Led by the Juniper Park Civic Association, the 2002/03 struggle to save the Elmhurst Gas Tanks site from commercial development, particularly a big box Home Depot store, was a fight to save our neighborhood. In the end it was a remarkable and stunning victory, a storybook ending where the good guys won, a victory for the people of the City of New York, a victory against overdevelopment and the perception that big money always wins out.
Never give up
Faced with overwhelming odds in the fight against Keyspan's plan to sell the 6-acre Elmhurst Gas Tanks property, we formed a task force with civic and business leaders from Maspeth and Middle Village. The message was that our community would not tolerate a Home Depot and other commercial overdevelopment that would destroy our quality of life bringing in hundreds of additional cars and trucks. Along with Tony Nunziato, Manny Caruana, Ed Kampermann, former Councilman Tom Ognibene and Anthony Nunziato, Jr., our strategy was to present a good argument and plan to stop this project and return this land to the community.
We were told by many people, including many politicians, that this was an impossible fight to win. There were too many obstacles. First and foremost Keyspan Energy, a multi-billion dollar utility giant that had grown in recent years into an international natural gas conglomerate. Then there was the Mattone Group, a well connected mega-developer based in Queens County with a string of huge developments and several ties to Queens politicians. And last but certainly not least, The Home Depot, the well-financed home improvement mega-store that has certainly been through these neighborhood battles before.
Unite the community and research!
First and foremost, we had to convince Keyspan that they were making a big mistake and that we would do everything in our power to oppose their decision to sell the property. Obviously Keyspan, as owners of the property, controlled the destiny of the land.
However there would be strategies and a series of events that would eventually shift the momentum in favor of the community. Our elected officials needed to show city officials that the community would rally together and unite against this plan. With research in hand we made our case, our elected officials heard us and the Mayor listened.
Victories like this make all of the time spent on volunteering worthwhile and rewarding. To all of the members of the community who worked so hard... thank you! Your effort was monumental, your struggle frustrating at times, but the outcome of your efforts was nothing short of a miracle.
Miracle... Park... that would be a fitting name but Elmhurst Park works just fine, especially the word, park!
Elmhurst Park opened quietly in April 2011 without much fanfare. On the first day, hundreds of kids gleefully rolled down the green grass hill and played in the innovative playground. The Department of Parks design team did a magnificent job on the layout. When the restrooms are installed, in about a year, the park will be complete. The Juniper Park Civic Association and all of the people who volunteered on fighting for the park will know that they had something to say about the future of their neighborhood. They left a 6.5 acre monument and legacy for future generations to enjoy.