City delays purchase of Udalls land

By Ayala Ben-Yehuda

The city Department of Parks and Recreation has put off its planned acquisition of wetland parcels in the Udalls Cove Ravine until 2006, state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said Tuesday.

In January, the Parks department said it planned to buy 2 1/2 acres of land in the undeveloped ravine, which extends between Northern Boulevard and the Long Island Rail Road station and from 243rd to 247th streets.

“Apparently the city’s fiscal problems have put a crimp in this,” said Padavan, who sponsored legislation more than 20 years ago that facilitated the city’s purchase of privately held land around the cove.

A Parks department spokeswoman would not confirm the time frame nor the reason for the delay, saying only “Parks and Recreation is committed to preserving this natural area, and we are looking for ways to fund the purchase of Udalls Ravine.”

In 1974, the state Department of Environmental Conservation ruled that the forested ravine, home to several wildlife species, should be protected from development under the 1973 Tidal Wetlands Law.

Walter Mugdan, president of the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee, said surveyors had been spotted working in the area and warned that a delayed city purchase would come too late.

“Either the money gets found now or we are basically out of luck,” said Mugdan, who vowed to rally the community via a letter-writing campaign to public officials and a meeting with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe scheduled for Saturday, April 12, at 10 a.m.

The public meeting was to be held on Sandhill Road, also known as the Back Road, near the Little Neck LIRR station during the committee’s annual cove cleanup.

Mugdan said non-contiguous parcels comprising slightly less than a third of the ravine had been purchased by the city so far, but the 2 1/2 acres in question would have started to bring the protected lands together.

“It throws away 30 years of the community’s efforts,” said Virginia Dent, who along with the late Aurora Gareiss was one of the first environmentalists in the area to fight development in Udalls Cove.

“To me it’s distressing and ignoble,” Dent said about the decision to put off the land purchase.

Despite calling the action “disturbing,” Padavan said putting off the purchase would not automatically spell disaster.

“Acquisition is a final solution, but in the interim we can bring to bear other tools at our disposal,” said Padavan, citing state and city laws regulating development in natural areas. “We fully intend to do that.”

Mugdan said his group would request public hearings from the DEC on any building applications that would be filed.

On whether his group planned to reach out directly to the owners of the land parcels, Mugdan said his group was considering it.

Property records could not be found in the city Finance Department’s database for some of the eight parcels the Parks department was to acquire.

Attempts to reach two of the listed owners, Bonyad Realty and Thomas Zedlkovich, were unsuccessful.

Rhea Slade, owner of some of the land the city said it would acquire, refused to comment when reached at her home in Florida.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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