While one of the most beloved swaths of open green space on Staten Island has sadly been bulldozed over to make way for new housing, it would now appear that those rallying against the project have had the final word … in the form of three very pointed street names.
As ruled earlier this month by state Supreme Court judge Philip Minardo, the names of streets that will eventually crisscross the wildlife-displacing condo complex will not be selected from the batch of nine innocuous monikers — Turtle Drive, Lazy Bird Lane, Rabbit Ridge Road ... you get the idea — submitted by the developer, Staten Island-based Savo Brothers.
Instead, the trio of streets will bear names that are obscure synonyms for covetousness, deceit and greed.
Welcome, new homeowners, to Cupidity Drive, Fourberie Lane and Avidity Place.
But seriously — don’t pull one over on fellow Staten Islanders unless you’re ready for serious comeuppance delivered by the borough president himself, James Oddo.
A spiritual sanctuary and "ecological treasure" lost to new development
This tale of green space lost and snarky street names gained dates back to 2013 when the New York Province of the Society of Jesus (aka the Jesuits) announced it would be selling Mount Manresa, a woodsy 15-acre retreat center on Staten Island’s North Shore.
Located just off the Staten Island Expressway but seemingly worlds away, Mount Manresa was established in 1911 and, until its sale and subsequent destruction, was the oldest Jesuit retreat in America. What’s more, the tranquil patch of open green space — an “ecological treasure” — was a rare slice of undeveloped natural beauty amidst the urban hustle and bustle of New York City. Thickly forested with ancient oak and tulip trees, Mount Manresa was also home to a smattering of historic buildings, a grotto and a historic water tower dating back to the 1860s.
Although the Jesuits weren’t getting much use out of the property — thus the highly contentious sale to Savo Brothers for $15 million — local residents and wildlife alike continued to seek refuge at the tranquil hillside oasis long after the organized retreats began to dwindle.
“An increasing number of Hispanics and other younger Catholics in the New York area did not find the residential-type retreat experience what they were looking for,” Jesuit spokesman Rev. Vincent Cooke told the New York Times in 2014. “We are making a strategic decision. Prayer and meditation can take place anywhere, and a special house is not an essential element.”
And so, an outer borough preservation battle for the ages commenced with Staten Islanders, including a large number of Catholics, pushing to save Mount Manresa from imminent destruction. Ideally, the site’s buildings would have been deemed as landmarks while the land itself would have been preserved as public parkland.
Long story short, it didn’t happen.
While the fight to save Mount Manresa was nothing less than valiant, the 250-unit townhouse development ultimately won out and Stavo Brothers commenced, post haste, with razing Mount Manresa to the ground, including felling a wealth of rare and mighty trees, some upwards of 400 years old.
Mount Manresa's historic red brick water tower, completed circa 1860, was demolished in March 2015 along with numerous other landmark structures. (Photo: Save Mount Manresa/Facebook)
The name game
While demolition has long since kicked off (but not without stop work orders and asbestos-related drama) and the Mount Manresa that residents of Staten Island's Fort Wadsworth neighborhood loved and fought to preserve has ceased to exist, Savo Brothers cannot move forward with the construction of new housing until compulsory permits from the Department of Building are secured. And to get these permits, the development must be assigned proper street names and numbers.
Too bad for Savo Brothers that an outspoken opponent of the project since the beginning, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, is in charge of bestowing names on any new streets in the borough.
In an obvious burn that signifies his — and the greater community’s — displeasure, Oddo, after stalling on issuing street names only to be taken to court by Savo Brothers, decided to name the development's three new streets as follows:
Cupidity Drive, cupidity being a nice way to say money-grubbing; Fourberie Lane, a poetic nod to a word of French extraction describing acts of deceit and deception; and Avidity Lane, a word which comes from the Latin avidita and can be roughly translated as overeager and greedy.
Of course Savo Brothers lost it when Oddo rejected their suggestions and bestowed the development with what they believed to be “derogatory” street names — names that contain words that might not ring an immediate bell with the general public but will no doubt resonate with local residents.
“He acted in a vengeful and spiteful manner, which ill behooves a borough president in the city of New York,” argues Richard Leland, an attorney representing Savo Brothers in this litigious case of name bestowing.
In his defense, Oddo claimed that the nine cheesy-bucolic street names proposed by Savo Brothers were insensitive and mocked opponents to the development. In a court filing, Oddo's land-use director, Robert Englert, remarks that naming streets after wildlife had the potential to "unnecessarily cause further tension."
One suggestion that particularly stung?
“That’s right, 'Timber' Lane, as in the word of warning that is popularly known to be yelled out to warn folks that a tree is being cut down," a fired-up Oddo wrote on his Facebook page back in December. "This was a clear attempt to stick it to the community once again by reminding them every day of what they did to the property. This, after they thumbed their nose at the Staten Island community, pillaged the property by cutting down numerous trees, and ravaged the hillside."
Oddo also found that the street names suggested by Savo Brothers had “deficiencies” — they were too long or too similar to existing Staten Island street names.
And so, Oddo was ordered back to court late last year in an effort to force him to come up with new streets names that were "within the spirit of the judge's order."
Despite strong local resilience, demolition of Mount Manresa's buildings commenced in 2014 to make for a new condo community. (Photo: Save Mount Manresa/Facebook)
Welcome to Greedy Street
On Feb. 11, Judge Minardo ruled in favor of Oddo, noting: “These provided names, which mean greed, trickery and deception, are not considered insensitive nor will they inflame controversy."
“It is within Oddo’s discretion to decide if the street names of the residents of the Borough of Staten Island should reflect greed, a Lazy Bird or a fallen hero.”
Minardo does chide Oddo for not taking the high road and selecting names that honor fallen heroes hailing from the area. However, he explains that the court has no authority to force him to do so.
"The fact is that the names chosen are auricularly pleasing and historically illuminative." -- yours truly #streetnamelawsuit— Jimmy Oddo (@HeyNowJO) February 11, 2016
In addition to not being obscene (just, you know, a massive dig at an unscrupulous developer), Cupidity Drive, Fourberie Lane and Avidity Place meet all the criteria necessary for new street names in that they’re not too long or difficult to pronounce. They're also distinctive enough so that they won’t be potentially confusing to emergency responders. Oddo himself calls the names “auricularly pleasing and historically illuminative.”
One thing that Oddo is not naming is victory — despite the court allowing his greed-symbolizing street names to stay, there is no cause for celebration. Manresa has been lost and isn't coming back.
He writes on his Facebook page:
This is not a victory. Victory would have been the agencies allowing us to rezone the property years ago to prevent this proposed project. Victory would have been the Jesuits not being so singularly focused on selling the property to the highest bidder, or at the very least, giving those of us in local government sufficient time to cobble together the resources needed to purchase this property. Victory would have been a developer heeding the community's concerns and attempting to do right by — to some degree — the trees, the sacred buildings and the natural topography. This court decision is not a victory because it will not bring back the trees or the historic structures that were wantonly and spitefully destroyed.
Oddo goes on to assert that he will "remain vigilant on behalf of the community" as the project moves forward.
If and when Oddo's reign as borough president ends, no doubt he'll have a fantastic career coming up with creative street names for other communities that have been blighted by green space-destroying development. The guy's a natural.