It’s just the beginning of a 20-year process, but the for its Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area have already raised skepticism among those who fought the now defunct plan to privatize and commercially develop the Hook’s historic Fort Hancock.
“We’ve heard a lot of talk about the people’s fears that this is going to go in the same direction as the Fort Hancock development plan,” said Suzanne McCarthy, deputy superintendent of the Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area at the Aug. 8 information session on Gateway’s proposed General Management Plan for Sandy Hook.
“It’s important for people to know that what we’re doing now has nothing to do with that plan, commonly referred to as the Wassel plan (tagging the name of Rumson developer James Wassel, whose group Sandy Hook Partners proposed it), McCarthy said. "First of all, that plan was for the Fort Hancock section of Sandy Hook. This affects the entire park. We’re looking to the future now and trying to figure out where we are and where we want to be with that future for the park.”
Yes, McCarthy conceded, there are a lot of historic structures to be considered, such as those in Fort Hancock. But, she said, Gateway is trying to figure out how to best utilize them in the park to, for instance, “create better visitor services and bed and breakfasts. Then there are recreational elements to look at, such as kayaking, which would be part of the Connecting Coastlines option for the park.”
There are four proposed plans, three if you discount the option to do nothing and leave the park as is.
The current options, each of which management says can be altered along the way, are:
Alternative A: Current Management
A "no-action" plan, or "baseline for evaluating and comparing the other action alternatives."
Alternative B: Discovering Gateway
A plan that would stress recreation and education.
Alternative C: Experiencing Preserved Places
A preservation and restoration alternative that would focus on "natural systems, historic sites and landscapes."
Alternative D: Connecting Coastlines
A plan that would emphasize the water and “water-based recreation, education and interpretation,” linking the three Gateway parks on Jamaica Bay, Staten Island and Sandy Hook.
To view the complete plans and maps, click here.
“I am concerned with Alternative B, which includes suggested uses for Fort Hancock such as lodging, restaurants, conference space and offices,” Congressman Frank Pallone said in a released statement.
Pallone was staunchly opposed to the Wassel/Sandy Hook Partners private development plan initially proposed for Fort Hancock in 1999 and fought for more than a decade. He rallied against it with the grassroots group Save Sandy Hook.
To him, Alternative B “resembles the failed attempt at large commercial development plans that were pursued by Sandy Hook Partners,” he continued to say in the statement. “The National Park Service should instead pursue other alternatives that would focus on preserving the integrity of Fort Hancock’s status as a National Historic Landmark. I am encouraged by suggested uses in other management alternatives such as educational services, historic preservation and maritime-related interpretation.”
There could be “adaptive reuse” of some of the structures in new general management, said Minka Sendich, a National Park Service Gateway National Recreation Area planner, pointing to the possibility of more use by nonprofits, education and lodging.
Nonprofit and educational uses are and always have been fine with Pallone and other preservationists. Currently, Clean Ocean Action and the American Littoral Society nonprofits have offices in Fort Hancock and have for some time.
The Marine Academy of Science and Technology (MAST) is also situated on the north end of the Hook.
Sendich also said that lodging and public-private partnerships could be part of a new management plan as well.
The mention of options such as those have unnerved preservationists.
“If there is going to be any leased out space for private purposes it has to conform to the mission of the park and overall park plan,” .
“We need to make sure that the areas that are leased out are open to the public and affordable for the average person who visits the park, Tittel said. "The concession needs to enhance the visit for the people coming to the park not to become a private country club. We need to stay true to the architecture and history of the buildings.”
But, cautioned Sendich, no one should over-anticipate a plan that is far from being set in stone. “These are just some of the ideas that have been expressed,” she said. “We want the public’s input. That is the whole intent of process. There is no definite concept or plan.”
The informal Aug. 8 session was a first step toward what is, in all, a 20-year graduated plan, Sendich said at the session.
The primary intent of the sessions was to inform the public and solicit suggestions and input on the preliminary plan options, she said.
The comment period ends on Sept. 21. After that, a general management plan will be drafted. And, by the fall of next year, a final plan should be devised and implementation will start.
However, Sendich stressed, that plan will “not materialize overnight. It’s a 20-year management plan and can take quite some time to really happen.”
Pallone reiterated his belief that “the future of Fort Hancock and Sandy Hook must be determined in close cooperation with the local community. Further, Fort Hancock cannot continue to wait for a comprehensive development plan, but instead the National Park Service should prioritize the rehabilitation of the buildings one-by-one to save these valuable historic buildings before the damage is irreparable.”
If you could not make it to one of the two information sessions on Aug. 3 or 8, click here to submit suggestions to Gateway online.
“We have learned from our mistakes and are trying to look to the future,” Sendich said.