Sunday, May 22, 2011

Maspeth Residents Rally For St. Saviour's Park

Young Community Voices Heard. Jakub - 2 ½ and his sister Emilia, 4 ½, in front of the St. Saviour's Park site at 57th Road and 58th St. A rendering of proposed park hangs above them. (Photos: © Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.


More than one hundred people rallied in front of the once lush St. Saviour's historic church site in Maspeth, Queens, on Saturday, May 21, 2011, to advocate for a new park. Maspeth residents, led by the Newtown Historical Society and civic groups C.O.M.E.T. and Juniper Park Civic Association, called on the City to begin the ULURP process and acquire the land through condemnation (eminent domain) if the City and the property's owner, Maspeth Development, LLC, cannot come to terms.

The two sides are reportedly $ 2 million dollars apart according to City sources. Park supporters accused the property owner of holding the park hostage in order to get a higher price.

Elected officials including Council Members Elizabeth Crowley and Karen Koslowitz, Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi and long time park supporter State Senator Tony Avella joined local residents and community groups to push for the green space. Supporters held signs in multiple languages including Polish and Spanish.

For more than five years the community has been fighting to convert the 1.5 acre property into a public park.

$ 3.5 million dollars has been secured by Council Member Crowley and Borough President Helen Marshall, enough for the City to start the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) required to take possession of the property, according to Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, who has been leading the charge.

The City, meanwhile, is now saying it does not have enough money to begin the process.

Critics assert that the City has been dragging its feet on starting the ULURP process, which in itself could take years to complete. ULURP is required before the City may take title to the property. The community fears the developer will not wait that long and may either sell or develop the property in the meantime. This scenario is unacceptable to area residents.

"If the City and the property owner can't come to a purchase agreement, then the City needs to consider condemnation," said Wilkinson. "They need to take possession of this site by any means necessary. More open space is something the community needs, not just something we would like to have."

The last time a rally was held at the St. Saviour's site was in 2008 when the historic church building was about to be razed. At the time, the area's elected officials were not interested in supporting the effort to create a park and neither was the Parks Department. A lot has changed since then.

Today, the church is in storage awaiting its new home. The City is in negotiations with the property owner in the hopes of coming to a purchase agreement. Elected officials at every level of government are now all on board with acquiring the site and converting it into a desperately needed public park.

Maspeth is very underserved by parks. There are a total of 12 acres of parkland for more than 36,000 residents, which is about 1 acre for every 3,000 residents. The City of New York has calculated the ideal amount of open space to be 2.5 acres of parkland per 1000 residents. Maspeth is also located in what is known as “asthma alley” because of the lack of greenery and prevalence of pollution in western Queens. This site is also not within 10 minutes walking distance of a park, a goal put forth by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in PLANYC2030, his blueprint for the future of a sustainable city.

"We don't need more warehouses in Maspeth and we don't need a garbage dump," Wilkinson said. "What we need, and what future generations will need, is more parkland."

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.

The property was once a verdant oasis according to residents.

"It was like an ocean breeze with all the trees," said 72-year-old Gerry Olechna who has lived in the area her entire life. "During the Winter it was a scene right out of a Currier & Ives painting. And look at what they've done."

"They made it a garbage dump," added 81-year-old Rosemarie Pittelli, who also grew up in the neighborhood, 61 of those years living across the street from the church site. "It's really sickening. It used to be so beautiful."

"We've already been at this for 5 years," said Wilkinson. "It shouldn't take 5 more years, but if it does, so be it. We won't stop advocating for this much needed green space." - Geoffrey Croft

May 21, 2011. construction equipment in the barren St. Saviour's site.

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