Posts Tagged 'Four Sparrow Marsh'



Public Scope

UPDATE 3-11-11 State Senator Carl Kruger, whose district includes Four Sparrow Marsh, has been indicted. About time. According to today’s Daily News, it’s alleged that Kruger’s “no big box stores” demand at the meeting detailed below supported his developer buddy Aaron Malinsky (who has paid Kruger’s shell operation $472,500 in the past), who wants smaller stores there.

No surprise, really that development is rotten to the core: ecologically, morally, politically, economically.
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I attended the Four Sparrow Marsh “retail center” public scope meeting last night.

How sweet, the community room at King’s Plaza Mall — was it a requirement of the project’s approval long ago or a goodwill gesture on the part of management? — is located under the parking garage. It’s symptomatic of our degraded democracy that private spaces — malls — are the preeminent agoras of our nation, but they are agoras only in one sense, the market place of things. Not the market place of ideas, mind you. Consumption – our reigning religion, formerly a name for a disease, which consumed — burnt up — the body of the victim, as consumption now does the planet — is a such a fallen idol; predicated on creating desires that can never be met, lest we only go shopping once.

The turnout was well over the 60 allowed in the room. The proposal, a private taking of public land, was revealed as something of a shell game: it’s all speculation right now, with no named commercial tenants, and two vague renderings. Yet the machinery of Economic Development grinds on; this meeting is the precursor to the Environmental Impact Statement. The project architect – actual architects put their names on these commercial boxes? – kept referring to a “view corridor” towards the marsh, until somebody asked him if he meant the, uh, four-lane road. He did. (This was a better euphemism than “fill of unknown origin” which describes a lot of the littoral edge of the city.) A trio of slick politicals – Council, Assembly, Senate – spoke, mostly against, sort of. A community board type suggested that something classy like Lord & Taylor would be welcome. Representatives from park advocacy and environmental groups were rightly and decidedly against this folly, but the real joy of the evening was seeing the non-affiliated public in action. Some real voices of Brooklyn on display. A couple were clearly gadflies of long standing – you go, ladies. Two construction union reps, invested in such projects, unfortunately, both had the message that mega-developer and long-time benefactor of public-giveaways (socialism-for-the-rich) Forest-City Ratner cared about communities. Oy!

The public comment period is open to 2/28. The comment I’ll be submitting goes something like this:

Four Sparrow Marsh is a small piece of wildness in the city. It’s not a park – you mostly sink into the goo if you try walking there, and you have to watch where your feet go because the place is crawling with fiddler crabs in season. The birds, both residents and migrants passing through during the spring and fall, get most of the attention, but the marsh is also home to much invertebrate life, and fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Musk rat, for instance. There are also, of course, plants, and lichens, and fungi, components of the whole web of life that we humans are also a part of. As part of the larger ecosystem and life web of Jamaica Bay, which is part of the vast estuary that surrounds New York City, the marsh is vital to the future of the city. As a water filter; as a buffer against the rising waters of global warming; as an incubator of new life, fresh air, rich soil, the miracle of a small bird seen by someone otherwise surrounded by concrete. It’s a place, even with the highway howling nearby, you can hear the wind in the reeds. Why do we still have to defend the obvious, vital need for such things? It certainly shouldn’t be diminished and threatened by another mall and vast parking lot, a speculative project of short-term (and short-sighted) profit, indicative of a development ethos – transferring the commonwealth to private power – that has proved a failure over and over again.

The Mall at Four Sparrow Marsh?

The twice re-scheduled public scope meeting for the proposed mall at Four Sparrow Marsh is tonight. The meeting is at 7pm in the Kings Plaza Community Room, 5100 Kings Plaza (intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Avenue U). All the delays have given me some time to look through the paperwork filed for the proposal, which calls the project, in a sleight of geographic hand, the “Four Sparrows Retail Center at Mill Basin.” Here are some excerpts:

“The project would include up to 820 total accessory parking spaces.”

“potentially affect land use, urban design, visual resources, traffic and noise, and may result in a significant adverse impact on the character of the site and surrounding neighborhood. Therefore, a detailed assessment of neighborhood character is warranted.”

“The potential for increased traffic, noise, dust, storm water runoff, and exposure of contaminated soils during construction may result in significant construction impacts on the adjacent wetlands and Four Sparrows Marsh natural area.”

On the environmental assessment statement, filled out by the developer’s lawyers, the line “Would this plan change or eliminate existing open space” is checked “no.” WTF? A lawyer’s definition of “open space,” evidently.

“due to the potential for significant adverse impacts to natural resources from the proposed development, a detailed assessment of the potential for impacts from natural resources will be performed.”

“it is anticipated that an overwhelming majority of the new workers and customers associated with the proposed retail development and the anticipated users of the new nature path would drive to the site.”
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FSM is within the coastal zone and the Jamaica Bay watershed. It’s city land, but is “unmapped,” i.e. not officially anything. The “Forever Wild” designation turns out to be a bit of a place-holder. The proposed parking lot and stores are on the uplands next to Flatbush Avenue, not in the marsh per se. Nonetheless, those uplands provide a necessary buffer for the marsh.

This is purely anecdotal, but all the times I’ve ever passed the existing Toys R Us abutting the FSM land (props to the Q35 bus!), it has only looked busy on weekends. Kings Plaza, the largest shopping complex in the borough, is about a mile away.

For more information about FSM, see all my posts here.

Four Sparrow Marsh-opedia

Almost everything you wanted to know about Four Sparrow Marsh, but were afraid to ask:


Four Sparrow Marsh is located at the NE intersection of Flatbush and the Shore Parkway (the blue pin).

“Four Sparrow Marsh Preserve contains several types of habitats besides salt marsh, including low brush; deciduous forest consisting mainly of cherry, elm, locust, poplar, sumac, and willow; open meadow; intertidal mudflat; and high clusters of reed species. The open meadow is largely covered with mugwort, an aggressive, exotic species common in landfilled areas.” ~ NYC Parks and Recreation

One version of the plan of the development, showing how they’re going to get rid of that mugwort. Pavement is the new pesticide. The only existing building is the Toys R Us in the center. Buildings and parking to the right would all be new, covering the uplands abutting the actual marsh.

PDFs on the proposal via Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination. A public scope meeting has been rescheduled again; it’s now on for Thursday, February 17, 2011, at 7:00 PM at the Kings Plaza Community Room, 5100 Kings Plaza (at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Avenue U), Brooklyn, New York.

Sheepshead Bay Bites on the development plan.
Murdoch’s Journal on Forest City Ratner (bleeeeech!) as the developer. (FCR specializes in absorbing public space for private ends in alliance with hack politicians and unaccountable development authorities. Its trail of mediocrity is writ large across the borough.)

“This obscure city-owned preserve is what the name implies: four breeding sparrows nest within its confines. The presence of Song, Swamp, Sharp-tailed, and Savannah make the salt grasses come alive during the late spring into summer seasons. The main channel with its tentacle tributaries is ideal for breeding Clapper Rails. If you arrive early enough, you may be lucky enough to see one feeding along the brackish waters that is at the whim of the high/low tides. During winter, although less active, Common [now known as Wilson’s – ed.] Snipe are prominent during migrations.” Brooklyn Bird Club.

NYC Audubon notes that “an appropriately designed retail project, with adequate buffers to protect this critical habitat and a design sensitive to the waterfront and to birds could be an asset to the city.” Grrr! (But then, they can’t afford to alienated their plutocratic funders, the terrible bind non-profits find themselves in.)

My April 2010 blog about my trip to FSM.
My NYC BiodiverCity piece of 1/11/11.

UPDATED: Here are some more maps of FSM from OASIS, the Open Accessible Space Information System, an amazing geographical database:
Extent of tidal wetlands.
Army Corps/EPA restoration, other important facts.

A Walk in the Park, also on the case, has more details.
A Movable Bridge blog visits FSM in the snow.
Brit in Brooklyn has some big juicy images.

Field Notes: Four Sparrow Marsh


Birding, or any other natural history pursuit, depends upon the kindness of strangers and friends. We all learn from each other. This in prelude to saying I have no anxiety of influence about this: I followed the lead of the City Birder and went to Four Sparrow Marsh yesterday. It was my first time there. I went specifically looking for Wilson’s snipe. Four Sparrow is a Forever Wild piece of parkland at the intersection of Flatbush and that vile Shore Parkway (I took the train and the bus). It is marsh, swamp, sedge, reed, mud, and clay. It is the slippery littoral edge of the city.

The littoral is that ambiguous space between the water and the land, that tidal zone of murk and mire. The lagoony edges of Jamaica Bay were once all like this, I think, but now much is filled, bulkheaded, paved, and dredged. Four Sparrow Marsh is just a taste of the old edge. It is also fiercely littered, the despository of airborne and tide-borne garbage, plastic, glass, and large pieces of wood. Probably a good place to drop off unwanted bodies, too. The ground was tricky, puddled, covered in flattened dried grasses that made the surface impossible to see, to judge. The high tide line was thick with masses of old dead phragmites. It was like walking on giant straw. I didn’t know where my foot was going to come to a rest.

And some parts of the place were just skittering with fiddler crabs, hundreds, thousands, of them, so I had to walk very carefully. Luckily, they saw me coming and most of them zipped away or into their holes. A few of the stoutest lads waved their mighty little claws in protest against my galumping simian footfall.

Wilson’s snipe, Gallinago delicata, like last Saturday’s woodcock is a chunky long-billed shorebird of some elusiveness. I saw my first one some years back in Prospect Park, which is not its usual habitat. I hadn’t seen one since. Marshes are the bird’s habitat. So much depends on habitat.

As with the woodcock, snipes are more likely to see you long before you see them. (Cf. the legendary “snipe hunt”.) They will flush when that happens, zipping low over the marsh to curve into the distance. I was well around the other soggy side of the marsh before I saw my first one of the day. Look for the long bill and the white underbelly. There were three or four in all, one of them probably a repeat.

Returning back around the edge of the marsh, watching every step, I heard something in the pragmites next to me. I stopped, I looked. More noise, movement, not the wind. A mammal! Rat, I figured at first, but then I saw the size of it. No, a perfect view, not six feet away: it was a muskrat. Search the above picture for two holes: the muskrat slipped into the top (center) one. The other, bottom center, must be another way into the muskrat den, where I have no doubt, Toad, Ratty, and even crabby old Mr. Badger were having an afternoon cuppa before a night on the town.

My boots were gooey with mud, my jeans were splattered up to the knee, but what a damned good day on the edge of Brooklyn,

Update: There’s a proposal to develop the upland part of this Forever Wild preserve for yet another fucking retail complex. More details here.


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