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Queens Chronicle

Community presses city to acquire site

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Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 4:07 pm, Thu Jun 2, 2011.

   More than 80 people last Saturday rallied outside the St. Saviour’s site in Maspeth, urging the city to acquire the land — by purchase or through eminent domain — and turn it into a green space.

   Organized by Newtown Historical Society President Christina Wilkinson, the demonstration is the latest salvo in the push for a public park on the 2.5-acre plot that began in 2006.

   “Unfortunately, instead of a green space, we have a garbage dump behind us,” Wilkinson said.

   The land, located at 57th Road and 58th Street and owned by Maspeth Development LLC, once housed the historic St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church and parsonage. The city reportedly is interested in obtaining the site and creating a park, but negotiations between the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and the owner are at a stalemate.

   Developer Scott Kushnick told the Chronicle last month that the two sides are “not close,” with the gap believed to be several million dollars. The city is prohibited from purchasing property above market value, and Kushnick recently initiated the construction of warehouses on a quarter of the land, but work has been sporadic.

   Parks has indicated to Wilkinson that it does not have the funding to even start the Universal Land Use Review Procedure. However, Wilkinson pointed out that through various channels, including Newtown Creek settlement money and the City Council, among others, “by the summer, there may be more than $9 million earmarked for this project.”

   City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who in the past, along with Queens Borough President Helen Marshall’s office, has helped secure millions for the project, confirmed Saturday that the money is there and the administration “wants this to become a park.

   “The reality is with this budget upcoming, we can have the $5 million the city is willing to spend,” Crowley said. “We’re here to put pressure on Maspeth Development. The seller should be realistic about the value of the land.”

   Still, Wilkinson and many others characterized the administration as needlessly dragging its feet on the issue.

   “The Parks Department needs to be held responsible for adhering to its own procedures and the procedures of the City of New York,” Wilkinson said. “I’ve never heard of the city walking away from a piece of property they really wanted to own.”

   A Parks newsletter states that “if the terms of the sale are not agreed upon, the Law Department acquires the prospective parkland by condemnation, and title is vested.”

   Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, said the city should have obtained the St. Saviour’s site a long time ago.

   “If greedy landlords aren’t willing to sell the property, then we should condemn the land,” Croft said. “Eminent domain is being used, as we see, for other projects in the city. Eminent domain should be a very, very important part of this conversation. We need elected officials to use it as a negotiating tool.”

   Paul Graziano, who sits on the board of advisors of the Historic Districts Council, said Western Maspeth needs a green space.

   “This area is one of the least served in the city when it comes to parkland,” he asserted.

   Following the rally, Croft wondered aloud why, after five years, the city has not compelled Maspeth Development to relinquish the property.

   “So much of our parkland throughout history has been gotten through eminent domain,” he noted. “Why not this?”

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