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Park advocates plan rally

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A letter sent to a Maspeth homeowner turned into a call to arms for residents who want a park on the site where St. Saviour’s church used to sit.

The neighborhood will hold a rally Saturday at 1 p.m. after the city Parks Department sent a letter dated May 3 to Thomas Vitale, who lives near the site, saying the city does not have enough money to begin the process to acquire the parcel of land — called the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure — and eventually build a park.

“In order to start the city’s ULURP process, we must have adequate funds for the purchase and a reasonable expectation that the city and the property owner will be able to negotiate an acceptable price. At this time neither condition has been met,” the letter said.

It was signed by Deputy Commissioner Joshua Laird.

But just the day before, City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) told a Maspeth civic association that the city was ready to start the negotiations, which was good news to longtime advocates.

“I was surprised because on May 2 Crowley ... said Parks was going to push forward with ULURP,” said Christina Wilkinson of the Newtown Historical Society and an advocate of the possible park. “We took that as a pretty positive sign, but the very next day this letter from the assistant parks director said they are not starting ULURP.”

Wilkinson said there is a discrepancy that needs to be addressed.

To further bolster her argument that the department should have started the process months ago, Wilkinson cited a December letter from Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to the Juniper Park Civic Association, saying the city could begin the ULURP process after $3 million was donated ´╗┐from Borough President Helen Marshall and Crowley.

An article on the department’s website also states that the entire sum of money is not required upfront and that land can be taken by eminent domain.

Crowley still supports the park, and released a statement saying “Creating a green space in Maspeth’s former St. Saviour’s site is a big priority for me and the relevant local elected officials. I am continuing to work with my colleagues in government and community residents to keep up the pressure on the administration and the current owner to find a resolution that helps us achieve this goal.” But the department informed Crowley days afterward that the process could in fact not begin.

The Parks Deparment did not comment by press time.

The state Department of Transportation has said it would build a park on the site as compensation for the upcoming Kosciuszko Bridge reconstruction, which will disrupt the neighborhood.

But the state cannot build the park until the city owns the land, which it has been unable to buy.

The city has thus far been unable to agree on a price tag for the property with owner Scott Kushnick.´╗┐

Kushnick said he would be happy to sell and have the space used as a park, but he does not want to lose more money on a project that he has sunk millions into over the years.

He has said that the warehouses currently being constructed on the parcel of land is the “worst case scenario” for both him and the community.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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