2010-10-01 / Top Stories

Battle For The Soul Of Floyd Bennett Field

Recreational Development, Environmental Focus, Or Combination Of Both
By Howard Schwach

Robert Priani from the Regional Plan Association, lays out the ground rules for the planning session held at the wildlife sanctuary. Robert Priani from the Regional Plan Association, lays out the ground rules for the planning session held at the wildlife sanctuary. More than 75 local residents, environmentalists, National Park Service officials and others interested in the future of Gateway National Recreation Area met on Monday night at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to discuss what the park has become and what it one day could be.

And, it was clear from the beginning that the planning process will become a battle between those who want the park to become an environmental wonderland where kids and adults can learn about ecology and view it close up and those who want to see the park become a recreational wonderland for both those who want to participate in sport and those who simply want to watch.

However, by the end of the two-hour meeting, at which participants used table-sized maps of the former Naval Air Station to note what already exists and what they would like to see at the sprawling facility, they were close to a consensus on a mixed-use facility.

Breakout groups worked with a large map of Floyd Bennett Field to map what already exists and to plan for future venues. Breakout groups worked with a large map of Floyd Bennett Field to map what already exists and to plan for future venues. At the start of the exercise, many of those present stated their interest in keeping the great majority of the park “green,” urging that any commercial development be kept to the area bordering Flatbush Avenue, the present site of the commercial Aviator Sports Complex, which some urged be torn down to make way for a “Greenway bicycle path.”

Others urged that the present home of the NYPD’s Special Operations Division, including its helicopter unit, be moved off the base and sent to Staten Island.

“That is not an appropriate use of national park land,” said one member of the Friends of Gateway, an organization dedicated to assisting the park.

RMAC President Stephen Yaeger works with a member of the Friends of Gateway, a bicycle racer and a facilitator to plan for the park’s future. RMAC President Stephen Yaeger works with a member of the Friends of Gateway, a bicycle racer and a facilitator to plan for the park’s future. When it was pointed out that those helicopters, so close to both Jamaica Bay and the oceanfront, save numerous lives each week, the man commenting was not convinced, urging that both the SOD base and the Doppler radar system be moved.

“The first thing they should do is bulldoze both Aviator and the police base,” he muttered.

Others, however, said that the Aviator complex is the only recreational space available to Rockaway residents even though it is in Brooklyn, and that they wanted it retained and perhaps, expanded.

‘Floyd Bennett should not be just for the birds,” a local resident quipped.

Stephen Yaeger, the president of the Rockaway Music and Arts Council (RMAC) recounted how his organization had been running a series of summer concerts and a fall festival each year and was forced to suspend both this year because of the ‘draconian” costs imposed on the non-profit by the National Park Service.

Rockaway resident Joe Hartigan and his group. Inset, local activist Vivian Carter lays out the park’s future for those who ply the bay in kayaks and canoes. Rockaway resident Joe Hartigan and his group. Inset, local activist Vivian Carter lays out the park’s future for those who ply the bay in kayaks and canoes. At the end, there was some consensus that there needs to be a balance among recreation, community cultural activities, aviation history and ecological education and research.

The Blue Ribbon Panel that called the meeting, which was sponsored by Congressman Anthony Weiner and Senator Charles Schumer, will present its findings sometime in January or February and will then issue a final report.

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