A long vacant, rubble-strewn Red Hook lot has become an unlikely duck pond — and one neighborhood animal-lover has a plan to keep it that way.
Animal rescue activist and photographer Harriet Zucker is seeking a deep-pocketed partner to help her create an “urban sanctuary” on the graffiti-covered former truck depot that borders the future home of New York City’s first Ikea superstore.
Zucker and other amateur urban zoologists have watched egrets, ducks, redwing blackbirds and dove-sized killdeers make homes in the privately-owned concrete yard on the corner of Halleck and Columbia streets, now occupied by virtual lakes of rainwater and sprouted with knee-high grasses, scrub-brush and the occasional wildflower.
“It’s amazing to see how much life has found this place. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be able to stay,” said the activist, who got to know the wild-looking lot while rescuing dozens of feral dogs that had migrated there when the nearby Revere sugar factory was demolished by developer Joe Sitt.
Sitt plans to build a retail and residential complex on the Revere site and all signs point to the same fate for the football-field-size lot at 640 Columbia St. Real estate speculators have flipped the lot several times over the last few years, with the most recent limited liability corporation, Columbia Realty Holding, shelling out $20 million last year.
The New Jersey–based company didn’t return phone calls seeking comment on its plans for the site; the company lobbied the city in 2005 for a zoning change. It has yet to submit any formal applications to rezone or build at the lot.
In the 1990s, opposition from Red Hook residents killed plans to locate recycling and waste transfer stations on that lot.
Zucker and others hope to attract an investor with the resources to buy out the current owner before the birds are replaced by shoppers.
“This should be saved if only so people can understand that wildlife fits in wherever we leave open space,” Eileen Jones, who runs City Beast, an animal rehabilitation and education organization.
Red Hook, a community where industry and a growing number of residents co-exist, boasts one of the city’s highest asthma rates and lowest tree counts. Opponents of Ikea and other new developments have long said that the growing waterfront neighborhood lacks the open green space of nearby, wealthier neighborhoods.
A spokesman for the city’s Parks Department, Phil Abramson, said that any such wildlife preservation would require “intense” review on a city, state and federal level.
“In the meantime,” Abramson said, “there is the Prospect Park Zoo and the New York Aquarium.”