Mill Basin residents say the city’s plan to expand a shopping center built atop protected marshlands near the foot of Flatbush Avenue is not going to happen without a fight — and some argued it shouldn’t happen at all.
At a Feb. 18 meeting intended to get the neighborhood’s take on its plans for the Four Sparrows Retail Center between Kings Plaza and the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, environmentalists and Walmart opponents joined forces to shoot down the project — making it clear that if the city and developer Forest City Ratner Companies want to replace the cherished wetlands with big box stores, there will be a war on two fronts.
• Front one: Environmentalists and bird watchers want to prevent any development at the site, claiming that construction will destroy a borough treasure — a priceless city-owned wetland.
“The city says it wants to build something fabulous [on the wetlands],” nature lover Vivian Carter told residents attending the hearing at Kings Plaza. “But we have something there already, thank you very much.”
• Front two: The battle over which store — we’re talking about Walmart, of course — will be housed in the new shopping center.
“We’re completely opposed to bringing in a big box store,” Assemblyman Alan Maisel (D–Marine Park) told city officials. “Local businesses in Marine Park and Mill Basin will go out of business with a big box store just down the street.”
Members of the Economic Development Corporation obviously hoped for positive feedback on the proposal to expand the small shopping strip to accommodate three more stores, more parking and more than 40 acres of parkland, but they got very little.
And it got ugly when the agency could not promise that a Walmart — either a controversial mega-store or one of the company’s newersmaller versions — would pop up at the new center.
“One thing we will never consider is a Walmart,” said Community Board 18 District Manager Dorothy Turano to applause. “If a Walmart opens, the neighborhood near it suffers. We want to keep stores like that out of this shopping center, but we don’t know what’s going to happen. Nothing here is carved in granite.”
Neither is the plan, actually: Even though the city has been working on this project for more than a decade, it’s still considering two designs.
One proposal calls for creating two additional buildings on the property — a one-story structure off of Flatbush Avenue the size of a football field and a two-story building abutting the Mill Basin creek roughly the size of two football fields that would allow for multiple tenants.
The second proposal calls for one building the size of three football fields — the same size as the property Walmart currently has its eye on at the proposed Gateway II shopping center in East New York.
Critics claim that Walmart would destroy surrounding communities by undercutting neighboring businesses. They also claim that Walmart pays employees lower wages, offers fewer benefits and refuses to allow its workers to unionize.
Yet Walmart officials refute these arguments, claiming they would be welcomed by Brooklynites — many of whom already shop at the big box chain.
Whatever Forest City Ratner Companies brings in will join the Toys ‘R’ Us already on the property and a new Kristal Automall, the city’s largest minority-owned car dealership that plans to relocate from the corner of Kings Highway and Foster Avenue in Canarsie.
Environmentalists applauded the city’s plan to convert the marshlands into parkland — protecting the lands in perpetuity — but saw no reason why it should construct a shopping center right next to it.
“This land doesn’t belong to Mayor Bloomberg, it belongs to all of us,” added Geoffrey Croft, the president of the New York City Park Advocates, who threatened to take the city to court if it goes ahead with its plans. “We’re simply not going to let you give it away.”
Mill Basin resident Mary Anne Muller agreed.
“There are all of these reports that people are suffering from nature deprivation,” she said. “No one is suffering from a store deprivation.”
Forest City Ratner Companies is also currently building the controversial Barclays Center, the future home of the Brooklyn Nets, as well as a proposed 16-tower mini-city containing more than 6,600 units of housing — another project that some believe swiped public land for private benefit.
To read more about the project and send in comments, visit www.nycedc.com/ProjectsOpportunities/CurrentProjects/Brooklyn/FourSparrowsRetailCenterAtMillBasin.