August, 1996: Keyspan begins dismantling the Elmhurst Gas Tanks. Tells community it will use land for storage of vehicles.
September, 2001: Keyspan announces plans to sell Elmhurst Gas Tanks Property.
November 8, 2001: Assemblywoman Marge Markey holds meeting with community civic leaders and Keyspan representatives to hear community concerns. Civic leaders disappointed that Keyspan representatives have no information and are sent to meeting to “just listen.” Civic leaders request that at the next meeting Keyspan send executive officers of the company who can answer community questions regarding the property.
June 14, 2002: Keyspan puts out an RFQ initiated by Scott Panzer of Newmark Realty on behalf of KeySpan to market the property.
August 21, 2002: First JPCA/Keyspan meeting -The Juniper Park Civic Association forms an Ad Hoc committee to address the Keyspan issue. The committee consists of JPCA President Robert Holden, First Vice President Tiffany Elliott, Second Vice President Lorraine Sciulli and JPCA Advisor Ed Kampermann. After a delay of about two weeks, the meeting takes place in the rectory of Our Lady of Hope. Along with members of the JPCA Ad Hoc Committee the meeting was attended by Congressmen Joe Crowley and Anthony Weiner, Assemblywoman Marge Markey, Council Members Dennis Gallagher and Melinda Katz. Keyspan representative VP David Manning says that his company will clean property to residential standards. Manning shows three plans: Residential, a 34 store mall, and big box plan (see photo #1) for superstore. Congressman Weiner asks Keyspan to donate a portion of the property for community use. JPCA committee opposes commercial development. Asks Keyspan to donate land for a park. Keyspan says that donation of land is out of the question.
September 19, 2002: So far around 50 entities have expressed interest in purchasing the Elmhurst Gas Tanks site, which is zoned M-3 (heavy manufacturing) and could probably command $13 million. Representatives from Petracca & Sons present their commercial plan to the Juniper Park Civic membership at Our Lady of Hope Auditorium. They plan retail stores and a 1,200-car parking lot on the site. They also said a portion would be made available to a build a YMCA. Many meeting attendees wanted a park or residential houses, not stores. Saying the plans were in a “very rough, very early stage,” firm president Eugene Petracca promised to consider the community’s desires.
October 5, 2002: The Juniper Park Civic Association distributes over 800 surveys (see photo #2) to residents living within 1/4 mile radius of the Elmhurst Gas Tanks site. Just over 500 are returned. Of the surveys returned, 367 people wanted a park, 79 wanted residential, 18 wanted a mall and only 10 wanted a superstore (ie. Home Depot),
October 24, 2002: Keyspan sends Scott Panzer of Newmark Realty to represent them at Juniper Park Civic Town Meeting. He shows three development plans then proceeds to push for a Home Depot. Manny Caruana of Maspeth says he has a problem when a real estate agent speaks on behalf of Keyspan. Bob Holden suggests Keyspan donate the site and make it a park. Panser said that the Public Service Commission would not permit Keyspan to donate the property. Holden blasts Keyspan not coming to the community before starting the process. “How dare Keyspan even suggest building a Home Depot.,” said Holden. Panser fires back saying that he is giving realistic solutions to the development and warned the crowd not to be misled and fired up by rhetoric from politicians (see photo #3). At that point Councilman Gallagher fired back. “I am deeply offended by your smug attitude, you show a great disrespect to the people of this community and we will have a meeting with Keyspan about this.” Senator Maltese said we will do everything in our power to make sure that this community is not victimized.
November 13, 2002 David Manning, Keyspan’s Vice President for Corporate Affairs makes presentation to Community Board 5. Several board members object to Keyspan’s handling of the proposed sale. Board member Tony Nunziato tells Manning… “For almost 100 years we’ve suffered with the eyesore of those ugly tanks…we’ve paid for your service and you profited from us. By selling it and not giving the land to the community you’re disposing of our quality of life.” Bob Holden asks Manning, “what’s the rush to sell the land… the site is now valued at $14 million (up 2 million in one year)…the board is asking you to slow down the process so that the community can get all the information it needs. Assemblyman Michael Cohen (see photo #5) tells Manning that Keyspan was an example of “poor government relations…, I feel you are abusing these people, I don’t like the attitude you’ve had with the community. I feel these people made reasonable requests.”
November 19, 2002 Representatives from Petracca & Sons presented their development proposal for the Elmhurst Gas Tanks site (see photo #4) during a Community Board 4 Land Use Committee meeting. As reported in the Times Newsweekly newspaper, Phillip Robinson informed that Petracca & Sons could build a YMCA, 35 retail stores and a 1,200-car parking lot on the six-acre parcel. Robinson and other Petracca & Sons employees have been speaking to civic groups, elected officials and planning boards to get ideas from locals.“Community input has been all over the map,” he said. The Juniper Park Civic Association has advocated for the owner, KeySpan, to donate the land to the Parks Department. Other groups have called for a school, a post office, a library and a 9/11 memorial. Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET) has expressed opposition to a YMCA. “We’re not opposed to a Y per se, we just don’t want it at this site because it would be too close to residential,” said COMET President Rosemarie Daraio, who is circulating petitions. “We want a buffer zone.” Said CB 4 Member Tony Moreno: “We don’t want the Y, but we want the rest of this stuff. We need stores and other places that people can walk to to get medicine, etc.”
November 22, 2002. Offer of purchase is made to KeySpan by a joint venture of Mattone Group and Starwood Ceruzzi.
December 2002: Keyspan accepts the Mattone Group Starwood Ceruzzi offer that calls for a big box development (see photo #6). Mattone group lines up Home Depot as major tenant. After finding out that Lowe’s Home Improvement Center was interested in the property, Home Depot outbids them.
March 28, 2003: Our elected officials meet with KeySpan’s Chair/CEO Robert Catell (see photo #7) to request that the sale be put on hold. At the meeting which was held in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s Manhattan office, facilitated by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, Catell assured Markey, Congressman Joseph Crowley, Congressman Anthony Weiner, State Senator Serphin Maltese, and City Council Member Melinda Katz that KeySpan will furlough the sale of the Elmhurst site until next year. “KeySpan agreed to postpone the sale of the property until the end of this year in order to give us an opportunity to explore our respective budgets and see if any funds can be found to purchase the land,” stated Markey.
April 3, 2003- KeySpan informs Mattone Group that they have entered an agreement with elected officials that provided them the opportunity to acquire the property up to December 31, 2003. However an agreement with Keyspan was reached whereby the Mattone Group would complete negotiations with KeySpan on the Purchase and Sale Agreement.
June 30, 2003: Contract negotiations complete with KeySpan and Mattone Group. Term sheets prepared with tenants.
July 2003: Developer Joseph Mattone meets with Congressman Joseph Crowley and State Senator Serf Maltese to inform them of the deal.
August 8, 2003: Councilwoman Melinda Katz and Councilman Dennis Gallagher allocate $3 million to assist fellow City, State and Federal legislators in acquiring the property. These are the first funds apportioned in these efforts. The $3 million allocated by Katz and Gallagher will come from the 2005 capital budget. The amount covers approximately one-fourth of the site’s estimated $12 million cost.
September 8, 2003: Joseph Mattone and Doug MacLaury, a Mattone senior vice president, arrange a meeting with Bob Holden (see photo #8), president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. Mattone tells Holden that they have signed a contract with Keyspan and plan to build a Home Depot, a Self Storage Company and a Commerce Bank on the Elmhurst Gas Tanks Property. They prepare a packet for Holden containing some language of the contract, plans and facts and figures as to why the land cannot and will not be a park.
Holden immediately goes back to the Juniper Civic office writes a press release about Keyspan’s double dealing.
MacLaury later tells a Ridgewood Ledger reporter…”We went in to try to work with (Holden), and the next day it’s splattered all over the newspapers.”
Bob Holden calls Councilman Dennis Gallagher (see photo #9) and tells him about the meeting. Gallagher calls Keyspan VP David Manning who confirms contract information.
The fight is On!
Hurricane Threat on September 18, 2003:
The meeting goes on…a sign of things to come?
Even with a huge hurricane predicted, Juniper Park Civic Association Town Meeting went on as scheduled at Our Lady of Hope School. Over 150 residents braved the elements. Draped on either side of the JPCA banner are signs that read, “No Home Depot: KeySpan Too Big to Care.” At the meeting, President Robert Holden said of the Mattone’s Group proposal, “This is probably the most important problem that we’re going to face in this community for a very long time. The future of our community in Middle Village and Maspeth depends on what we do in the next few weeks.”
Councilman Gallagher said, “We’re going to meet with KeySpan. We’re going to ask to look at the contract. We’re going to see if there’s a way out. But first and foremost we’re going to let them know that we’re not happy with the way they treated us and that our community will not take this lying down, that we will fight and continue to fight until the end.”
September 19, 2003: Bob Holden forms Community Task Force to deal with Keyspan problem. First meeting at Maspeth Federal Savings attended by Tony Nunziato, Manny Caruana, Ed Kampermann, Fred Strobel, Maryana Zero, James O’Kane, Ken Rudzwick, Bruce Sapienza. Representatives from Maspeth Federal Savings, Maspeth Chamber of Commerce, Maspeth Town Hall, Ridgewood Moose Lodge, Juniper Park Civic Association. Group devises strategy to fight Keyspan plan to sell property,
September 26, 2003: Task Force meets with Keyspan representatives on environmental issues. Former City Councilman Tom Ognibene joins Task Force. Keyspan refuses to send company executives to meeting. Task Force breaks off negotiations with Keyspan. Vows to stage protests.
October 6th Councilman Dennis Gallagher attends the monthly meeting of COMET (Citizens of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together). Councilman Gallagher speaks to his opposition, of the Home Depot, bank, and self storage facility slated for development at the former Elmhurst gas tank sight. The leadership of COMET opposes a protest and rally. Some of the members support Big Box and others want a strip mall. Councilman Gallagher encourages COMET to join the fight for a park. Leadership of COMET says no, some independent members of COMET join the coalition.
October 9, 2003: First Task Force Town Meeting at P.S.58 in Maspeth. Residents voice opposition. Display signs such as: “Keyscam” “No Home Depot” “Keyspan…Too Big to Care” (see #10). Holden opened the meeting by stating, “Anyone who says we can’t win this fight doesn’t know these organizations and doesn’t know Maspeth.” Community Board 5 Environmental Committee Chair, Tony Nunziato (photo #11) said, “…It’s time to say… enough. It’s time to say, “let’s boycott, and shut off our gas together. No Home Depot. No development.” Momentum building as neighborhood residents start to voice loud objections. Task Force Member Ed Kampermann leads opposition to Home Depot plan and challenges elected officials on funding options (see photo #12). Councilman Dennis Gallagher and State Senator Serf Maltese are the only elected officials to appear at meeting. Residents upset that more elected officials are not present. Gallagher fires up the crowd saying that he felt duped by Keyspan. “I’m looking around here tonight and I’m inspired… we will fight and if that means going out and protesting, I’m up for it,” he says.
October 16: Juniper Park Civic Executive Board meeting, Task Force members invited to attend. Elected officials invited. Councilman Dennis Gallagher & Assemblywoman Marge Markey attend. Task Force sets date for first protest demonstration. Buses also ready for demonstration at Keyspan headquarters in Brooklyn. Councilman Gallagher agrees to help with mailing for Town Meeting. JPCA Board and Task Force demand that elected officials pressure Keyspan.
October 22: Former Councilman Tom Ognibene, a Task Force member, writes a letter (see photo #13) to Mayor Bloomberg asking the Mayor to get involved in the Elmhurst Gas Tanks site issue.
October 23: Over 400 residents attend Juniper Park Civic Association meeting. Congressmen Joe Crowley, Congressman Anthony Weiner, State Senator Serf Maltese, Assemblyman Michael Cohen, Assembly Member Marge Markey (see photo #14), Councilman Dennis Gallagher and former Councilman Tom Ognibene attend. The tone is very different as all are forceful against Keyspan’s Home Depot plan. Maltese says, “as far as he is concerned a Home Depot will not be built on the Elmhurst Gas Tanks site.”
October 24, 2003: Elected officials meet with Keyspan VP David Manning in Assemblywoman Markey’s office. All are united and all show Keyspan that they will not tolerate a Home Depot on the site. They ask Manning to tear up the contract with the Mattone Group.
October 27, 2003: Council Member Dennis Gallagher meets with John Crotty, the Mayor’s Director of Legislative Affairs, to discuss the issue of KeySpan. Crotty sets up a meeting with the Council Member to make a pitch to Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff for the City to purchase the property. Crotty asks Gallagher about Ognibene’s letter to the Mayor.
October 29, 2003: Gallagher meets with Deputy Mayor Doctoroff (see photo #15) and had subsequent meetings, personally, with Mayor Bloomberg and an agreement was made that the City should attempt to purchase the property. Mayor Bloomberg contacted Bob Catell, the CEO of KeySpan and Catell agreed in principle to accept the City’s offer to purchase the land.
October 30, 2003: Mayor Bloomberg attends Councilman Gallagher’s fundraiser and announces that the Elmhurst Gas Tanks site should not be a Home Depot. “We should have good news for this community within 60 days regarding the site, we need open space,” says the Mayor.
November 4, 2003: Two 30’ banners are strung over the Long Island Expressway with the word: “KEYSCAM” (see photo #16). The Queens Chronicle newspaper reports that the culprits were unknown.
November 6: Bob Holden calls former Councilman Tom Ognibene and asks him to contact Keyspan on behalf of the Task Force. Councilman Gallagher, on behalf of Deputy Mayor Doctoroff, calls Holden and asks that the Community Task Force tone down the “Keyscam” rhetoric. After consulting with Tony Nunziato and Manny Caruana, Holden calls Gallagher and says the Task Force will tone it down when Keyspan reaches an agreement with the City and the community has it in writing. Gallagher calls back and says an agreement should be forthcoming within two weeks. Holden says that the Task Force will still go ahead with Saturday’s protest unless an agreement is reached. At 7pm Gallagher calls Holden to say that an agreement has been reached and Mayor Bloomberg will appear on the WABC Radio Show with John Gambling to announce the deal!
November 7: On the Mayor’s weekly radio show with John Gambling (see photo #17), Council Member Dennis Gallagher on behalf of the Mayor announced that a deal had been made with KeySpan and that the Mattone contract for building of Home Depot would be deemed null and void and that the City intends to purchase this land for placement of a passive use park. The purchase price will be between $1.00 and $1,000,000.00, depending upon KeySpan and the Public Service Commission working out a deal with the City of New York.
November 8, 2003: Instead of a protest residents cheer and thank Mayor Bloomberg for coming to the rescue of the community. Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff makes the announcement to 300 residents who had gathered on the cold and windy Saturday morning. Doctoroff breaks champagne bottle (see photo #18) given to him by Margaret Magnus of the JPCA.
November 10, 2003: Mayor Bloomberg visits Elmhurst Gas Tanks site with Parks Commissioner Andrian Benepe. Bob Holden tells the Mayor that it would have been appropriate for him to ride in on a white horse. Margaret Magnus and Ed Kampermann greet the Mayor (see photo #19).
Our community was fortunate that when the time was right, all the elected officials from the federal, state and local governments stepped up to the plate and fought for the preservation of our community. One elected official made every single meeting whether it was the planning stages for rallies and protests, or public forums or civic association meetings, he stood up for our middle class, taxpaying citizens and that was Council Member Dennis Gallagher.
His insistence that the Mayor of the City of New York involve himself in the negotiations with KeySpan was a integral part in our victory. Kudos to all our elected officials, but especially our Councilman Gallagher. We will not forget your standing up and fighting and your inspirational leadership when all looked grim. You encouraged us to fight, to protest and to stand up for what we believe is right. From here on in, our community will fight through thick and thin for what we believe is right.
The community rallied and motivated our elected officials into action. They heard their constituents and worked together to reach out to the Mayor who when presented all the facts did the best for the community and not big business. This was a victory for all communities and a victory that should motivate citizens of New York City that they do have something to say about protecting the quality of life of their neighborhoods.