President's Letter

Crossing the Finish Line
on Goodhue Woods

TIME-LAPSE PHOTOGRAPHY OF THE NATURAL WORLD allows us to witness the random splatter of raindrops, the Fibonacci Sequence burst forth in blooms, and a metamorphosis of a caterpillar earning its wings. We can experience a full year’s passage of the sun streaking across the sky, years of a tree’s growth or decades of glacial creep.

This exaggeration of time has skewed our understanding of the natural world and our appreciation for the relative nature of the passage of time.

When we consider the work of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, of our effort to preserve open space here on Staten Island, there is no time lapse to enhance the process. Our work, a consistent, deliberative call for preservation, is rooted deep in decades of research, networks and relationships. If only we could use time lapse, conduct a weekend rally and expect results. No, preservation requires persistence and perseverance.

In 2006, then-Councilman Michael McMahon was approached by the Children’s Aid Society because their long-term planning required the sale of large portions of the Goodhue property to finance the organization’s future, and it was hoped the City would be the purchaser. Relying on past experience, Councilman McMahon called Protectors to seek our support.

After speaking with Councilman McMahon, Ellen Pratt orchestrated a comprehensive publication detailing the natural history, human impact and current ecology of Goodhue. She had the Island’s leading naturalists each address a different aspect of the property. Once published, Councilman McMahon utilized Protectors’ work to solicit support from the City Council for the purchase and transfer of the Goodhue Woods to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

Through the next few years of dynamic City budgets, the good-faith deal struck between the City and the honorable negotiators at the Children’s Aid Society wavered and wobbled. NYC’s economic forecast changes with the wind, but Protectors, along with the Goodhue community, remained vigilant.

Protectors conducted nature walks and continued collecting pertinent environmental data. We wrote op-eds and commentaries in the S.I. Advance, hosted a community meeting at Goodhue and participated in two rallies to bring attention to the plight of the Goodhue Woods.

In 2009, the proposal to purchase the property cleared the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). Thirty-eight acres were to be purchased for $33 million in three phases. The first phase, 15 acres for $5.6 million, was announced in April 2013. The following summer phase two, 11.5 acres for $14.6 million was announced. Phase three, at a cost of $52.9 million, was announced this August for the purchase of 11 acres, along with funds for a new community center and enhancements to the historic Goodhue pool. It has taken more than 15 years for the deal brokered by Councilman McMahon to be closed by Borough President Oddo.

Government moves slowly. Even when all parties are in agreement, as with the purchase of the Goodhue Woods, a seemingly, straightforward sale and transfer can take years, even decades. Similar to the preservation of the Goodhue Woods, the Saint Francis Woodlands, Mount Loretto Unique Area and Pouch Camp, it is crucial that property owners be willing to negotiate financial deals which knowingly take years to broker and decades to close. 

Then there are those unwilling owners of open space who have no desire to sell. Though stymied by court proceedings for years, the Alpert brothers always intended to develop their private property in Graniteville. The Jesuits at Mount Manresa never truly considered waiting so long for recompense. Government cannot impinge upon the rights of the owners of private property and so those lands shall be developed.
An edited news story, like time-lapse photography, skews our understanding of the passage of days, years, decades. We read news of environmental preservation and grow emboldened by the seemingly quick and simple bureaucratic processes which afford success. The time lapse of news may even skew a reader’s understanding of government’s interest in the protection of private property. In real time, environmental preservation is daunting. The grinding nature of government demands constant vigilance and our members, the dedicated, diligent members of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods remain ever vigilant as we continue our call for the preservation of open space on Staten Island. 

—Cliff Hagen, Fall 2021

Open space preservation is a complex and often taxing exercise in patience.