CB 5, city clash over reservoir plans

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After a two-month delay, plans for the future of Ridgewood Reservoir will finally be unveiled to Community Board 5 probably later this month, officials told a Borough Board meeting Monday night.

But the selection or implementation of any of these plans could still be years away as CB 5 and the city Parks Department continue to spar over details of the first phase of the plan, which will repair crumbling concrete stairs, widen turns in the perimeter path and build an observation path on a causeway between two of the three reservoir basins.

CB 5 wanted several concessions from the Parks Department, including a pedestrian bridge over Vermont Place between the parking lot and the park, eliminating a ramp for the physically disabled because it would be redundant with the proposed bridge and raising the height of fences from 4 to 6 feet.

“I could step over a 4-foot fence,” CB 5 Parks Committee Chairman Steve Fiedler said. “At least a 6-foot fence is going to deter somebody.”

But Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski has turned down most of the board’s requests. Kevin Quinn, director of Queens capital projects for the Parks Department, defended the agency’s firm stance at Monday’s meeting.

A pedestrian bridge would cost between $2 million and $3 million, eating up a substantial chunk of the $7.6 million allocated for the first phase of construction, he said.

“We’re really tight on funds here and we want to get this going as soon as possible,” he said.

CB 9 Chairwoman Andrea Crawford also slammed the current state of the crossing.

“If I’m in a wheelchair and I drive my wheelchair-accessible van [to the parking lot] ... then I have to play ‘Frogger’ to get across Vermont,” she said, referring to the classic video game depicting a frog attempting to cross a traffic-choked highway.

The fences will remain 4 feet tall in most locations because the Parks Department does not want to restrict parkgoers’ views of the reservoir basins, Quinn said.

Quinn also said the Parks Department had petitioned the city Department of Transportation for a traffic signal and pedestrian crossing at the parking lot, but the DOT turned them down.

Planners have put forward three possible directions for developing the reservoir as a city park: making it a nature preserve with minimal facilities, turning it into an active recreation site with numerous ballfields and a combination of the first two plans. CB 5 favors the nature preserve course.

The community boards in both Brooklyn and Queens have faced pressure to support the active recreation model because Highland Park’s existing ballfields are overused and in poor condition.

CB 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri said little money had been spent to maintain the Upper Highland Park athletic fields.

“That’s partly our fault,” he said. We haven’t been paying much attention to it over the years.”

But he and Fiedler also warned that the reservoir project essentially doubles the size of parkland that Forest Park is responsible for maintaining and both questioned where the funds would come from.

Quinn also pointed out that the city Public Design Committee had approved the Phase 1 plan, which made it complicated and time-consuming to alter.

“This is only the beginning of our process trying to get the Parks Department to listen to the community,” Fiedler said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 10:29 am, October 12, 2011
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