2011-01-14 / Top Stories

New Shopping Center For Rockaway Residents?

Environmentalists See Problems With Project
By Howard Schwach

A Google Map of the area where the new shopping center will be located. A Google Map of the area where the new shopping center will be located. If developers have their way and the city can cut a deal with environmental naysayers, Rockaway residents may one day have a new shopping destination just north of the Gil Hodges Marine Parkway Bridge in Brooklyn.

The plan is to transform a 15-acre swath of land near Four Sparrow Marsh in Mill Basin, Brooklyn, into a car dealership and retail center. The land lies just south of the present Toys R Us store and just north of the Belt Parkway interchange. It is also just north of the Four Sparrow Marsh, the habitat for many species of birds, some of them on the protected species list, environmentalists say.

Because of the proximity of the marsh, the plan has drawn criticism from local conservation groups.

While members of that area’s community board have warmed to the idea of a new retail center, some conservation groups are worried about the environmental impact of the proposed project on Four Sparrow Marsh.

“We have great concerns,” Glenn Phillips, the executive director of New York City Audubon, a conservation group, told Wall Street Journal reporters. New York City Audubon has pushed to protect the marsh, home to several threatened species of birds, and its surrounding area since the late 1980s.

The plan calls for a 110,000-squarefoot

Cadillac dealership to be built next to Toys R Us on Flatbush Avenue. The project is scheduled to begin the city’s land use process this spring. Developer Forest City Ratner Cos. will oversee the project, breaking ground in 2014.

“This area has not only some of the best demographics in the country, but is extremely under-retailed as well,” Andrew Silberfein, executive vice president and director of finance and retail development at Forest City Ratner, said in a prepared statement.

There are currently two proposals for the retail center. One would allow Forest City Ratner to erect two buildings for a total of 138,000 square feet of retail space for multiple tenants. The other calls for a single 127,000-squarefoot building with one tenant.

At issue is the 67-acre Four Sparrow Marsh, which is currently a nature preserve and the nesting site of several threatened species of birds, like the seaside sparrow. The project could hurt the amount and quality of water in the basin, said New York City Audubon’s Phillips. It could also disrupt the nesting of several species of birds, he said.

The plan “does try to buffer the development site from the natural area. However the buffers are pretty small and we think they are inadequate,” he said.

Under the proposed plan, Four Sparrow Marsh would also become officially mapped parkland overseen by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. It would remain off limits to the public as a nature preserve.

The retail center would be located less than a mile away from Kings Plaza Shopping Center, also on Flatbush Avenue. In the past, the local community board has opposed retail projects that would add to local traffic.

“Flatbush Avenue is a disaster,” Dorothy Turano, district manager of the board told the Wall Street Journal. While she has some quibbles with the proposed retail center at Four Sparrow Marsh, Turano said she supports the project.

“We would like to see it developed, but developed to suit the community,” Turano said. She added that a big box store would be out of the question.

“We don’t need another BJ’s or Costco,” Turano said.

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