brought by the parks.

“Even once the Queens West parks come on board, the population increase will be so much that the open space ratio will still be very bad in the neighborhood,” Paino said. “It’s already one of the worst in the city.”

It isn’t hard for Paino to imagine a habitat thriving on the 3.5-acre property. Until recently the plot nurtured one by itself. Sitting undisturbed for years, the land encouraged the steady proliferation of life, including the blue claw crab, marshland grasses and an occasional heron.

“There was definitely habitat,” Paino said. “There were migratory birds — I would hear hawks occasionally, and that meant there would be some kinds of rodents the hawks would eat.”

The Board of Education razed the trees, however, and erected a fence around the property two months ago to use it as a parking lot for its adjacent supply building.

The coalition is trying to have ownership of the property transferred from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to the Parks Department, which would allow the restoration to proceed. But before that can happen, the coalition has to submit an application to the state DEC for approval.

The plan to convert the lot was originally proposed to the Van Alen Institute in 1998, which sponsored a competition soliciting ideas for changing the Queens waterfront. The institute’s mission is to improve the design of public buildings and spaces.

“Our proposal was to bring back natural habitat all along different parts of the East River using this particular site as a prototype,” Paino said.

Although the proposal did not bring home any awards, it was lauded by the judges and set on display at the institute, supplying support for the coalition to push ahead with the project.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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