Birds and trees destroyed

The Juniper Park Civic Association is outraged at a Maspeth developer for cutting down centuries-old trees at St. Saviour’s Church in Maspeth, Queens, a property that the civic association has been trying to convince the city to save and convert into a park. A rally will be held on July 14th to denounce the actions of the developer and Councilman Gallagher, who knew of the developer’s plan and did nothing to stop it.

Gallagher has been working with the developer’s lobbying firm, Parkside Group, as well as the owner of the property, Maspeth Development, LLC, who want to develop housing on the sacred site, rather than work with leaders of the Maspeth community who want to save the entire property and convert it into a park and community center. In addition, the community is fighting overdevelopment, Gallagher says he is against overdevelopment, yet is pushing for more housing in an area that is already crowded, polluted and lacking in several basic city services.

St. Saviour’s Church was founded by Maspeth pioneers, was designed and built in 1847 by world-renowned master architect, Richard Upjohn, and consecrated in 1848. It was used for church purposes through December 2005, when it was taken over by an Israeli development group. Councilman Gallagher is pushing for a plan that calls for preservation of the church building but allows for building of 3-family homes around it. The land is historic, as the Revolutionary War was fought in this spot, and is as important as the church buildings. Building on the property would destroy the pristine landscape.

The JPCA and Councilman Tony Avella held a rally on July 1 to call for the city to save the site as an important green space. The developer is now attempting to take the green space – and the argument for saving it – away. On Tuesday morning, July 10th, workers invaded the property and cut down many of the 185 trees that were growing on the sacred land, which killed baby birds present in nests in the trees. This violates the federal Migratory Bird Act, which protects most bird species found in NYC. Councilman Dennis Gallagher had been informed by the developer of the plan, and gave his blessing. The developer is required to obtain a zoning change from the present manufacturing zone to residential before any construction may proceed.

The Parkside Group has recently named former Community Assistance Unit Commissioner William Brennan as a president of their lobbying firm. Mr. Brennan was asked by JPCA to help save the property when he was working for Mayor Bloomberg, but he refused to get involved. Robert Holden, President of JPCA, said, “Matt Gorton, the CAU liaison for western Queens, told us he would set up a meeting with Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, but he later came to us and said he wouldn’t help us. Maybe his boss had been actively working toward helping the developer even before signing on with Parkside. It certainly explains the city’s reluctance to convert this land into a park. Preserving this green space is a no-brainer considering the people in this community do not have a park to visit and saving this part of our natural environment fits in perfectly with the Mayor’s 2030 plan.”

The Parkside Group is a heavily Democratic lobbying firm but Councilman Gallagher, one of only 3 Republican members of the NYC Council, has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from them. Gallagher’s campaign finance records indicate that he has also accepted tens of thousands of dollars from donors connected to the building industry over the years.

Christina Wilkinson, Chair of the JPCA’s Committee to Save St. Saviour’s, said, “Councilman Gallagher has been acting irrationally since this fight began. Who in their right mind would sit by and allow the destruction of trees, birds and sacred land?”

The Juniper Park Civic Association will hold an emergency press conference to denounce the actions of the developer and Councilman Dennis Gallagher in front of St. Saviour’s Church (57-40 58th Street in Maspeth, Queens) at 12:00 noon on Saturday, July 14th, 2007.