Death flight: Bird lovers say Four Sparrows car dealership will kill habitat

Some environmentalists are worried that the windows pictured in this rendering of the Kristal Auto Mall’s proposed new home may become translucent death traps for the various bird species that nest in the Four Sparrows Marsh.
Courtesy of the New York City Economic Development Corporation

Community Board 18 signed off on a controversial proposal to put a car dealership on city-owned land next to Mill Basin’s Four Sparrows Marsh — a plan environmentalists say will lead to untold bird deaths.

Members of the NYC Audubon say the Four Sparrows Marshland off of Flatbush Avenue between Kings Plaza and the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge provides a home for four types of sparrows — birds that require an undisturbed marshland for nesting.

Toxins flowing from Kristal Auto Mall, which is planning to move next door to the marsh, would destroy the nesting space, and birds will accidentally kill themselves by flying into the building’s huge bay windows, Audubon members claim.

“About 90,000 birds die in New York City from collisions with glass,” said Susan Elbin, the Director of Conservation and Science at NYC Audubon. “Any kind of construction development there will have to be bird friendly,”

Elbin said that if the habitat disappears, the birds are “going to need to find other salt marsh habitats, which are becoming harder and harder to find.”

Avian fans believe that storm water will carry various contaminants that build up on the car dealership’s parking lot — oils, salts, and other toxins — into the marsh habitat.

“It would change the PH of the salt marsh and possibly transport toxins,” Elbin explained. “[The toxins will] go into the soil and get into the food web. The problem for birds is that they eat the insects, which eat the things that have been contaminated. It’s a vicious cycle.”

There is also a concern that the auto mall could increase the strain on an already overloaded sewage system.

“[The car dealership] could cause more sewage to be released into Jamaica Bay,” said Glenn Phillips, the Executive Director at NYC Audubon Society.

Kristal Automall, which is the city’s largest minority-owned car dealership and is currently located on Kings Highway in Canarsie, has been planning to build on the existing Toys ’R’ Us parking lot for years. Sammy Bical, Kristal’s owner is expected to buy the property — which is more than the size of two football fields — for $17 million. The Toys ‘R’ Us will remain in the lot as well, the city explained.

Community Board 18 voted to approve the request, as long as the remainder of the marshland will forever be designated as wild parkland.

Fidler, however, said that won’t happen before the city approves the land transfer.

“What we can do is begin that process and get the stake holders in the city on board with it… that should grease the skids for making it happen,” said Councilman Fidler, who said that if the development project falls through, it would cost the city millions in revenue and Kristal Auto Mall — along with its employees — would likely go out of business.

“That automobile franchise is hanging on a thread,” Fidler said.

President at Kristal Auto Mall, Sammy Bical, did not return calls for comment.

Reach reporter Colin MIxson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.

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