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Photo via Flickr/ChrisHamby
Photo via Flickr/ChrisHamby
A photo of a bioswale installed in Elmhurst.

Homeowners in northern Queens are now being offered options when it comes to the city’s water-trapping bioswales, but they still want the ability to say “no” to the green infrastructure.

The NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced last week it would offer homeowners two additional options if it is determined that a rain garden is appropriate for the sidewalk in front of their home. The bioswales, part of the city agency’s Green Infrastructure Program, are large planted areas installed by a street curb designed to trap and absorb rainwater.

A “green strip” and a “porous sidewalk” option will now also be made available to homeowners, according to a letter written by Vincent Sapienza, acting commissioner of the DEP. Both structures function as a rain garden below but lack the tree guard and fencing of the initial design — preserving the original surface of the sidewalk.

bioswaleDEP2

bioswaleDEP1

Photos courtesy of DEP

Additionally, any property owner with a disabled license plate or parking placard may “fully opt out” of any type of green infrastructure in front of their home, Sapienza writes. However, the city agency will not grant a full opt-out option for all homeowners.

“Working closely with the mayor’s office, we firmly believe that these alternatives address the legitimate concerns raised by members of the community,” Sapienza said. “Therefore, DEP will not be providing a full ‘opt-out’ of green infrastructure in the city’s right-of-way sidewalk.”

Sapienza’s letter was distributed to the area’s community groups, according to a DEP spokesperson.

Days later, residents and lawmakers continued the call for a full opt-out at a rally in Bayside.

“Queens has spoken: they have spoken fervently, and they have spoken frequently, so I’m not quite sure why DEP and the mayor refuse to listen to us,” state Senator Tony Avella said at a Feb. 17 press conference. “We’re not asking for a lot: we are simply asking that they give the community options and that they install bioswales in front of the homes of people who would like one.”

The state senator previously held a press conference — also in Bayside — with the Friends of Fort Totten Park and other residents to urge the mayor and city agencies to seek homeowner authorization before installing the bioswales. The lawmaker also wrote to city Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenburg last August, stating some Bayside residents would like the option to opt out of having the units installed in front of their homes due to parking concerns.

“City administration continues to make demands from the top without ever consulting the community to see if this is something that would work,” Avella continued. “There are a lot of seniors in this area of Queens that would be greatly harmed by the presence of a bioswale on their street and many who do not wish to add maintenance of a bioswale to their daily routine. So here we are again, asking in unison that the city adds a full opt-out option to their bioswale project.”

“We’re not asking for this program to be shut down completely, we just do not want the bioswales being shoved down our throats,” homeowner Christie Lang said. “We simply ask that the city listen to their taxpayers.”

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