By Conor Greene
Glendale residents will likely soon have a new playground thanks to money set aside in this year’s budget by the area’s local councilmember. At the same time, the push to preserve the former St. Saviour’s site in Maspeth is continuing, with officials looking into the possibility of a land swap as a way to acquire the land at a reasonable cost.
Glendale Playground Plans
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley announced she has secured $600,000 in the 2009-2010 budget that will be used for a new playground in the upper-Glendale area. Her office is looking into the possibility of using land inside Forest Park off Myrtle Avenue near the Union Turnpike and is planning to tour the area with Parks Department officials in coming weeks to identify an ideal location.
In addition to the $600,000 secured by Crowley, $300,000 previously allocated by former Councilman Anthony Como (R-Middle Village) was just sitting in the Parks budget after the department decided that money shouldn’t be used at the Dry Harbor Road playground as initially planned. Crowley said she is working to combine the two appropriations so the entire $900,000 can be used in the Forest Park area.
“It is such a large park that Glendale is built around, but it is really cut off [from the community] by the Jackie Robinson Parkway,” said Crowley. “We want to open access to the park [but] it’s complicated because we have to do it in a way so we don’t take down any trees. That could provide access for people in Glendale without having to go to Woodhaven Boulevard. It is a much needed renovation and expansion to the playground area that the people in upper Glendale have not had.”
Crowley noted that the expansion of PS 113 led to a reduction in the amount of playground space available to the community. She said she envisions a new play area within Forest Park similar to Joseph DeVoy Playground, which is in a wooded area off Union Turnpike near 71st Avenue in southern Forest Hills. She is also working to expand the playground in Evergreen Park on St. Felix Avenue in Liberty Park.
The Parks Department did not return a message seeking information on the planned Glendale playground.
Fight for Maspeth Park
Maspeth residents and activists still haven’t given up the effort to have the former St. Saviour’s property acquired for use as public parkland. Crowley’s office is awaiting a response to letters sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg urging him to pursue the idea as part of his goal to provide parkland within a ten minute walk for every city resident.
Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, identified several city-owned parcels in Brooklyn and Queens that could be eligible for a land swap, through which the owner of the St. Saviour’s property would be compensated for his land. Crowley’s office is looking into whether the proposed city-owned properties would be eligible for a swap, and recently sent a second letter to Mayor Bloomberg about the idea.
“Maspeth is underserved by parks, this site is for sale and acquisition of the land by the city for use as a public park would satisfy a need for both present and future residents,” said Wilkinson. “The city should take action and not pass up this rare opportunity to create more parkland.”
The land swap is being pursued after Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe informed residents that the department doesn’t have the funding required to purchase the land and then convert it into park space. “We believe the residents of Maspeth would benefit from more and better access to public parkland,” wrote Benepe. “While we could not justify the forcible acquisition of the site through condemnation, we would consider purchasing the land if the current owners are now willing sellers.”
The 58th Street property is the former home of the historic St. Saviour’s church building. That structure was dismantled and removed from the site before the property owners readied the property for development. The church will be rebuilt on land donated by All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village. The Maspeth property is currently listed for $8.5 million, and Benepe noted in his letter that “no such funding” currently exists in Parks’ budget, meaning allocations from local elected officials would be necessary.
In a July letter to Mayor Bloomberg, Crowley argued that the “community is in desperate need of more green space” and a park there would serve students from Martin Luther High School and St. Stanislaus Kostka, along with West Maspeth residents “who have to travel miles to find a park.”
On Wednesday, Crowley said a second letter was recently sent to the mayor since her office “hasn’t gotten the response we’re looking for.” She said Maspeth residents are especially in need of green space to help alleviate the pollution caused by heavy truck traffic in the area. “That’s just a great spot [for a park] and this would be an easy part of achieving his goal” to provide parkland access to all neighborhoods.
In the second letter to Bloomberg, Crowley warns that construction of a warehouse, allowed under the property’s zoning, “would clearly hurt the community and end any chances of building much needed park space for Maspeth.” She adds that the community has compiled “a large list” of unused city-owned sites that could be used in a land swap.
Crowley noted that the owners paid $4 million for the land but have since made a “significant investment” in order to prepare the site for construction. “Many people in the community feel that the land has historical value and building anything on it from a historical perspective would be wrong,” she said. “I imagine the owner would be happy to get rid of the land based on his experience owning it for a fair trade or price.
“With the cost of acquiring land today and building parks, it’s tough to find that type of funding in the city, but there’s no doubt in my mind that this area, which has traditionally been forgotten about, needs to be recognized,” continued Crowley. “By teaming up with community leaders in Maspeth to put pressure on the mayor, I think we will prevail.”
However, not all Maspeth residents think a park is the neighborhood’s most pressing need. In a letter to the Forum, Charlene Stubbs of the Maspeth West End Block Association expressed fear of problems such as increased crime and argued the area is in desperate need of a supermarket. She said the issue will be discussed at the civic’s next meeting, scheduled for Thursday at Trinity-St. Andews Church on 60th Street at 7 p.m.