A New Randall's Island Plan
April 21st, 2009
More than 50 residents turned out in East Harlem last night to hear the details of the Bloomberg administration’s new plan for Randall’s Island.
But already many are skeptical that the mayor’s office and the Department of Parks and Recreation’s plan will more equitably distribute the 66 fields on the island for recreational activities. The fields are part of a large scale renovation of the whole island, which started in 2007, and were also the subject of a lawsuit that the city lost last year. Several Upper Manhattan residents and parks advocates charged that the city went around the ULURP process (or the uniform land use review process), which, they argued, should have been required before the renovation took place.
The city’s first plan — which has been struck down by the courts — slated about two-thirds of the island’s fields for private school use exclusively. Those private schools had agreed to fork over $45 million for the cost of the fields construction and renovation.
Last night was the first glimpse into the city’s new proposal for many of those that filed the initial lawsuit.
The new plan includes setting aside 50 percent of the fields for certain private school use, 40 percent for public schools (which would include a possible shuttle expansion to bring more schools onto the island to play baseball, soccer or any other sport) and leaves 10 percent for community organizations or recreational leagues. This ratio would only apply during the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., and for only certain more sports-heavy months of the year. The summer months would be a permit free-for-all, said members of the administration, which would allow anyone, anywhere to apply for a permit.
The issue has been a serious one for Councilmember Melissa Mark Viverito, Borough President Scott Stringer and Comptroller William Thompson, who all hosted the event.
Some advocates already are threatening to oppose the new plan. Critics contend the city still needs to conduct an environmental impact statement and go through the land use review process.
“I’m embarrassed that the city is putting anything forth in a pay to play action,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Parks Advocates. “This project has managed to avoid every environmental review.”
A representative from the mayor’s office said the department had conducted an environmental analysis, but was not required to go through the land use procedure because the area had already been parkland and its use was not changing.
Others criticized the administration for not more actively engaging with the community, especially in East Harlem, where residents have used the island for recreational and non-recreational use for decades. Many want to ensure those from the community get first priority. So far, it does not appear that that is likely. The administration does have a grandfather policy that would allow some of the groups that have used the island for many years to continue to do so.
Officials who hosted the event assured the crowd that last night’s meeting would be one of many dedicated to hashing out any differences the community had with the administration.By Courtney Gross on April 21, 2009, 4:52 pm
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