After years of clamoring for parkland at the St. Saviour’s site in Maspeth, community leaders had their hopes dashed when the city said it is all but abandoning its pursuit of the land last week.
“The acquisition of the former St. Saviour’s property remains a challenge,” a city Parks Department representative said in a statement Monday. “We remain keenly interested in building a new park in Maspeth and are currently working with Borough President [Helen] Marshall and Council Member [Elizabeth] Crowley to explore other potential acquisition of underderveloped property in western Maspeth.”
Maspeth Development, owner of the St. Saviour’s site at 57-40 58th St., could not be reached for comment, but Crowley indicated the company was not intent on selling it.
The city is “focusing” on other sites, the Parks representative said, and Crowley said a smaller site at 61st Street and Maspeth Avenue near the Martin Luther High School, at 60-02 Maspeth Ave. in Maspeth, was under consideration.
“My office has worked hard to pursue a park at St. Saviour’s and will continue to support any effort to make that area a greenspace,” the councilwoman said. “However, it is very difficult to acquire property when the owner is not willing to sell. The possibility of acquiring the Martin Luther site, which has a willing seller, is real and it should be pursued.”
Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, said she was disappointed in the city’s and Crowley’s decision to look elsewhere for parkland.
“I can’t believe they torpedoed this project, which has borough-wide and City Hall support, in return for a much smaller site that is nothing but a maybe at this point and is not in jeopardy of being sold or developed as the St. Saviour’s site is,” Wilkinson said.
The fight to acquire the site for 1 1/2 acres of parkland began five years ago.
The 160-year-old church was dismantled and put in a Maspeth storage facility in May 2008. Civic leaders wanted to see St. Saviour’s eventually reconstructed.
“While the church still sits in trailers in west Maspeth, the St. Saviour’s historic land now contains warehouses as symbolic and grotesque monuments to the failure of the City of New York and our elected officials to recognize the importance of saving the last remaining landmarks of Maspeth’s history for future generations to enjoy,” said Juniper Park Civic Association Robert Holden.
Marshall, Crowley and other elected officials secured $5.5 million for the city to buy the site from Maspeth Development — not nearly enough to purchase the property, where a warehouse is going up and water mains and utilities have been installed — and remediate it.
The city had the property appraised, and it was valued at roughly $5 million. By law, the city is not allowed to pay more than what it determines in market value, but the developer is asking for about $7 million.
Groups such as the Newtown Historical Society, Juniper Park Civic Association and parks advocates have complained about the dearth of park space in Maspeth and the St. Saviour’s site was their preferred location for a new park.
“There’s not a lot of available open space there,” said Geoffrey Croft of the Manhattan-based NYC Park Advocates. “That’s why the St. Saviour’s site was so great.”
Croft blasted the city for not taking community input into account in its decision and said the Martin Luther site is inadequate.
“It was a decision that was not made in consultation with the community,” Croft said. “In no way should the Martin Luther site be considered a replacement. It’s a quarter of the size” of St. Saviour’s.
Croft said he did not understand why the city could not buy both the St. Saviour’s site and the Martin Luther property.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz
©2011 Community News Group
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