A popular idea to build a ‘gateway’ to the City Island community at the island’s entrance may be getting some renewed traction.
Community leaders are revisiting a proposal from earlier in the decade called the City Island Gateway Project that would see the redevelopment of two parcels of land next to the City Island Bridge for a use that will benefit the public.
Going back to at least 2011, a group of City Island activists sought public access to the waterfront that could include a boat launch and other maritime-themed uses at the currently vacant pieces of land at 663 City Island Avenue and at an unmapped adjacent location.
The city owns much of the land, which it acquired in a lien sale, and there is a second smaller landlocked parcel along the waterfront currently in private hands, according to sources.
The city owned land is currently administered by the NYC Department of Transportation.
According to a proposal supplied by project advocate Linda Baldwin, the City Island Gateway Project could include kayak or small boat rentals, bike rental, dock and dine, arts and crafts booths in what is currently a vacant structure, as well as a third-floor dock masters apartment in that building.
Councilman Mark Gjonaj met with project’s proponents on Friday, August 31.
The councilman said that the property is currently an eyesore and that “it doesn’t show well when you enter City Island to have a dilapidated structure” (next to the recently rebuilt bridge).
“The bridge reconstruction project held up the future use for this property,” said Gjonaj. “The project is done and now it the desire of some of the community members to take it and make it some sort of open space that would complement what City Island has to offer, and I am in full support of it.”
The private parcel would have to be purchased from the current owner, and then added to the city property and then the reconfigured piece would have to be assigned to a community group for stewardship, said Gjonaj.
“We are now it talks - we have people talking to the private owner, because one piece without the other is meaningless,” said Gjonaj.
Baldwin explained that based on what she and others advocating for the project were able to determine from city maps, most of the land is city owned up to about 60 feet from the street frontage except for a small portion on the water which contains a dock.
Baldwin said that the property is unusually visible, but even so, plans for developing the land, which had been the site of Rosenberger’s Boat Rental, affectionately referred to as ‘The Worm Bar’ for decades, have until recently stalled.
“The community really wants a lot of say in what happens there,” said Baldwin.
Baldwin said that several years ago she and others were able to have the site included in a NYC Department of City Planning study that took a comprehensive look at the entire city waterfront called Vision 2020, which was released in 2011.
She explained she believes a use that would not impact traffic and could employ youth in something like boat restoration would be an appropriate use that would be beneficial to the community.
The City Island Civic Association has been quite involved in advocating for an appropriate future use.
CICA member John Doyle believes the community would prefer an amenity as opposed to large-scale residential or commercial development.
“This site has been flagged as a good site for some kind of waterfront access type of park or space,” he said
Barbara Dolensek, City Island Civic Association vice-president, said that the association worked on the gateway proposal when it was in its preliminary phase.
The site could provide a boat launch for small vessels at a time when there is no other public place to do so, she said.
“We don’t need a beach because we have Orchard Beach, but we do need a place where people can launch kayaks,” said Dolensek.
She said a group worked with the DOT to determine the boundaries between the public and private parcels of land, which was in question according to sources.
Gerard ‘Skip’ Giacco, City Island Chamber of Commerce president, said he would like to see the three-story building currently on the site preserved and used, and believes that NYC Parks Department would be the most appropriate steward.
His vision includes the restoration of classic wooden boats that perhaps local teenagers could work on, a magnificent pier and an information kiosk, among other ideas.
“We always talk about (City Island’s) nautical history,” said Giacco, adding “I think that this property presents an opportunity to teach kids about the history of what went on here.”
DOT did not comment as of press time.