As co-chair of the Living Breakwaters and TSPP Citizen’s Advisory Commission with Victoria Cerullo, Pistilli has kept a close eye on the evolution of both projects. He reports that they have enjoyed long-standing local community support and that residents have had ongoing opportunities to engage in every step of the design process. Nonetheless, he notes, pockets of opposition have arisen from some residents who live along the shoreline.
“The plans have always been to have total connectivity from the Conference House Park Visitor’s Center all along the shoreline to Page Avenue so people can utilize it more fully,” he says. “There are many residents who look forward to the opportunity to jog, stroll, and expose their children to marine activities. But some people who live along the shore feel their privacy will be invaded even though all planned improvements will be on public land.” Pistilli is nonetheless optimistic that through continued dialog those concerns can be ameliorated. “When you live through something like Sandy you have to push for the resiliency and protection that will prevent it from happening again,” he says. But he is even more motivated to see the improvements made because they will also mitigate the ongoing erosion that is decimating the Tottenville shoreline, where parts of what were once navigable shore roads are now permanently submerged.
Pistilli is also frustrated by the spread of misinformation about the project. “There has been a lot of misconstruing that the Breakwaters will become an obstruction, that the materials used are not eco friendly, that ships will crash into them, that they will ice over,” he says. “The irony is the reason why this project is five years in development is that it has to respond to every agency within its jurisdiction. For example, the Coast Guard says that the breakwaters will be distant from the shipping channel. A tremendous amount of science has been put into looking at the tide flow. My objections to the naysayers is take the time to look at the intensity of study that is going on and has gone on and modifications that have been made, and will continue to be made, in response to the study and to community input.”
Breathing New Life Into Main Street?
We also talked with Pistilli, who has been president of the Tottenville Civic Association for the past five years, about Main Street’s decline and how to reverse it. He remembers when it was the common space that knitted the community together, when you could get all your daily needs from local merchants there and run into neighbors with whom you would discuss community issues. “The challenge is to come up with a solution to reinitialize some of Main Street’s charm,” he says, in a way that reflects what the community and local economy need to thrive today.
There are clearly some low hanging fruit to be addressed, he says, like the fact that Main Street goes one way in the wrong direction, cutting it off from the flow to and from the newer smaller shops and restaurants on Amboy Road. Then there is the strip-mallification of the south shore, a problem that is a lot harder to tackle: “Our community is a mile away from Page Avenue, now a massive shopping area, and the big box stores. It is a hard competition for Main Street.” Another pervasive problem, he reports, is that current property owners on Main Street don’t want to make concessions to help new businesses get on their feet. “How do you go for years with an empty building and demand such high rents ?” he asks.
Pistilli does glimpse some promising signs on the horizon. For example, the new owners of a nine-unit residential condo development at 203 Main Street, which has been vacant for ten years, are clearing up existing violations and preparing the structure for occupancy. “It will take a derelict building and creates foot traffic and will help generate some revitalization,” he maintains. “Or that is what we are hoping.” He is also confident that the Living Breakwaters project, once completed, will draw people to Main Street. “When people come to visit this project, “ he maintains, “there will be all sorts of things that can be done to connect the dots.”