Kriescher Hill/Charleston Woods Development
David Burg, October 2004
Kreischer Hill is a 130 acre city-owned site in southern Staten Island. According to the New York State Natural Heritage Program, the site is home to more rare species and ecological communities than any other site between the Hudson Highlands and Eastern Long Island. The rarest species on the site is Torreys mountain mint (Pycnanthemum torrei) known from fewer than twenty locations on earth. Though this species has not yet been listed on the official U.S. federal list of endangered species, it is rarer than many species that have been listed. It is very likely the rarest species of plant or animal to occur wild in New York City.
Incredibly, in 2004 the city slated destructive
development for almost 100 acres of this publicly owned site. This was
remarkable in light of the fact that the city and other government agencies
have spent, or are planning to spend, hundreds of millions of dollars
to purchase and restore other natural areas in New York City and the metro
region. It is particularly disturbing that the city is selling 42 acres
for a shopping center development for $15 million, about $8 a Sq. ft.,
a price that even shocked Staten Island real estate leaders (see article
Charleston land deal a steal? Page 1, Staten Island Advance,
8/15/04). The Blumenfeld Development Group is the purchaser that will
build the shopping center. Leases have been arranged with Home Depot and
Bed, Bath and Beyond. Other planned development includes city park sports
fields (and attendant buildings and parking lot), a bus depot, and housing.
Many alternative sites are available for these developments. Available
sites include the former GATX terminal property, the former Fresh Kills
Land Fill, and other former industrial sites.
In August 2004, development of Kreischer Hill
was temporarily halted by a lawsuit filed on behalf of three environmental
groups: WildMetro, Sweet Bay Magnolia Bioreserve Conservancy, and the
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Among those filing affidavits
on behalf of the suit were Staten Island botanist Richard Buegler, president
of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, and Dr. Andrew Greller, president of
the Torrey Botanical Society and emeritus professor of botany at Queens
College, CUNY. On October 4, a judge ruled that the city could proceed
with the sale of 42 acres for development of the big box shopping
Even without the rarities, Kreischer Hill
is remarkable, unique and deserving of protection. It has many species
that depend on fire ecology, including the largest area of dense native
greenbriar vines in the region, and a vigorous young forest of oak, poplar,
sweetgum, and other trees. The fact that Kreischer Hill borders Clay Pit
Pond State Preserve and is close to Bloomingdale Park and several privately
owned natural areas greatly magnifies the value of the site. Kreischer
Hill is the heart of the last big block of vulnerable open space in New
York City. Though development plans have been announced for almost all
the private lands, a number of agencies have made funds available for
purchase of these lands. Kreischer Hill is a keystone of the last big
natural area protection opportunity in New York City. The sites are still
intact and shelter a magnificent remnant of the wild heritage of our region.
Gotham Gazette article form December 2004 (pdf format) has more information.
Update April 2006
Even though the lawsuit was won by the coalition, the shoppping mall was built, albeit on a slightly smaller piece of land. Most of the photographs to the right depict the development of Charleston Woods. Some aras were maintained for protection of rare plants, although the photographs to the right demonstrate how minimal those lands are. It is important to note that almost all of the rare species found on the site are tolerant or dependent on some degree of disturbance. Even if some construction clearing takes place, the site is still worth protecting. These species can recover from disturbance.
Destruction of Kreischer Hill (2004)
Current view of Kriescher Hil (2006)l
Torrey's mountain mint at Kriescher Hill
"Protection" of rare species (2006)
"Protection" of rare species (2006)