Residents Fear New York Wheel Will Hurt Staten Island Commutes

By Nicholas Rizzi on December 6, 2012 11:34am 

ST. GEORGE — Plans for a giant Ferris wheel in St. George will worsen traffic and lengthen commute times to and from Manhattan, opponents said at a meeting Wednesday night.

Residents and members of the St. George Civic Association questioned developers of the soon-to-be world’s-largest observation wheel and outlet mall that would replace two parking lots near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

Many residents said they fear that the back-up from drivers heading to the wheel and mall would put extra strain on the already busy Bay Street and Richmond Terrace.

“They're just two small roads, with lights every four streets,” said Lawrence Cohen, of New Brighton.

“A mall is usually situated near a highway, and here is nothing like that. It will all bottleneck into these two roads. They don’t have the road structure to support a big mall.”

Developer Rich Marin said that he expects 90 percent of visitors to take public transportation to the site — either the ferry or the planned water taxi near the outlet mall.

“What we’re hoping is that people will take this as a harbor experience and will park and not want to drive onto Staten Island,” Marin said.

Residents at the meeting said they are skeptical of that expectation.

“People will drive. They’re not going to come by the ferry,” Cohen said. “I don’t think their 90 percent figures are accurate.”

Marin said the hours he expects the wheel and outlet mall to be most crowded will be mid-afternoon, which should not have a huge impact on Staten Island commuters who already have the longest average trips to work in the country.

And while some residents opposed the plans — many because it may block their views of Manhattan — Mary Sobiechowski, who lives nearby in St. George Landing, said she's in favor of the projects.

However, she wanted to make sure the retail outlets would vary from what's already available in the neighborhood.

“We need quality retail here,” she said. “We don’t need 99-cents stores and low-level stuff. I know this is going to go through, we just need to make sure it’s quality.”

Donald Capoccia, of BFC Partners, which is building the retail mall, stressed that everyone will be happy with the companies that have approached them to put stores in the mall.

He also said it would not have a 99-cent store.

Sobiechowski said she's happy with the developers, who she feels have been listening to the community's concerns and suggestions.

“I think they are listening,” she said. “They are listening and I think they are reasonable people.”

One suggestion from previous wheel meetings was to add a playground to the site. On Wednesday night, Marin confirmed that they have added a 14,000-square-foot playground to the plans, and stressed his commitment to work with the community on the project.

“That’s the kind of attention we’re tying to pay to the local community,” Marin said. “I heard that on one of my visits here, I heard it a second time at the scoping meeting.”

The meeting on Wednesday night was not part of the city’s formal ULURP process for the project. Both projects plan to break ground in 2014.

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