Saturday, July 24, 2010

Owner Pushes to Develop St. Saviour's by Michael Cusenza - Queens Chronicle

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The briefly dormant saga of the St. Saviour’s site in Maspeth recently picked up as the developer applied to erect warehouses on the land activists and elected officials have pushed to become a park.

Maspeth Development LLC earlier this month submitted paperwork to the city Department of Buildings to obtain permits to construct four one-story storage units on approximately a quarter of the 1.5-acre property at the corner of 57th Drive and 58th Street. Public records indicated this week that the permits were pending zoning approval.

Calls seeking comment on Wednesday from Scott Kushnick of Maspeth Development were not returned.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall allocated a combined $1.5 million in the Fiscal Year 2011 budget to acquire the land. While it is unknown how much Maspeth Development is seeking for the site, Kushnick indicated last week in a Daily News report that no offer he considered reasonable had been made.

“I hope the owners of the property see this commitment and begin negotiations to sell the property to the city as soon as possible,” Crowley said this week in a statement.

Dan Andrews, spokesman for Marshall, said the Borough President’s Office has been corresponding with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which handles property transactions for the city and will “talk to the owner about issues surrounding acquisition.”

A partial stop-work order on the site was issued in November by the DOB, which has also hit Maspeth Development with three violations since 2006. Newtown Historical Society President Christina Wilkinson, who had been at the forefront of the battle to preserve the trees and buildings, and later advocated along with other civic leaders for green space, said the land in and around the cordoned-off property is not being properly maintained.

“This is the quintessential definition of blight — it’s causing the property values in the area to come down,” she told the Queens Chronicle Wednesday before asserting that the city should condemn the land in order to acquire it at a reasonable price.

“Even if [the developer] does move ahead and build the four warehouses, there’s still three-quarters of the land left,” Wilkinson noted. “But I’m hoping negotiations stop that.”

The barren site formerly housed the Episcopal St. Saviour’s church and parsonage, which was designed by renowned architect Richard Upjohn and dated back to the mid-19th century. The trees and parsonage were razed three years ago. All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village offered to house the church on its property, but the plan never materialized and the disassembled house of worship has been in storage since the spring of 2008.

Wilkinson said successfully preventing the owners from developing the land for residential use three years ago, and gradually gaining governmental support have been the community’s two most crucial victories regarding St. Saviour’s; but recent wrinkles show the narrative is not complete.

“Things were quiet there for a while,” Wilkinson related. “It just seems like a chess game. And chess games between good players take a long time.”