Recent momentum to convert the former St. Saviour’s site into a passive park is now in jeopardy after Gov. David Paterson proposed drastic cuts to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.
Paterson has proposed slashing nearly $69 million from the fund — reducing money available to maintain, revitalize and acquire park land by more than 30 percent. Spending on new acquisitions would be frozen under the governor’s plan.
Now Maspeth park advocates are urging state lawmakers to resist Paterson’s proposals as negotiations begin on the state’s 2010-11 budget.
Plans to convert the site had garnered strong support from local lawmakers and approval from the city Parks Department late last year — Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe expressed interest in buying the space if the acquisition was publicly funded by elected officials. But without money from the EPF, any efforts to obtain the property, which a developer purchased for nearly $6 million in 2006, would be difficult.
“Acquisition is the first step,” said Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society. “If they just acquire it now and get the other money for creating the park — that’s fine. As long as we know it’s going to be saved.”
Wilkinson has been involved in efforts to preserve the site for nearly four years. She 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.
A number of area elected officials have already signed or written letters opposing the cuts, including Assembly members Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth), Cathy Nolan (D-Sunnyside) and Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), as well as state Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach).
Under the law, a final state budget must be approved by the Legislature before April 1.