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Queens Chronicle

Building For The Future, Fighting For The Past

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Posted: Thursday, December 28, 2006 12:00 am

A new shopping mall, an old church and a decades old debate over the city’s leash laws dominated headlines in Mid and Central Queens neighborhoods in 2006.

Glendale got an infusion of new commercial life this year with the opening of The Shops at Atlas Park, the borough’s largest retail development of the last 30 years. The mall, located at 80 00 Cooper Ave., brought a bevy of new stores and restaurants to residents long hungering for more upscale (but still affordable) shopping and dining options in their neighborhood.

Thirty new retailers have opened since the mall’s May ribbon cutting, with three stores slated to begin operations next month, plus a wine shop and a sports bar to follow in February. Store openings will continue throughout the year. The development also features an eight screen movie theater and a second parking lot will open in March, raising the total spaces from 800 to 1,500.

Formerly a sprawling industrial lot filled with food importers and light manufacturers, the complex now boasts 400,000 square feet of retail space. By the time all retail projects are complete, the mall will employ 1,200 people and generate $6 million in annual sales tax revenues, according to developers.

A decidedly less welcome change was taking place in nearby Maspeth. A year ago Tuesday, a Richmond Hill based developer took over the defunct St. Savior’s Church and, within weeks, began demolishing it to make way for a proposed 72 units of housing. The demolition sparked vehement opposition from residents, who have fought tooth and nail ever since to preserve both the 159 year old church and the 1.5 acres of surrounding land.

After a failed bid to have the city Landmarks Preservation Commission designate the church a historic landmark, residents got a reprieve in April when the city halted demolition after workers discovered asbestos in the ceiling tiles. The Juniper Park Civic Association later helped obtain a stop work order at the site, which is still in force today.

But in July, Queens Supreme Court Judge Patricia Satterfield lifted the original restraining order, even while the stop work order remained in effect. That action has only led to confusion among developers and prompted yet another abortive effort to destroy the building this month.

On the morning of Dec. 9, Juniper Park Civic Association President Bob Holden and fellow civic members raced to the church after learning that crowbar wielding workers were removing windows from the property on orders from the developer, who claimed the work was legal because of the lifted restraining order. Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R Middle Village) later arrived to notify police that the workers were violating the existing stop work order and trespassing on the property, civic members said. Although no arrests were made, officers ordered the crew to cease its activity.

That last ditch effort, once again, saved the church from imminent destruction, but its longterm future is still in question. Since May, Gallagher has endorsed a highly controversial deal whereby developers could build around the property, but leave the church intact. But preservationists continue insisting such a compromise is unacceptable. “This (church) is one of the few remaining vestiges of the borough’s history,” said Simeon Bankoff, director of the Manhattan based Historic Districts Council. “We are talking about land that is almost primordial, and that’s not something you just throw away helter skelter.”

The fate of St. Savior’s Church may remain undecided, but a decades old debate over the city’s leash laws came to an end this year when city health officials voted to codify an informal policy allowing dogs to roam freely in public parks between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.

In June, Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village became the epicenter of that debate after the Juniper Park Civic Association sued the city for allegedly violating its own law by allowing off leash privileges in the 55 acre park. Queens Supreme Court Judge Peter Kelly rejected the suit on Dec. 1, asserting that the civic had exhibited a “fundamental misunderstanding of the ‘law’ at issue.” He urged health officials to permanently formalize the city’s off leash policy.

Sure enough, the city unanimously approved a proposal to change the policy five days later, citing overwhelming public support for off leash privileges. That decision has dismayed civic members, who have until the end of the year to decide whether they will appeal Kelly’s ruling. “This (decision) is mind boggling,” Holden said. “The big losers in this case are park users.”

Welcome to the discussion.