Parks Leases Beach to HBO instead of creating a new park
Contact: David Young
Email: [email protected]
June 22, 2011
NYC PARKS DEPARTMENT SCAMS STATEN ISLAND RESIDENTS
Parks Officials Lie To The Public About True Plans For Cedar Grove Beach and Violate NYS Freedom of Information Law
Once again the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation has misled the public and elected officials about one of their projects. Documents recently obtained by residents of Cedar Grove Beach Club show that the Parks Department, while claiming to “open up the park for public use”, has actually licensed use of the site to a production company filming Boardwalk Empire for HBO. In fact, the public has less access to the site now than they had when the residents of Cedar Grove occupied the property. Members of the community can no longer ride their bikes, walk their dogs or go fishing on the land. Fences and Parks personnel prohibit these activities.
The contract between Parks and Bootleg Productions, which has a termination date of August 31, 2011 and allows for an unspecified number of extensions, actually earns the City far less money than was paid each year by Cedar Grove Beach Club. The contract calls on the production company to provide Parks with “in-kind donations of goods and services of at least or greater than, $80,000”. Cedar Grove Beach Club paid more than twice that each year and maintained the entire site at no cost to the taxpayer.
In fact, since the Parks Department evicted the residents, it has let Cedar Grove Beach become a filthy wasteland and allowed the shore to become strewn with debris. Before the recent “Grand Opening” Memorial Day weekend, it was the production company, not Parks, who cleaned the portion of beachfront which Parks is allowing the public to access. In addition, only about half the beachfront has been cleaned. The rest remains a litter-strewn eyesore which is partly why Parks Department employees have refused access to the public. When Cedar Grove Beach Club maintained the site, the entire stretch of beach was cleaned and maintained weekly and the public was allowed full access to the beach and ocean.
Glenn Sheehan, Vice President of Cedar Grove Beach Club stated; “It certainly seems that Parks has evicted us and our families so that they can give the site over to a company to use as a taxpayer-subsidized back lot!” Said Sheehan; “All along our elected officials and residents of the New Dorp community were asking, ‘Why now? Where is the demand?’ It seems that Parks is willing to sacrifice one hundred plus years of Staten Island history so the Commissioner can get a byline on Boardwalk Empire!” Sheehan went on to say; “The site should be returned to the residents of Cedar Grove Beach Club who maintained it and preserved it at their own expense, at least until the City has a real plan and the permits and funding to complete it.”
The Last of Staten Island’s Beach Colonies
Cedar Grove Beach Club is a collection of 41 historic beach bungalows largely built between 1913 and 1940 in New Dorp, Staten Island. The 75-cottage original community was established around 1907 as one of many beach campgrounds during the heyday of Staten Island’s east shore vacation resorts. Today the Beach Club, located south of the corner of Ebbitts Avenue and Cedar Grove Avenue, is a close-knit community of families who have been on the beach for over five generations. In the 1960s, led by Robert Moses, New York City seized land and cottages via eminent domain as part of a plan to build an expressway through the site. While the road was never built, the scheme resulted in the destruction of almost all of Staten Island’s historic seaside resort communities. Cedar Grove alone escaped demolition when Nixon signed the Gateway Act into law in 1972. The bungalow owners and the Beach Club have rented the property back from the City for nearly 50 years while being responsible for all maintenance of the public beach, playgrounds and property.
An impressive, bipartisan outcry of calls and letters were submitted to Parks Commissioner Benepe and Mayor Bloomberg from numerous elected officials, including Council members Vincent Ignizio, James Oddo and Deborah Rose, Manhattan City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito (chair of the Parks Committee of the City Council), Congressman Michael McMahon, NYS Senators Andrew Lanza, Frank Padavan, and Diane Savino, Assembly Members Janele Hyer-Spencer, Matthew Titone and Michael Cusick, as well as the New Dorp Central Civic Association, the Historic Districts Council and hundreds of community members, who called for Parks to abandon their plans to destroy this important historic district and evict 41 families from the beach. Despite tremendous opposition, the Administration went ahead with efforts to force the longtime residents of the Cedar Grove Beach Club to leave their homes on September 30th, 2010, to make way for what the Parks Department claimed would be a “public park.”
Violation of NYS Freedom of Information Law
In addition to the bait-and-switch game the Parks Department has played on the residents of Staten Island with the Cedar Grove debacle, there are many other Parks transgressions: the Ocean Breeze Track facility, the host of problems surrounding the collapse of Cromwell Center into the harbor, the “disappearance” of $8M allocated to help save Goodhue Woods, the unwarranted destruction of Benjamin Soto Skate Park, the “rehabilitation” of Mahoney Playground, as well as countless other missteps. We can now add blatant violation of NY State Law onto the list. On April 19, 2011, community activist and former Cedar Grove Beach Club resident David Young requested various documents from the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation under entitlement of the NY State Freedom of Information Law.
Acting on information from a well-placed source working within the Department of Parks and Recreation headquarters in Manhattan, Mr. Young included in his FOIL request that he be given all emails to and from Parks Department employees that contained, among other things, the names “Oddo,” “Ignizio,” “Molinaro,” and “McMahon.” Said Young; “I included those names because the information that I have suggests that various high-ranking Parks officials were making fun of our elected officials and the residents of Staten Island.” Young continued, “The residents of Staten Island are tired of being treated as second-class citizens by this Administration. That Parks Department officials chose to disrespect our elected officials and make fun of my neighbors is unacceptable by any standard and they must be held accountable for their actions.” The initial request was constructively denied.
Following the appropriate procedures under the Statute, Young then filed an appeal of denial directly to Commissioner Benepe and the designated Records Access Officer for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. To this date, Parks has not acknowledged receipt of the appeal, even though Mr. Young has proof of delivery. To ignore a FOIL request is a direct violation of the Statute and Mr. Young plans to bring forth action against Parks and Commissioner Benepe in State Supreme Court under Article 78. When asked for comment, Young said; “It is unfortunate that I may have to take them to court in order to force them to comply with the law. I am confident my information is accurate. Otherwise, Parks would have at least acknowledged my request and dragged me through a long, torturous process. There is obviously something they are hiding, because if there wasn’t, they would have simply complied with the law, as they are required.” Young went on to say, “Our elected representatives, especially Council members Oddo and Ignizio, continue to support the residents of New Dorp, Oakwood and Cedar Grove Beach in our efforts to find out what is really going on. They want to help us try to discover the reason why there was such a rush to evict the residents of the Cedar Grove Beach community. For them to be mocked and ridiculed for their efforts by Parks officials in emails poking fun at residents of Staten Island by calling us “backwards” and “trash,” amongst other things, is quite frankly, an outrage.”
Then there remains the highly questionable presence of HBO. Numerous times the Parks Department has stated in print, that it was illegal for Cedar Grove Beach Club to occupy this site and that it must be further opened up to the public. If this was in fact true, a claim that the Parks Department has yet to provide proof of , then how is it now legal for HBO to have a license agreement and occupy the same property? HBO, who has replaced the original Cedar Grove residents as the tenants in the fragile cottages and has disturbed the surrounding neighborhood with its hordes of equipment and personnel, is currently filming the series “Boardwalk Empire” primarily in cottage #4. Bootleg Productions, the production company who is also occupying the property, does not appear to be acting as proper caretakers of any of the other cottages, nor the beach. It seems that they have disregarded any historic value which the cottages represent, since they have applied for permission to demolish three of the homes to get a better view for their cameras.
Parks has stated in past reports that it is their intention to allow the cottages to remain “exposed to the elements,” with absolutely no attempt to preserve them regardless of fact that the cottages have been recommended for addition to the National Registry of Historic Places by the NY State Historical Preservation Office. Parks has been ordered by SHPO to protect the stuctures, and so far it appears that the order has been ignored. Ironically, even though Parks Commissioner Benepe has repeatedly stated that he believes the cottages have no historic value, HBO specifically wants to produce its series “Boardwalk Empire” at Cedar Grove because the story takes place in a beachfront community during the 1920s. Obviously the Cedar Grove cottages represent the perfect authentic historic setting in which to film.
For more information about this topic, to schedule an interview or to obtain copies of the documents referenced in this release, please don not hesitate to call David Young 516-521-2331 or via email at [email protected]