Commissioner-turned-lobbyist's interference may doom historic church
January 29, 2008 ‒ The Juniper Park Civic Association is calling for an investigation into the connection between the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit and the Parkside Group lobbying firm after this Sunday's published report by New York Magazine which stated that former CAU Commissioner Patrick Brennan, now a partner in the Parkside Group, has been working on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's presidential campaign "for most of the past year".
Brennan's last day at CAU was May 29, 2007. This suggests that Brennan, while on the city payroll, may have been working as a campaign consultant for Bloomberg in order to make his role official at Parkside. This would be a breach of ethics as it represents a clear conflict of interest.
The Bloomberg-Parkside connection may also explain why JPCA's proposal to convert the historic St. Saviour's site into a park and cultural center was torpedoed by several city agencies that had initially shown interest in the plan. The Parkside Group has also been working for the site's foreign owners, operating as Maspeth Development LLC, since 2006 to help them secure a zoning change to build housing on the site.
"This explains why after making some inroads, we ultimately were given the runaround by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Parks Department and the Community Affairs Unit," said Christina Wilkinson, Chair of JPCA's Committee to Save St. Saviour's. "Something smells rotten at City Hall and it's emanating from the mayor's office."
In summer of 2007, the Parks department told JPCA that while they did not have money for the acquisition and restoration of the site, they agreed that this neighborhood was underserved by parks, and that they would write a letter of interest so that JPCA could present it to various land trusts for consideration. After stalling for 2 months, Parks then informed JPCA that they had toured the site with the owner who had just desecrated it by chopping down the 185 trees present on the property, and then decided they had no interest. This is not surprising in light of the fact that Mr. Brennan, who we now know is still intimately close to Mayor Bloomberg, had become a key figure at the Parkside group.
Because of the inaction by the Bloomberg administration and other elected officials, St. Saviour's and the land it sits on are now more endangered than ever. The developer initially sought to obtain a zoning change from manufacturing to residential to build housing on the site and hired the Parkside Group lobbying firm when community opposition started to grow. That plan was about to obtain approval from City Planning when the developer suddenly pulled the application in November. On December 12th, the parsonage on the property was demolished.
The developers are now telling mixed stories about what they plan to do with the site. The site has been listed for sale on several websites, but inquiries are reportedly not answered. "I know of several interested parties who have tried to contact the developers about the property, but their calls are never returned" said Tony Nunziato, chair of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force.
This, plus a letter sent to adjacent property owners on January 22 notifying them of a plan to demolish the 161-year old sanctuary, has fueled speculation that the development group will resubmit its rezoning plan ‒ this time without including the church.
"With Parkside pushing from both the inside and the outside, this is sounding more and more like a 'done deal' said Robert Holden, President of the JPCA.
If the Mayor continues to support the desecration of this site, either through continued inaction or in conjunction with Parkside's efforts, his legacy will be the destruction of a middle class neighborhood and the of loss of American history. The site of Maspeth Hill, upon which the church stands, is believed to contain graves of the Native Americans called the Mespachtes Indians. The Shinnecock Tribal Council has expressed interest in field testing of the site to uncover any remains present. There may also be graves of early parishioners on site. The Revolutionary War was also fought in this vicinity, and numerous artifacts were recovered here in the 1990s that likely date back to that era. A cannon was unearthed in the 1960s on a neighboring property. British troops were quartered in the Queens Head Tavern and Clinton House, both of which stood around the corner.
"This is going to be the legacy that Mayor Bloomberg leaves New York as he pursues the highest office in our country?" said Holden. "The destruction of Native American and Revolutionary War history? The connection between Parkside and CAU needs to be scrutinized."
Contact: Christina Wilkinson, Chair, JPCA Committee to Save St. Saviour's (718) 909-3831
Robert Holden, President, JPCA (917) 776-7609
Tony Nunziato, Chair, Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force (917) 865-2767