City to acquire 2.5 acres along Udalls Cove ravine

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An additional 2 1/2 acres of land in the Udalls Cove ravine will be acquired by the city Parks Department, continuing a process of wetlands preservation begun by the late Douglaston environmentalist Aurora Gareiss, whose historic house on the cove is being sold.

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who sponsored legislation more than 20 years ago that facilitated the city’s purchase of land parcels around the cove, announced plans for the acquisition earlier this month.

“It’s important that the land in Udalls Cove remain protected from development and that we increase the size of the ravine so that the ecosystems remain sustainable in the future,” Padavan said.

On Jan. 3, Deputy Mayor Marc Shaw signed off on a certificate of acquisition to begin that process. Once the Department of Citywide Administrative Services finishes appraising the parcels, offers will be made to property owners, a Parks Department spokeswoman said.

The parcels to be acquired include Block 8112, Lots 70, 170 and 84; Block 8114, Lot 160; and Block 8116, Lots 130, 170, 174 and 176.

In 1974, the state Department of Environmental Conservation ruled that the ravine should be protected under the 1973 Tidal Wetlands Law.

Since then, the state and the city have been purchasing parcels abutting the ravine to protect it from development.

Instrumental in that process was Gareiss, affectionately called “the swamp lady,” whose commitment to the preservation of Udalls Cove led to her appointment by Padavan as the first chairwoman of the state’s Northeastern Queens Nature and Historical Preserve Commission. Gareiss died in 2000.

“So much of what we’ve been able to accomplish in that area was a result of her inspiration,” Padavan said.

Gareiss’ quaint brown house with green trim, built in 1915, sits on several lots at 31-07 Douglas Rd., which fall within the Douglaston Historic District.

The newest addition to the house is a “for sale” sign, and some of Gareiss’ former colleagues have heard that an offer has been made.

“It’s in the offing,” said Ralph Kamhi, past president of the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee, a group founded by Gareiss in 1969.

Todd Gareiss, Aurora Gareiss’ grandson who is living in the house and handling its sale, did not return calls for comment.

After speaking with Todd Gareiss recently, Kamhi said an offer was made by “Bayside people” who may be planning to add a story onto the house.

Kamhi said he did not know who the potential buyers were or how much they had offered for the property, but he said the sale was expected to go through sometime in the next 30 days.

The asking price for the property is $2.1 million, according to an advertisement on

“I do not think that is going to be an easy sale,” said Virginia Dent, who worked on conservation issues with Gareiss.

Dent pointed out that the house’s location on the marsh meant that its sewage needed to be pumped uphill to Douglas Road.

She expressed concern that buyers would try to skirt environmental restrictions and deed covenants that Gareiss herself put on the property, which are intended to prevent construction outside the footprints of the original house.

“Nobody is going to spend $2 million on the house, but they are going to spend $2 million on five lots on which they are going to build more houses,” said Dent. “Any construction in that area is dangerous to the coast.”

In addition to environmental and deed restrictions, the house’s location in Douglas Manor means that any major changes, such as building another story, would have to be approved by the city’s Landmarks Commission.

Bernard Haber, who was chairman of Community Board 11 for 30 years, took an optimistic view of the sale.

“I would think that anybody who pays that much for land for a house would try to keep it in the characteristic of the neighborhood community,” he said. “We hope they consider that when they remodel.”

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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