Community Board 8 gathered the media and public on the edge of what used to be the Old Putnam Line at Broadway and Verveelen Place, not to finally share the sale of the property to the city, but for a much different reason.
It’s now clean.
The nearly one-mile stretch of land that runs adjacent to the Major Deegan Expressway between Van Cortlandt Park South and West 230th Street is no longer an embarrassing place neighbors try to ignore. It’s now something they might actually get to enjoy.
For months, CSX Corp., has cleaned the property, much to the delight of Laura Spalter, chair of CB8’s environment and sanitation committee, who spearheaded the campaign to get it done.
On this particular cold, rainy October day, Spalter told the small crowd to hike further down the sloping ground where it would be easier to stand. As she spoke, Spalter competed with the roar of vehicles passing on the adjacent highway.
The cleanup is something CSX has promised for a long time. Getting the Florida-based company to follow through, however, was a team effort.
“We’ve all been advocates and we’ve worked together, and Laura certainly took the lead on this,” said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz after the press conference. “But this has been a sore point for many years, so to see this transformation is just incredible. This is a major development in the Kingsbridge community.”
The land hasn’t been used for railroad traffic really since the 1950s, according to a CB8 press release. Decades of abandonment allowed it to become a dumping ground for refuse and debris, all overgrown with weeds and covered in graffiti.
Yet the city wants the land, and is willing to pay seven figures to turn it into a bicycle and pedestrian rail-to-trail path leading toward Van Cortlandt Park from West 230th. Supporters say it would create recreational and economic opportunities for residents and local businesses.
The city actually moved forward with a plan to purchase the property in early 2011. CSX was ready to sell — for $10 million. That was far too steep for park officials.
That stalemate continued for years until finally public pressure from state lawmakers reopened negotiations with CSX willing to have the property independently appraised. That was June — if an appraisal is finished and both sides are in negotiation, the public — and even state lawmakers — are unaware.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Dinowitz said. “But I think the fact that CSX was so cooperative is a good sign.”
Not even Rodney Oglesby, CSX’s vice president for state government affairs, could say.
“The bottom line is, we’ve been able to get here, now, so that’s what’s most important,” he said.
Spalter started to make serious plans to clean the property in January.
“And we thought, ‘You know what? CSX owns this. Let them clean it up,’” Spalter said. “‘Nothing’s happening with that, but in the very least, they should do that.’”
City parks borough commissioner Iris Rodriguez-Rosa stressed land such as the Putnam South property “is such a valuable resource, and we have to try to maintain it, to expand it, in any way we can.
“The first step, of course, is to obtain it, and then obtain the funds to develop it.”