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Queens Chronicle

Advocates hopeful EPF cuts won’t fly

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Posted: Thursday, April 1, 2010 12:00 am

A state budget resolution presented last week by Senate Democrats is renewing hope for plans to convert the former St. Saviour’s Church site in Maspeth into a passive park.

Under the Senate plan, the state’s Environmental Protection Fund would remain at current levels of about $222 million. Gov. David Paterson had proposed slashing nearly $69 million from the fund — reducing money available to maintain, revitalize and acquire the park land by more than 30 percent. Coffers used for acquiring new park land — money needed to purchase the Maspeth property — would be frozen under the governor’s budget.

“Parks and historic sites are an efficient contributor to our state’s economy and also provide families with affordable recreation that they are looking for right now,” state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said in a statement. “In rejecting the governor’s proposal to cut funding and close state parks and historic sites, the Senate majority is preserving not only state treasures, but jobs for New Yorker’s in an extremely difficult economy.”

Plans to convert the former St. Saviour’s site had garnered strong support from local lawmakers and approval from the Parks Department late last year — Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe expressed interest in buying the space if the acquisition was funded by elected officials. But without money from the EPF, any efforts to obtain the property, which was purchased for nearly $6 million in 2006, would be difficult.

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association and a long-time advocate for preserving the site, said pledges to preserve state parks funding were critical to acquiring the site.

“As long as it’s there and it’s not developed there’s a chance,” Holden said. “We call it the ghost of St. Saviour’s. Somehow this whole project — something has always managed to work out. That’s why you have to be optimistic.”

Holden and Newtown Historical Society President Christina Wilkinson helped lead a 2008 effort to relocate St. Saviour’s — a church designed by master architect Robert Upjohn in 1847 — after the site’s owner threatened to demolish the historic structure and replace it with residential units. But when the economy soured, Maspeth Development scrapped its housing plans and attempted to sell the land — sparking renewed interest in reclaiming the site for public use.

Lawmakers are still negotiating the state’s 2010-2011 budget plan, which was due on Thursday.

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