Acres of low rolling hills in New Brighton, where nearly 300 homes were once planned, were secured recently as a public park when the owners of one remaining parcel settled a lawsuit with the city and accepted $7.6 million for their land.
After more than a decade, the city paid would-be developers a total of $17 million — and may ultimately spend millions more — to preserve the entire 14-acre site known as Jones Woods, now part of a loosely connected open-space chain that begins with Skyline Park and ends at Snug Harbor.
The initial nine acres of land targeted for preservation was the spot where the Navy once planned to build more than 200 townhouses for home port personnel. That plan fell through when the Stapleton home port closed and the land was later picked up by new developers at foreclosure. Those owners began building homes in keeping with Navy’s original approvals.
Local residents who supported the Navy housing objected to private developers pursuing the same dense housing plan. The proposal would have also involved clear-cutting trees across the site, which is located in the Special Hillsides Preservation District.
Rules for the district were eventually changed to provide better protection for hilly terrain and trees. Councilman Jerome O’Donovan pledged $1 million to acquire the land and his successor, McMahon, put another $2 million aside. Still, the acquisition process dragged on for years.
Vincent Gallo, an attorney and partner in the nine acres the city condemned for $9.4 million, said the lengthy process puts a burden on the community and developers. He said the City Council should amend the law and set clear time limits for the city to buy private property.