GREAT KILLS STATEN ISLAND NRPA PRESS RELEASE
Fom the National Resources Protective Association
THE ISSUE: City Planning Commission approves Sweetwater Estates
WHERE WE STAND: Approved or not, the project is all wrong for the community
Sunday, December 26, 2004
Let's stipulate, for the sake of argument, that there would be a new residential development in Great Kills called Sweetwater Estates in any case. It was inevitable.
Despite some residents' pleas that the 7.7-acre parcel bounded by Nelson, Sweetwater and Wiman avenues be preserved as open space in its entirety, that was never a realistic possibility. It is privately owned land, and the owner has the right to develop it within the context of existing zoning and other regulations.
So it was never a question of whether or not there would be a Sweetwater Estates development; it was just a matter of how much of an impact it would be permitted to have on the surrounding, established residential community.
That impact is going to be significant in any case. For one thing, the community, which is beside Great Kills Harbor, is prone to flooding as it is now. The open 7.7-acres on which Sweetwater Estates will be built serves to soak off storm water and drain it into the harbor. Opponents of the project are rightly concerned that when that land is effectively covered with more than 100 houses, sidewalks and streets, they'll lose even that protection and their chronic flooding problems will worsen.
The Department of Environmental Protection had recently concluded that the storm drainage system planned for Sweetwater was adequate. Opponents say it is anything but adequate. The first heavy rainstorm after the houses are built and the roads paved will be the test. Of course, by then, it will be too late.
Approvals not withstanding, there's no question that the project will have a major effect on storm water runoff in the community. Simple physics dictates that.
Then there is the question of traffic. The 123 units of housing, once inhabited, can be expected to come with, by a conservative estimate, 200 cars. And it's not unrealistic to expect that there could be closer to 300 cars in the development. Those cars will enter and exit the enclosed Sweetwater site via just two quiet, residential streets. And residents on those streets are already trying to cope with the parked cars of commuters who park in front of their homes all day and walk up to Hylan Boulevard to catch express buses.
So there's no question, either, that Sweetwater Estates will substantially change the traffic situation in that relatively quiet residential neighborhood for the worse. That traffic will also have to pour onto already congested Hylan Boulevard, exacerbating that artery's traffic problems at a critical point. And all that additional traffic will inevitably increase pollution in the area.
What about schools? Schools in Great Kills are overcrowded as it is. If even half of the homeowners who move to Sweetwater Estates -- and the percentage among these likely first-time home-buyers is likely to be much higher -- there will certainly be a negative impact on schools in the community.
Sweetwater Estates, as currently planned with attached and detached housing, is all wrong for this part of Great Kills for all these reasons. And it is all wrong, too, because it will substantially change the established character of this community of single-family homes. The development, with its housing units facing inward with their backs to the surrounding community, will effectively be an isolated island in the middle of a close-knit neighborhood.
We must give the developer, Bruno Savo, his due. He originally planned to build 180 units of housing and put forth a drainage plan that was, at best, dubious. In response to the community's complaints, he has since scaled back the number of residential units to 123 and changed the drainage plan.
That said, Sweetwater Estates is still a bad fit and bad for Great Kills.
None of this, however, seemed to concern the members of the City Planning Commission. Members of the commission had visited the site, and were well aware of the likely impact of the project on the neighborhood and large community. Yet they voted 8-0 on Wednesday to approve Sweetwater Estates. There was not one dissenting vote; not one dissenting voice heard among the commissioners, at least at the public hearing.
Just one member, Fred Cerullo, the former South Shore Councilman and current president and CEO of the Grand Central Partnership in Manhattan, abstained.
I definitely did not support this application, he said. I had concerns and I recognized the issues...I could not affirmatively support the application.
But he could not bring himself to vote against the project, either. Why? Considering the negative effects Sweetwater Estates will certainly have, he might have considered breaking with his colleagues on the commission to a greater degree. Collegiality is fine, but with so much at stake, a no vote would have been appropriate.
Mr. Cerullo, however, wasn't the real problem. At least he voted his conscience based on what he knew of the development and its likely impact. In fact, if the other commissioners had abstained, the project would not have been approved. They knew of the likely impact of Sweetwater Estates, yet they to approve it. How could this happen? How could every single member of the City Planning Commission aside from Mr. Cerullo see this as a positive?
In talking about his successful Staten Island Growth Management Task Force last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, We will not tolerate the building of homes on Staten Island that, with little exaggeration, are being built one on top of another. They are houses but they are not homes.
In approving the large, dense and disruptive Sweetwater Estates development, the City Planning Commission has flatly contradicted that mandate.
Commission members cited their official responsibility as commissioners, suggesting that they have a duty to approve any plan that passes muster legally, as if this were a matter of bureaucratic technicalities rather than the quality of life in an entire community.
Really? So all a developer has to do is dot all the i's and cross all the t's on the bureaucracy's paperwork and they have to approve his project, regardless of what they see with their own eyes and hear from residents who know the neighborhood? Aren't they, as members of the City Planning Commission, obligated to consider each project in terms of planning? Or are they just rubber stamps for developers with the juice to get questionable projects through the system?
If that's all they are, then what's the point, really, of having a City Planning Commission?
Because in the case of Sweetwater Estates, what the members of the City Planning Commission have approved -- have planned -- is a project that will forever alter the quality of life in this lovely corner of Great Kills, and not for the better. In this case, what they've planned is a lot of problems, not just for the people who already live in that part of Great Kills, but for all the people who move into the development.
How they could do that and still say they are fulfilling their official responsibilities is beyond us.
How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.
Arthur C. Clarke