As the owner recently began constructing warehouses on a portion of the land on which historic St. Saviour’s church and parsonage once stood, the activist who has spearheaded the push to have a public park installed at the site said the Bloomberg administration has options to acquire the property, but is dragging its feet.
Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, said the Department of Parks and Recreation should have started the Universal Land Use Review Procedure prior to the city entering into negotiations with the owner, Maspeth Development LLC, which according to the Parks website, is actually the last step in the property acquisition process.
“We would want to know the outcome of the ULURP first,” she told the Chronicle. “Why would you do it backwards?”
The Parks document also 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.”
Asked for comment and if Parks plans on starting ULURP, a spokeswoman said in an e-mail to the Chronicle, “The city met with the owners of the site that formerly was home to St. Saviour’s church in Maspeth to negotiate the terms of acquiring the land. The city and the landowner were unable to agree on a price for the property.”
Kushnick said he toured the property with Parks officials about three and a half years ago, “and they said ‘No, thanks.’”
The Department of Citywide Adminstrative Services and Maspeth Development remain millions of dollars apart on a price to purchase the land.
“We’re not close,” said Scott Kushnick of Maspeth Development, before noting that only one offer has been made. “I’m not trying to blame the city. I’m even willing to take a loss — but not what I would if I were to accept their offer.”
There are other options. Wilkinson said the city has $3.5 million in funding to buy the site, which according to the national nonprofit organization Trust for Public Land is approximately market value. Additionally, the state Department of Transportation has said it would cover the cost of installing the park as part of the Kosciuszko Bridge project, as long as DCAS purchases the property.
“That’s half the cost the city doesn’t have to worry about,” Wilkinson noted.
Kushnick insists “nothing’s dead, if there are reasonable offers made,” but acknowledged frustration with the transition from acquiring the land four years ago to development, or lack thereof.
“It’s the most difficult project I’ve had to deal with, by far,” he said. “I’ve never had community issues before, never had Department of Buildings issues before on the scale that I’ve had.”
Regarding the latter, Kushnick referenced having the permits to construct the warehouses audited in December, an action he characterized as “rare.” He also said that he has received myriad correspondences from the offices of elected officials on every level.
“Clearly there is somebody behind-the-scenes who’s trying to cost me as much money as possible,” Kushnick asserted. “But in reality, it’s having the opposite effect. The more they try to delay me, the less flexibility there is. I had no alternative but to develop. It’s a worst-case scenario for me and the community. The more millions and millions I put into this, the more millions and millions I’m going to need to get from it. I can’t just walk away from the property.”
Kushnick said he is scheduled to meet “in the next few weeks” with representatives from a city agency he declined to name.
Wilkinson said the onus now is on Parks, and that area elected officials should ensure that the agency starts ULURP.
“I’m just sick of being in limbo for five years, not knowing what’s going to happen,” she related.