Neighborhood: Middle Village & Maspeth
Favorite ISSUE: Over-development
“This town’s not big enough for the both of us,” is the message Bob Holden usually tells real estate developers looking to build big box stores, multi-family homes, and commercial space in his neighborhood.
Holden is the President of the Juniper Valley Civic Organization, the Public Safety Committee Chairman for Community Board 5, and editor and photographer for the group’s quarterly magazine, The Juniper Berry. He also has photographed, but not taken credit for, two professional produced banners decrying over-development that were hung from a Maspeth bridge over the Long Island Expressway.
Holden’s strongly-held belief that Middle Village is overcrowded has led him into numerous fights with those looking to build in the area. The biggest fight was over the former site of the Elmhurst Gas Tanks. The property’s owner, Keyspan Energy, said they’d give elected officials some time to raise enough money to buy the property, which they said was worth more than $12 million.
Skeptical money would be raised in time, Keyspan began talks with private developers, who planned on opening a Home Depot, Commerce Bank, storage facility and other businesses.
Holden and other advocates used this fact to paint Keyspan as disingenuous in their negotiations with elected officials. That, combined with Councilman Dennis Gallagher and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, helped Keyspan sell the 6.5-acre property to the city for $1. Bloomberg then announced the city would create a park there.
Holden said the fight was an underdog victory of biblical proportions: “We were David and Goliath fighting in the rain storm.”
It’s not hard to tell what Bob Holden is thinking. He usually lets everyone know. Loudly. He has organized dozens of protest and rallies in and around Middle Village and Maspeth. In his hands are either giant, colorful posters, or simply, a bullhorn. Either way, his thoughts get aired.
Subtlty is not the weapon of choice when battling development.
His ability to air his grievances through his civic group, their magazine, protests, or the community board, make him a force to be reckoned with. Who listens? Mayor Bloomberg, his predecessor Rudy Giuliani, Gov. George Pataki, and Congressman Joseph Crowley, all of whom received Man of the Year honors from Holden’s civic organization.
“Bob has redefined the role of a civic association president and community activist,” said Councilman Dennis Gallagher. “My most memorable moment with Bob Holden and Tony Nunziato [another character] was standing in the Keyspan site: that we were victorious, and defeated a huge commercial establishment on Grand Avenue.”
In fact, Holden’s tenaciousness got the best of him during that struggle. He organized a protest, made dozens of signs and got more than 100 protesters out early on a Saturday morning.
Only problem is that by the time the sun rose that morning, Gallagher got Bloomberg to secure a deal to buy the park, leaving Holden and his crowd to turn their protest into a celebration.