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Maspeth residents and lawmakers gathered Saturday at the old St. Saviour’s Church site to publicly show their support for a park, but developments behind the scenes with park officials made it clear the decision was about money.
More than 100 people came out with signs reading “Maspeth needs a park” and “the city’s bureaucracy at work” and called on the city Parks Department to begin the process needed to acquire the land, which is currently owned by developer Scott Kushnick.
“It’s a wonderful project that could bring life to that community,” said Geoffrey Croft, of New York City Parks Advocates. “It’s such a win-win for everybody.”
But the city is dragging its feet on acquiring the property, according to many members of the community.
Christina Wilkinson, activist and president of the Newtown Historical Society, organized the rally after getting mixed signals from Parks officials regarding the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the process by which the department acquires land, and whether the city should begin or not.
In documents supplied to TimesLedger Newspapers and dated the morning of the rally, Assistant Parks Commissioner Joshua Laird said the department cannot start the ULURP process until sufficient funds for the site have been secured.
“Unfortunately, even with the generous contributions of area elected officials, we simply do not have adequate funding at this point,” the document said. “We also don’t have a land owner willing to sell the property at a reasonable price, or a plan for securing funds for construction and our management of the park.”
But Wilkinson said there will be nearly $9 million in funds for the project by the summer and that the state Department of Transportation has already committed to building the park as part of the Kosciuszko Bridge reconstruction project.
But Croft said even if the city cannot muster the funds, it needs a backup plan.
Croft spoke with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe following the rally about eminent domain.
According to Croft, the commissioner said the city is still seeking the site.
“The commissioner and I spoke and he said that the city is very interested in that site,” Croft said. “They want to make that happen.”
And Croft made it clear that eminent domain, a process in which the city would essentially commandeer the land, needs to be considered as a serious option.
“I also discussed the issue of eminent domain with the commissioner, and told him that should be a very important option if the city cannot come to terms,” Croft said.
Croft said Mayor Michael Bloomberg has used eminent domain for economic projects like the Willets Point redevelopment plan, and that this would be beneficial to the Maspeth community.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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