Destruction of Historic Staten Island Beach Community?

Following a determination by the New York State Historic Preservation Office that the Cedar Grove Beach Club was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district, Staten Island elected officials have called on NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to abandon plans to demolish the 99-year old community in New Dorp.

Cedar Grove Beach Club is a collection of 41 historic beach bungalows largely built between 1920 and 1940 in New Dorp, Staten Island. The community was established around 1907 as one of many beach campgrounds during the heyday of Staten Island’s shore. 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 generations. In the 1960s, New York City took land and cottages by eminent domain as part of a plan to build an expressway through the site. While the road was never built, the scheme that resulted in the destruction of almost all of Staten Island’s historic seaside resort communities.

Cedar Grove alone escaped demolition because 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. As one resident remarked, “the Beach Club now pays more in rent in a year than the City paid for the bungalows.”

In December 2009, NYC Parks announced they would not renew the Club’s lease, and ordered the bungalow community’s residents to vacate by December 31, 2009. Following public outcry, and with the support of local community groups and elected officials, Parks agreed to extend the lease until September 30, 2010. Parks has recently announced its intentions to demolish most of area’s buildings immediately after the lease expires, although, as Congressman McMahon’s letter of July 22, 2010 points out, the City has no projected start date or funding for its plans to furnish the beach with lifeguard and concession stands or to facilitate greater public access to the beach area. The sand beach area of Cedar Grove is currently open to the general public and accessible from New Dorp Beach Park to the north and Great Kills Park to the south.

Area residents fear that the city will evict the current occupants of the bungalow colony and defer any future plans for the property indefinitely, leaving the site unmaintained and littered with construction debris, the same situation that exists at the adjacent New Dorp Beach Park. This fear is supported by fact that the city has not initiated the process to obtain appropriate permits to demolish historic structures, to begin new construction on a site designated by the State as a potential sensitive wetlands area, or any of the other clearances typically necessary for a proposed capital project.

Recently, Manhattan Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito (chair of the Parks Committee of City Council) has joined her Staten Island colleagues Vincent Ignizio, James Oddo and Deborah Rose, Congressman McMahon, NYS Senator Lanza, Assmebly member Janele Hyer-Spencer, the New Dorp Central Civic Association and the Historic Districts Council in calling for Parks to abandon their plans to destroy this important historic district and evict 41 families from the Beach Club.

In a letter citing the historic importance of the site, Congressman Michael McMahon, State Senator Anthony Lanza (NY-24), and Councilmen James Oddo (50th District) and Vincent Ignizio (51st District) objected to the Parks Department’s lack of firm plans and the absence of funding for any project at the property, stating that they “fail to see the logic” of evicting the site’s long term residents, especially “given the current economic climate faced by the city” and “the significant financial burden” of taking new construction on the site.

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