A developer continues to build warehouse walls on the old St. Saviour's Church site where the community wants a park to be built instead. (Photo courtesy Marek Skiba)
Nearly two months have passed since the city committed itself to acquiring the old St. Saviour’s Church site in Maspeth for parkland, and even though $5.5 million has already been allocated to purchase the property, a sum of money totaling about 1 percent of that amount is holding up the process while warehouse walls rapidly climb, according to Times Ledger.
“It’s not an enormous amount of money,” said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates. “There are so many examples of the city putting up money for things. This just does not seem to be a priority.”
The scene a few months earlier - May 21, 2011. Construction equipment in the barren St. Saviour's site. (Photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)
The city Parks Department needs between $50,000 and $70,000 to begin the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a formal process that takes at least a few months whereby the city can legally buy private property.
By law, Parks cannot take the money for ULURP from the capital fund, which is the roughly $5.5 million purse that has been set aside by borough politicians to actually purchase the land.
There are several other places where the money could come from, and Croft and other advocates for the park have been trying to be creative in order to secure the funds.
He has reached out to the National Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit that seeks to secure parkland, as well as the City Parks Foundation, a nonprofit with a similar mission on a city level.
So far, he has heard nothing.
The money could also come from city discretionary funding given to lawmakers on a city level.
“I think honestly there has been a real reluctance and an insecurity to getting this job done on the part of the electeds,” Croft said. “They’re not as aggressive as the community wants them to be.”
A total of 13 lawmakers sent a letter to the state Department of Environmental Conservation in September asking for funds for the ULURP process.
The potential park at St. Saviour’s is on a list of projects that could receive funding by the DEC in the future, but the electeds requested that some funds be released early to cover the cost of ULURP.
“The release of the funding is imperative, since delaying the start of the ULURP process further threatens the acquisition of the site and increases the cost of the project,” the letter said.
Neighbors who live across from the lot have witnessed a barrage of construction in the two months since the city agreed to begin ULURP.
Concrete block walls have risen from the dusty lot that housed only foundations in August.
Water mains and other utilities appear to have been installed, according to residents who monitor the construction.
In June, a full stop work order was issued on the property.
According to the city Department of Buildings website, the stop work order was fully lifted at the end of August. But for another section of the lot, a partial stop work order is still in effect.
But if the city actually begins the ULURP process, it will attempt to acquire the entire property, even the portion with the impending warehouses, according to Croft.
Christina Wilkinson has also advocated heavily for the park, and was incredulous the city could not find the money somewhere.
“We are to supposed to believe ... there isn’t $70,000 somewhere in the city’s $66 billion budget for a park for Maspeth?” she asked, citing multi-million projects like the renovation of Times Square and a new golf course in the Bronx.
In July 2007, all 185 trees on the property were cut down without any warning. Shortly after the parsonage was demolished, the church was removed and the land was leveled.