Thursday, October 2, 2008
Elmhurst Gas Tanks Park Taking Shape
SITE WAS ORIGINALLY SLATED FOR BIG BOX STORE
By Conor Greene
The city is slowly shaping the former gas tanks property in Elmhurst into a six-acre park, providing residents with green space on a site that was originally eyed for a Home Depot.
Phase one of the project is scheduled to be completed this fall and includes new fill, landscaping and plantings. According to the city Parks Department, the footprint for the park has been established and landscaping, including 365 trees and shrubs, is complete.
The second phase is slated to continue next fall and will include a comfort station, maintenance house and a fenced-in playground featuring two separate play areas for younger and older children. A walking path around the park’s perimeter will also be installed during phase two, which will go out for bid in the spring.
The final product will be a “passive” park situated between Grand Avenue and the Long Island Expressway. It will not include any areas for soccer or baseball, but the Parks Department plans to install a small artificial turf field. The park will also include water sprinklers so that children can cool off in warm weather and a Vietnam War memorial. The rear of the property will include crabapple trees, reminiscent of the orchards that used to exist in the area.
The city aims to plant another 100 trees and shrubs on the site, and although the plantings won’t block the view of the expressway, they will help reduce the noise. Former property owner KeySpan cleared the property of contaminated soil, leaving it relatively flat, so the city created hills on both ends of the property to give it a little character.
The property was formerly used by KeySpan to house large gas storage tanks there. When new technology rendered the storage tanks obsolete, the property sat idle and the tanks were dismantled in 1996. In 2002, the company unveiled plans to market the property, which would have paved the way for construction of either a big box store like Home Depot or a large shopping mall.
At that point, the Juniper Park Civic Association organized a strong opposition to the development plans. With the help of local elected officials including former Councilman Dennis Gallagher, the group convinced KeySpan to sell the land to the city for one dollar. In 2005, the land was formally transferred to the city, paving the way for the nearly $10 million park project.
Robert Holden, president of the JPCA, said this week that “seeing this space become a park is the most satisfying aspect” of his role as a civic leader. “It’s tremendously satisfying to see the fruits of a hard-fought struggle to save this space for the community,” he said. “I’m proud of the way that the [JPCA] put all of its talents, resources and energy into the fight when everyone was saying it was impossible to win.”
However, there is one aspect of the project that Holden and the civic does not agree with: the decision by Parks to install synthetic turf on the property. “There are too many health questions still unanswered concerning artificial turf,” he said. “The synthetic surface is contrary to the ‘green movement’ and should not be considered for this park.”