Saturday, November 12, 2011

Elizabeth Crowley To Transfer Money From Hard Fought St. Saviour’s Project - Parks Dept. Walks

A makeshift basketball court kept in place with a cinder block faces the former St. Saviour’s church site on Thursday. For more than five years the community has been fighting to turn this formerly lush church property into a public park. This week they learned from a Daily News article that Council Member Elizabeth Crowley was pulling the money she allocated for that proposed park in order to pursue an alternative site approximately one fourth the size of St. Saviour’s. The Parks Department immediately responded saying they were no longer pursuing the St Saviour's site. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates.) Click on images to enlarge.

Critics have also strongly questioned the timing of her announcement and her decision to go to the media to announce her plan instead of waiting until next month when the DEC is required to make its determination on the first round of Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Mitigation Funding. On October 25th the Department of Environmental Protection (DEC) announced the projects it had chosen in a letter to the City Parks Foundation. The DEC has sixty days to make their final decision whether the projects were all feasible.

According to Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, State Senator Joseph Addabbo was waiting for a return call from DEC regarding $300,000 of unallocated settlement money and if some of it could be used to cover the St. Saviour’s ULURP fees now.

"The decision by Council Member Crowley and the Parks Dept to prematurely announce the non-guaranteed acquisition of the $14,785 sq ft Martin Luther site as a replacement for the 62,500 sq ft. St. Saviour's project means that the original project is now ineligible for $1.2M from the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Mitigation Funding that it was being considered for," said Christina Wilkinson the lead in fighting for the park.

"St. Saviour's had been listed as a priority 2 finalist, which meant it could have been eligible for funding had any of the priority 1 projects been found to be unfeasible. The determination of the feasibility is to be made next month. But Elizabeth Crowley could not wait that long to run to the Daily News and announce her "Maspeth park victory" in effect, screwing the community out of funding for the only project it had on the DEC list. A project many people had fought hard for. "

According to Ms. Wilkinson, Council member Crowley called her on Tuesday, November 8th and told her of the opportunity to acquire a 14,875 sq ft property at the corner of 61st Street and Maspeth Avenue from Martin Luther School, which currently uses the site as an accessory parking lot. Crowley said that Parks was on board with acquiring the Martin Luther site and had asked DCAS to appraise the property so that negotiations with the school could commence.

“Crowley assured me that it was her intention to use some of her funding toward the Martin Luther site, and then continue to seek other green space in Maspeth, including the St. Saviour’s site,” Wilkinson said. “I took her at her word. She asked me to gather community feedback on her proposal. I was in the process of doing so when I found out a few hours later that she had gone to the Daily News with her idea and was pitching the Martin Luther site as a “replacement” for the St. Saviour’s site. I can’t believe they torpedoed this project which has borough-wide and city hall support, in return for a much smaller site that is nothing but a maybe at this point and is not in jeopardy of being sold or developed as the St. Saviour’s site is."

Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden says that about two months ago the association approached the Parks Department with the idea of transferring $75,000 from the original community grant allocated by former State Senator Serf Maltese to rebuild the church to begin ULURP for the park.

According to Mr. Holden, Maltese's successor, Senator Joseph Addabbo, says the money is still there. Holden noted that his staff keeps stalling him on that issue and he has still not received an answer.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and Joshua Laird last week reiterated to a Walk In The Park that the Parks Department had not ruled out using eminent domain to acquire the St. Saviour's site.

People are also wondering that since the acquisition of the St. Saviour's site is much further along, why going after the Martin Luther site is not being done in tandem with the St. Saviour's site.

Multiple people who have been involved with the process for many years from the community say this decision was made without any community consultation or participation.

The community has also asked that since allocation funds have been earmarked for St. Saviour's, what guarantee is there that these funds will be available for the Martin Luther site?

“Unfortunately it appears that Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley has given up the fight to save one of the most historic sites in the City of New York and Maspeth’s most important landmark," Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden said.

"I’m not surprised. The St. Saviour’s historic land now contains warehouses as symbolic and grotesque monuments to the failure of the City of New York and our elected officials to recognize the importance of saving the last remaining landmarks of Maspeth’s history for future generations to enjoy.”

Repeated requests seeking a response from Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley went unanswered. - Geoffrey Croft


The city has given up its long fight to acquire the land where a historic Maspeth church once stood and turn it into park space, according to the New York Daily News.

But the city and City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) are now looking into purchasing a smaller parcel of land from the nearby Martin Luther School as an alternative to the St. Saviour’s site.

A Parks Department official told the Daily News Thursday that the city would not pursue the St. Saviour’s site, much to the dismay of locals who had been pushing for years for a park there.

But “we remain keenly interested in building a new park in Maspeth,” Parks Department spokesman Zachary Feder said in a statement.

An official from Maspeth Development, which owns the St. Saviour’s site, said the city’s offers were “significantly” lower than what the company paid for the property in 2006.

“I was willing to take a loss,” said company President Scott Kushnick. But “the price was way below anything I could accept.”

Kushnick began constructing warehouses there earlier this year. His original plan to build homes there were was scuttled by the city and the housing market crash, he said.

Crowley and the Queens Borough President Helen Marshall earmarked more than $4 million to buy the property and preserve and reconstruct the historic church.

But Crowley said she’s worried they could lose the money set aside if it isn’t used soon. “I don’t want that money to go away,” she said.

She said she recently spoke with the Martin Luther School, in Maspeth, about selling the city a third of an acre.

At 14,875 sq ft, the Martin Luther School site at the corner of 61 Street and Maspeth Avenue is about one forth the size of the St. Saviour's site. The property used to belong to St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, which is across the street.

“We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place right now,” said Crowley, who had pushed for St. Saviour’s to become a park.

“I want the people who live in and around Maspeth to have green space,” she said.

Randal Gast, head of the middle and high school, said the 52-year-old Lutheran institution is “willing to listen and engage in conversation” with the city.

The property is currently used only sporadically by the school, he said.

Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Park Advocates, a Manhattan-based group, said the potential park land swap “should no way be considered a replacement for getting St. Saviour’s.”

“The new site is about a fourth of the size,” Croft said. “That community has so little park land.”

Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, based in Ridgewood, called the loss of St. Saviour’s “unacceptable.”

“It was a very historic site and it means a lot to the community,” she said. “It’s more than just green space — it’s our history.”

Read More:

City surrenders in long battle to turn historic St. Saviour’s site into Maspeth park

Crowley hopes to purchase smaller parcel as alternative
New York Daily News - November 10, 2011 - By Clare Trapasso

City looking at St. Saviour’s alternative

Times Ledger - November 17, 2011 - By Howard Koplowitz

Queens Chronicle - November 17, 2011 - by Michael Gannon


The South and West Forum - November 17, 2011

A Walk In The Park - November 7, 2011

A Walk In The Park - October 13, 2011

A Walk In the Park - May 22, 2011

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