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Queens Chronicle

Parks Dept. drops St. Saviour for now

Civic leaders livid; Crowley says other sites nearby more feasible

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Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 12:12 pm, Wed Nov 23, 2011.

Everyone agrees that Maspeth needs parkland, and no one is saying that the effort to put a park on the site of the old Saint Saviour’s Church is dead.

But advocates of the proposal are expressing their disappointment in the city’s Parks Department and City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who are redirecting their efforts — and money — at least for the time being.

So for now the city will pursue talks with Martin Luther High School about acquiring a lot at the corner of 61st Street and Maspeth Avenue, which at 14,875 square feet is roughly a quarter of the size of the 62,500-square foot St. Saviour’s land.

The property, at 57th Road and 59th Street, was the site of St. Saviour’s Church built in 1847, a church that now sits disassembled in trailers at All Faiths Cemetery.

The city had offered the owners, Maspeth Development Corp. $5 million toward a reported asking price of about $7 million. Local politicians and civic organizations had been attempting to come up with the difference.

But Maspeth Development has begun building warehouses on the site and city officials feel that the Martin Luther property is much more doable at this juncture.

“My office has worked hard to pursue the park at St. Saviour’s and will continue to support any effort to make that area a green space,” Crowley said in a statement issued by her office. “However, it is very difficult to acquire property when the owner is not willing to sell.”

She said the Martin Luther site is a real possibility with a willing seller and should be pursued in any case.

Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, does not see why the projects have to be mutually exclusive.

“I’m very saddened and embarrassed,” he said. “The community had fought so long and hard, and they do need that space.”

Croft is not turning his nose up at the Martin Luther parcel, but said by size alone it could not be considered a replacement should St. Saviour’s fall through permanently.

“And Martin Luther is very preliminary,” he said. “Why not pursue both in tandem?”

Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, and Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association were far less diplomatic in a joint statement.

“I was dumbfounded,” Wilkinson said. “It was news to me and every other volunteer involved in this project.”

One of Crowley’s concerns was that money she had allocated from the council could disappear if not expended soon. But Wilkinson called the move irresponsible.

“The loss of elected members’ capital money happens frequently,” she said. “It may delay projects, but it rarely kills them.”

Holden calls the warehouses on the St. Saviour site a monument to the failure of the city to recognize the need to preserve open space and to restore the historic church on the site.

“Unfortunately, it appears that Councilwoman Crowley has given up the fight to save one of the most historic sites in the City of New York and Maspeth’s most important landmark,” Holden said, adding that preservation of both was a campaign promise from the councilwoman.

A Parks Department spokesman, like Crowley, said St. Saviour’s remains a challenge but is not out of the picture. The statement said they are working with Crowley and Borough President Helen Marshall to secure more green space in Maspeth.

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