(November 14, 2011) Last week, park and community advocates including the Juniper Park Civic Association, Newtown Historical Society and NYC Park Advocates were shocked to learn that the City's Department of Parks and Recreation and Council Member Elizabeth Crowley have dropped their bid to acquire the 1.5-acre former site of St. Saviour's Church in Maspeth, Queens. The groups had been working for 5 years to have this site converted into parkland before the decision to quit was made by city officials without any community notification or input.
"I was dumbfounded when I received a call from a Daily News reporter on Thursday, November 10th, asking me for my reaction to the Parks Dept's decision to nix the acquisition of the St. Saviour's site," said Christina Wilkinson, President of Newtown Historical Society. "It was news to me and every other volunteer involved in this project. As late as November 1st, Parks had indicated that they were ready to proceed with ULURP if and when the elected officials were to raise the money required for the process and we had been working up until this point to find this money."
Crowley had called Wilkinson personally on Tuesday, November 8th and told her of the opportunity to acquire a 14,875 sq ft property at the corner of 61st Street and Maspeth Avenue from Martin Luther School, which currently uses the site as an accessory parking lot. Crowley said she needed to use the money she had already raised for St. Saviour's or she might lose it during the City's upcoming budget modification process. It should be noted that the loss of elected officials' allocated capital funding happens frequently. It may delay projects, but it rarely kills them. It is incumbent upon elected officials to replace lost monies during subsequent budgets and to seek out and lobby for Mayoral, Speaker and Queens Delegation funding. (During her time in the City Council, Elizabeth Crowley has not secured a dime of funding from any of these sources and this year did not put any money toward the St. Saviour's acquisition.)
Crowley said that Parks was on board with acquiring the Martin Luther site and had asked DCAS to appraise the property so that negotiations with the school could commence.
"Crowley assured me that it was her intention to use some of her funding toward the Martin Luther site, and then continue to seek other green space in Maspeth, including the St. Saviour's site," Wilkinson said. "I took her at her word. She asked me to gather community feedback on her proposal. I was in the process of doing so when I found out that she had gone to the Daily News with her idea and was pitching the Martin Luther site as a "replacement" for the St. Saviour's site. 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."
The irresponsible decision by Council Member Crowley and the Parks Dept to prematurely announce the non-guaranteed acquisition of the 14,785 sq ft Martin Luther site as a "replacement" for the 62,500 sq ft. St. Saviour's project means that the original project is most likely ineligible for $1.2M from the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Mitigation Funding that it was being considered for. St. Saviour's had been listed as a priority 2 finalist, which meant it could have been eligible for funding had any of the four priority 1 projects been found to be unfeasible. As was mentioned in the DEC letter to the City Parks Foundation dated 10/25/11, the determination of the feasibility is to be made within 60 days, or by December 25th. In addition, as of November 11th, State Senator Joseph Addabbo was waiting for a return call from DEC regarding $300,000 of unallocated priority 1 settlement money and if some of it could be used to cover the St. Saviour's ULURP fees now. Addabbo also was in the process of finding out whether part of a grant from his predecessor, former State Senator Serf Maltese, could have covered the ULURP costs. Assembly Member Cathy Nolan was quoted in a story by the Times Ledger dated 11/12, "I will be working with other elected officials to advocate again for St. Saviour's. The destruction of the church and yard has been a tragedy that needs to be addressed." Apparently, Crowley never informed the other elected officials representing the area about her plan to pull the rug out from under St. Saviour's in order to claim a win at the Martin Luther site.
This unforeseen development also means that the tentative offer secured by Maspeth activist Tony Nunziato from NYSDOT to fund the construction of the park at St. Saviour's as part of the Kosciuszko bridge replacement project is also in jeopardy. Elizabeth Crowley could not wait to run to the media and announce her "Maspeth park victory" ‒ in effect, disqualifying the community from receiving funding for the only project it had on the DEC and NYSDOT lists and slapping her own colleagues in the face in the process.
Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden said, "Unfortunately it appears that Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley has given up the fight to save one of the most historic sites in the City of New York and Maspeth's most important landmark. I'm not surprised. After failing to convince city officials of its importance, Crowley has also given up the fight to reassemble St. Saviour's church, one of the last remaining Carpenter Gothic-style buildings designed by world famous architect, Richard Upjohn in 1847. Saving the church and land were two of Crowley's campaign promises. 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."
In spite of this avoidable setback, Juniper Park Civic Association, Newtown Historical Society and NYC Park Advocates will not be giving up on their proposal to convert the St. Saviour's site into a park and we call on the Bloomberg administration and local elected officials to work together toward this goal and make it happen. Maspeth is sorely underserved by parkland and needs and deserves to have the historic St. Saviour's site, the last sizable piece of open space left in the area, preserved as a park.