A desolate band of land between the Major Deegan Expressway and Broadway looks like a dumping ground for paper cups, broken bottles, ripped plastic bags and assorted bits of metal and plastic objects of undetermined origin—a far cry from the hiking and biking trail some hope it would become.
The less than mile-long strip of land, overgrown with weeds and trees, is flanked on various sides by the expressway, the back walls of stores and office buildings that face Broadway, and by chain link fences along highway overpasses near W. 231st and W. 233rd streets, topped in places with barbed wire. While most people would have difficulty climbing onto the patch, it is easy to toss garbage over the fence, and apparently many have done so over the years. Trash covers the sloping ground and hangs from tree branches.
Environmental activists in the northwest Bronx want the city’s Parks Department to buy the land and turn it into a hiking and biking trail, or greenway. It would pick up where the trails of Van Cortlandt Park leave off, and would lead southward, passing close to Broadway, with its shops and restaurants.
The trail “would be a real economic boom,” said Laura Spalter, the chairwoman of the environment and sanitation committee of Community Board 8. “You could bike or hike and then go have lunch at a restaurant on Broadway.”
The land is owned by CSX Transportation, a major railroad. While talks on buying the land have stalled, CSX agreed last week to clean up the trash by the end of April, Spalter told The Press last week.
CSX has been willing to sell, but for a price that the Parks Department says it cannot afford. CSX had been asking $10 million for the land, although a spokesman recently said it would review the price.
An appraiser will “determine the fair market value of the property, which is the price that CSX will seek,” spokesman Rob Doolittle said. He did not specify how CSX arrived at its original $10 million figure.
Community Board 8 chairman Daniel Padernacht said the land should be worth substantially less than $10 million, and accused CSX of bidding on the city’s eagerness to buy.
“The property is nowhere near worth that [$10 million] value, because nothing can be developed there,” he said.
“I can only guess that CSX knows that the public would like to purchase the land for a greenway and that they’re holding out for a higher amount of money,” Padernacht said in an interview.
Board officials saw the issue important enough to bring it up during a town hall meeting with Mayor Bill de Blasio in Riverdale on Feb. 21. Padernacht asked de Blasio for help in buying the land, and the mayor promised to look into the issue.
“Let’s see if we can do some aggressive bargaining,” de Blasio said. “I am glad you put it on my radar, as well. It’s not one that I had heard about before but we will revisit the situation with CSX and see if there is something we can do to move them.”
About a week after de Blasio’s announcement, CSX agreed to clean up the trash, according to dates cited by Spalter of the environment committee.
A widespread opinion among community board members is that if CSX is not eager to sell, “they should at least clean it up,” Spalter said. “It’s just a blight,” she added.
Under New York City’s regulations, vacant lots must be clear of trash. It was not clear whether city inspectors visited the CSX site or whether the company might face fines. De Blasio’s office had not responded to a request for comment by publication time.
Eventually, environmentalists like Spalter hope to make the land part of a new route for Tibbetts Brook. The brook flows into Van Cortlandt Park’s lake from the north, reaches the southern edge of the park’s lake and then goes into an underground tunnel that merges with the sewer system underneath Broadway. A century after the brook was sent underground, activists want to bring it back to the surface—a plan known as “daylighting.” A new route could run through the CSX band of land.
For now, however, they would be content, environmentalists say, with seeing the land turned into a hiking and biking trail.
“You’ve got the BJ’s development right there, the Staples and Stop and Shop development right there, right on W. 234th Street, you’ve got right on W. 230th Street you’ve got the next set of malls,” Padernacht said. “You could have a continuous greenway starting right there where our business corridor is.”
But unless CSX slashes its asking price, it seems unlikely to happen any time soon.
“This piece of piece of land is owned by CSX and their asking price is quite high and we currently don’t have the capital funds required to buy that land and make it into a greenway,” Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver told the Feb. 21 town hall with de Blasio.