Thursday, March 5, 2009

City Renames New Elmhurst Park

Residents Balked at Gas Tank Reference

By Conor Greene

After residents objected to the name Elmhurst Tank Park for the new green space under construction along Grand Avenue, the city has agreed to instead call it Elmhurst Park.

Community Board 4 and members of a local civic group were not happy with the city’s initial name for the park, which was intended to reflect the site’s past as home to the Newtown Gas Holders – commonly known as the Elmhurst Gas Tanks. However, residents didn’t like the idea of commemorating the two hulking structures, which loomed over the nearby expressway until they were dismantled in 1996.

“The Parks Department often gives city parks names that reflect the history of a site,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “However, after hearing concerns of residents in the neighborhood and the Community Board, we changed the name to Elmhurst Park.”

The first phase of the roughly $20 million project was completed last fall, when the park’s footprint was created. Hundreds of trees and shrubs were planted on the six-acre property, and tons of clean fill was imported to create contours on the previously flat land, which is located at 79th Street near the Maspeth-Elmhurst border.

The next phase is expected to go out to bid in the spring and be completed in 2010. It will include a walking path, comfort station, sprinkler area, separate playgrounds for younger and older children and a maintenance house. While the park is intended for passive recreation, it will feature an artificial turf field for informal pickup games.

Richard Italiano, district manager of CB 4, said that both the board and the “surrounding community” at large favored the name change. “The people we spoke with wanted ‘Elmhurst’ in it, but more so, I got the feeling they didn’t like gas tanks or any reference to it,” he said. “Some people who have lived in the area for a long time were saying the tanks weren’t exactly the best neighbors.” He praised the Parks for being open to considering a new name. “I think they went over and above [in terms of] listening to the community,” he said.

Other finalists included Elmhurst Community Park and Elmhurst Memorial Park. Signs informing visitors about the gas tanks – which often served as a landmark on radio traffic reports – will be installed at the park. In addition, crabapple trees will be planted in the rear portion of the site that used to be an orchard, and a Vietnam War memorial is planned for the site.

Now, Italiano’s focus is on “getting the gates open for the public,” hopefully in less than two years. “It’s been a long process. It was a blank piece of property, and it takes a while to get all the infrastructure in there,” he said. “It looks great, but there still are more plantings and buildings to do.”

After Keyspan dismantled the tanks, the company began exploring plans to develop the land and eventually entered into discussions with Home Depot. However, local officials and residents including the Juniper Park Civic Association pushed for a park on the land. In 2005, the city bought the property for one dollar after Mayor Michael Bloomberg intervened. The project is primarily being funded through mayoral and City Council appropriations, according to the Parks Department.

Robert Holden, who as JPCA president was instrumental in getting the land set aside for green space, said he stayed out of the discussions regarding the park’s name. “I think the important fight was saving it from becoming a Home Depot and mall,” he said. “The name game is just that. I’m proud of the JPCA effort to save the park. We worked day and night for months and it was all worth it.”

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