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  GOTHAM GAZETTE: SEARCHLIGHT 2002: Staten Island Borough President

Preserving Quality of Life

By James Molinaro

During my 12 years as deputy borough president, I came to know Staten Island residents as a dynamic, involved group of citizens who work hard and will fight for their children and collective way of life. Staten Island is a wonderful, diverse community, boasting cultural and recreational institutions, a burgeoning economy and a low crime rate. In fact, if Staten Island were its own city, it would be the safest city of its size in the United States.

Because the quality of life on Staten Island is so desirable, we have attracted many new residents, and our borough is now the fastest growing county in New York State. This rapid population increase has brought with it new issues for our borough to face, such as over-development, increased traffic, and overcrowded schools. As borough president since January, I have pledged to think "out of the box" to come up with creative solutions for these and other problems.

The residents of Staten Island have made it quite clear that out-of-character development in their neighborhoods is one of their chief concerns. In some areas, for example, old houses on large lots have been demolished and replaced with townhouses and semi-detached houses that are inconsistent with the rest of the neighborhood. In 1996, the borough president's office completed plans to rezone the South Shore of Staten Island, the first comprehensive rezoning to occur in New York City in 40 years. Now, I'm working with my staff and the community to rezone neighborhoods in the rest of the borough to control over-development and plan wisely for the future.

The acquisition of new park land is another effective way to control over-development and save precious natural resources. Since 1994, Staten Island has gained over 1,700 acres of new parkland. However, an urgent need remains for new park facilities to provide active recreation for our residents, particularly our youth. Currently, I'm working with the community to create a long awaited active recreation complex in Bloomingdale Park. This $13 million initiative will create ballfields and other amenities on 12 acres of a 138 acre expanse.

Each year, the borough president's office sponsors free concerts and celebrations in recreational facilities on Staten Island, as well as beach extravaganzas to celebrate the revitalization of our South and Midland Beach areas.. These events constitute part of my attempt to provide positive recreational activities for our teenagers during the Summer and are open to the public. To be on our mailing list, log onto our web site http://www.StatenIslandUSA.com or call my special events office at (718) 816-2133.

I have always felt that our most important resources are those people who are the most vulnerable: our children and our elderly. And so, I have made it a priority where feasible not to cut funding from programs that serve these groups. My office has been meeting with representatives of our public, private and parochial schools to identify their concerns about education and other programs for young people. I am also working to create a senior village on Staten Island to respond to the increasing call for senior housing in the borough.

More than 250,000 vehicles are registered on Staten Island, creating constant traffic on our roads and thoroughfares. I am working with the Department of Transportation and members of the community to create improvements to help control and ease traffic flow. My office has convened a transportation task force, which has already resulted in several improvements to major roads. With the support of Governor George Pataki, I am also working with the Port Authority to study the possibility of reviving rail service on Staten Island's North Shore.

Nearly 300 Staten Islanders lost their lives during the devastating attacks against our nation on September 11th. As a community, our lives and our outlooks have been changed, and together we must strive to comfort and provide help to our friends and neighbors who are suffering. My office is available to families of World Trade Center victims, who can drop in or call (718) 816-2072 for guidance and referrals. I am enormously proud of the way Staten Islanders have joined to lend their help to those who lost their loved ones. Though our view of the Manhattan skyline has been changed, the spirit and optimism of our residents can never be broken.

Finally, to help Staten Island residents with any problems they might have with government services and agencies, the borough president's office offers a Helpline. Residents may call (718) 816-2000 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday with questions or complaints regarding building issues, garbage pick-up and recycling, graffiti and poster removal, illegal dumping, parks, access-a-ride, social services, street lighting or repairs, traffic lights, veterans affairs, water run-off and sewer problems, or West Nile Virus.

James Molinaro is Staten Island borough president.
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