Thursday, September 17, 2009

Request for Maspeth Parkland Highlights CB 5 Budget Hearing

Dry Harbor Playground, South MV Street Repairs Also Requested

By Conor Greene

Impassioned requests by Maspeth residents to set aside money to purchase and convert the former St. Saviour’s property into a public park highlighted the fiscal year 2011-2012 budget hearing, held during Community Board 5’s monthly meeting.

Other requests made by residents and board members during last Wednesday’s session included funding for senior housing, upgrades at Dry Harbor Playground, reconstruction of the 80th Street bridge, repaving of streets in south Middle Village and additional manpower for the 104th Precinct in Ridgewood.

Board District Manager Gary Giordano said the board’s Executive Committee met Monday and devised a list of 35 capital budget items to be considered this year. Each board member will have the chance to rank the items in priority order with the final rankings scheduled to be voted on by the full board on Oct. 14. The expense side is handled in a more informal manner, with the Executive Committee reviewing last year’s list to determine if changes need to be made regarding those requests.

“There was obviously a lot of testimony in regard to residents wanting the city to build a park at the former St. Saviour’s site,” said Giordano. “The Executive Committee took all of that into consideration, as well as all the other budget requests we have to make,” he said. “You’re talking about requests that cost more than $1 million so often times you have to advocate for some time
to get the project funded.”

Park at St. Saviour’s Property

Almost immediately, the focus was on the former St. Saviour’s property on 58th Street in west Maspeth. While the historic church structure has been dismantled, removed from the property and will be rebuilt on a site in Middle Village, local residents haven’t given up the fight to preserve the actual property for use as a park.

The property, which comprises a full block and has been listed for $8.5 million, is privately owned and zoned for commercial use. The city doesn’t have the funding needed to buy the land and build a park, so Christina Wilkinson of the Newtown Historical Society has been working with local elected officials in hopes of arranging a land swap using city-owned land to compensate the St. Saviour’s property owner.

The budget hearing featured a handful of Maspeth residents, including several who live across from or near the vacant property. Wilkinson started by reminding the board that the idea of acquiring the land and church building for use as a park and community center was first raised three years ago. “While the church building has been saved, there is still more work to do in order to be able to call this endeavor a success,” she said.

Wilkinson added that Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has indicated that the department would be receptive to taking possession of the land provided that funding for its acquisition and maintenance is set aside by local elected officials. In addition, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and Borough President Helen Marshall are working “on acquiring the site at minimal cost” and a local company has offered to donate clean fill that could be used to repair the land.

“I request that you continue to list this project as a priority because now we are closer than even to making this proposal a reality. The property is still available and the elected officials are on board and actively working to make this happen – something which was not true in the past,” said Wilkinson. She noted that the property “represents the last sizeable tract of undeveloped land in Maspeth,” which has just 12 acres of park to serve more than 36,000 residents.

Dorie Wolt, who lives a block from the property, called the site a “dumping ground” and said “it’s a disgrace what they did” including cutting down dozens of trees. “I really think they should do something about it,” she said, before reading a statement by the Historic Districts Council advocating on behalf of a park there.

“While the building is now unfortunately gone, the site still remains a welcoming natural open space in an area grievously underserved by parkland,” the HDC statement argued. “For over 150 years, St. Saviour’s was the center of the community… Returning the land to such a purpose is a chance to preserve a piece of the area’s past while giving to its present and future.”

A resident who said he has lived in Maspeth his entire life said the neighborhood is the second oldest town in the state and suggested that a museum be created on the site, while another noted that the area’s closest greenspace is Maurice Park, which is difficult for many residents to get to.

Others, including Anthony Lewandowski lamented the destruction of what was once the centerpiece of the neighborhood. “You allowed a beautiful piece of land to be destroyed,” he told the board. “It’s now a dirt pile surrounded by a fence that’s covered with graffiti.”

Other Budget Requests

Other testimony included a request from Glenridge Senior Center Executive Director Albert Juszczak for the board to consider funding for senior housing, which he called “so critical for our community.” He said it is an issue the center’s board is working on and noted that, “despite the fact that [housing] prices have been falling supposedly… they are still way too high for many seniors.”

Board member Brian Dooley, president of the Glendale Property Owners Association, suggested that money be set aside for phase two of the Dry Harbor Playground improvements, including lighting at the basketball courts and softball field, along with fencing around the children’s playground. “I think these [are the types of requests] that in these tough economic times are obtainable,” he said.

On the expense side of the budget, Dooley suggested that the board call for additional manpower at the 104th Precinct. “It benefits all of us,” he said. “Little by little, I do think we are seeing some increases in the quality of life type of things” such as graffiti.

Board member Cathy Sumski asked that repairs of streets in south Middle Village be prioritized this year. “It keeps getting pushed back... and 73rd Place is full of potholes and sinking sewer covers,” she said. “I think it’s becoming dangerous.” According to Giordano, that project includes streets south of Metropolitan Avenue between 73rd Place and 80th Street north of the LIRR tracks. He said that 73rd Place is “probably the busiest roadway in that area” and described it as “kind of like a country road” that gets a lot of traffic during the day. While the project includes 73rd Place, it doesn’t include 80th Street.

Flooding, Parks, Libraries and Transit

Giordano said on Tuesday that he expects measures to help prevent future flooding to be highly prioritized by the board. “I think we continue to be very concerned about the need to reduce the potential for street and basement flooding conditions, so I expect that should be a very high capital budget priority, trying to get new, larger sewer lines installed,” he said. “So that continues to be an important priority, as do the parks, the roadways and public transit. This board has always been a big advocate of renovating the libraries and the schools and I don’t think that is going to change much.” He added that he would like to see an addition at PS 81 in Ridgewood highly prioritized.

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