A parcel of environmentally sensitive land in Rosedale, Queens, could soon be paved over for a sprawling strip mall, raising concerns about the loss of fragile wetlands and one of the last undeveloped pieces of waterfront along the increasingly endangered Jamaica Bay.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation is negotiating with Queens-based developer Triangle Equities to sell 23 acres along Thurston basin, an inlet of the bay just east of John F. Kennedy Airport.
Located on land now shared by marshes and dirt bike paths, the mall — known as Brookville Center — would include six buildings of shops, restaurants, a self-storage area and more than 500 parking spots.
An initial environmental assessment describes the land as “vacant.” Yet its overgrown scrub vegetation and trees provide habitat for several species of birds and small mammals, like opossum and jackrabbits, while the sandy soil and marshes act as natural filters that control floods and contaminants from the airport.
Coupled with other nearby development projects, the land sale would nearly exhaust the supply of open space around the bay and further imperil the waterway’s precarious health. Eight hundred acres of salt marshes have died in Jamaica Bay over the past 18 years, a result, many environmentalists say, of overdevelopment.
“The wetlands and the adjacent areas are all so important, and we just keep losing them,” said Dan Mundy of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers. “Those buffer areas protect the bay.”
The working-class residents along the basin also worry that the project could end up flooding their homes. “The water normally goes up six or eight feet onto the land when it rains,” said Ronnie Lay, a retired mechanic who is fighting the state to keep floating trash off his property. Once the porous ground is paved over, says Lay, “there will be nowhere for that water to go but onto our land.”
Project opponents also question whether another local shopping center is even viable. Less than a half-mile away, just over the Nassau County border, stands a half-empty strip mall. An old Pathmark, which pulled out of there several years ago because business was so slow, remains empty and dilapidated. “I don’t think there’s a tremendous amount of demand,” said Richard Hellenbrecht, chair of local Community Board 13.
Still, Triangle Equities is pushing ahead, insisting it will offer certain amenities not available at the nearby Long Island mall, and will benefit the city. “The city is obviously selling to create tax benefits and employment,” said company spokesperson Elysa Goldman. The city plans to give Triangle Equities a 15-year real estate tax break.
The Brookville Center proposal will go through the city’s land use review process in a few months, and must go before the state Department of Environmental Conservation for approval. But Karl Kirchner, an eel fisherman who lives along the bay, is skeptical that he or any other community critics will have any real say: “I don’t like it. But what are we going to do about it? Once you pull out the money, it’s a done deal.”