Thursday, December 9, 2010

Renewed Hope for Park at Former St. Saviour's Site

By Eric Yun

Community activists have been fighting endlessly to get the former St. Saviour’s church site in Maspeth converted into public parkland, and they are seeing some positive signs as the city has entered into negotiations with the property owner to purchase the site.

Bob Holden, President of the Juniper Park Civic Association, sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a “last ditch effort” to persuade the city to acquire the site for parkland.

Adrian Benepe, New York City Parks Commissioner, wrote in a response that “the Parks Department is actively engaged with area elected officials including Borough President Helen Marshall and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley in an effort to secure funding for the purchase of all or a portion of the St. Saviour’s site.”

Benepe also said that the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) has contacted the developer about the site.

Owner Maspeth Development LLC, led by Scott Kushnik, has made several efforts to recoup its investment by developing or selling the property. Kushnik, recently received approval from the city Department of Buildings to construct warehouses on the site, located at 57th Road and 58th Street in industrial West Maspeth.

Kushnik did not respond to a request to comment, but this week he told the New York Daily News, “Even if we develop the site, the door is open, this isn’t a lost cause.”

The new developments have made the park’s supporters dig in to save the site. Crowley’s office contacted the owner and started the process to open negotiations with Parks and DCAS.

“We’re trying to accumulate funding while at the same time making sure the city process is moving forward,” said Lydon Sleeper, Chief of Staff for Crowley (D-Middle Village).

Politicians have acquired more than $2 million to convert St. Saviour’s to parkland. Borough President Marshall has pitched in more than $1 million, and Crowley allocated $500,000 in last year’s budget. The money, however, is likely not enough to buy the site, but there are some revenue streams that could be coming. In 2008, the city and state reached an agreement to bring the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant to federal compliance. In the agreement, $10 million was allocated to fund environmental benefit programs.

A public vote was held by the City Parks Foundation to determine what residents around Newtown Creek desired. One of the final projects considered was converting the St. Saviour’s site into parkland. A vote was held on December 1 and 2, when more than 700 participants expressed their preferences. Activists in Queens are hoping enough people supported the St. Saviour’s project.

Community activists are hopeful that something can be done to save the site, and in a perfect world, re-erect the church that members of the Juniper Park Civic Association negotiated to be dismantled and saved. The church that stood at the site was minutes away from demolition before the group was allowed to dismantle and store the building until a new location could be acquired.

“We are counting on our elected representatives to secure this historic site as public parkland and restore it as a green oasis,” said Christina Wilkinson, President of the Newtown Historical Society, “Maspeth needs more open space, not more warehouses.”

“[The site] is one of the most historic locations in Queens County because it was where the first settlers landed,” said Holden. “It’s a very historic property, to put a warehouse there would be a crime.”

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