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Albany cutbacks threaten St. Saviour’s park plan

Belt-tightening in Albany could result in a major loss for Maspeth, preservationists said.

The former site of St. Saviour’s Church could be eligible for state Environmental Protection Fund grants to transform it into a community park, but the program is facing major cutbacks as the state Legislature struggles to close a projected $8.2billion deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.

Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, said activists have asked state Assembly members to sign on to a letter being circulated by Assembly Environmental Protection Committee Chairman Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), asking the governor to restore the funds.

State Assemblyman Michael Miller (D-Glendale) said he would probably sign on to Sweeney’s letter after he speaks with his colleague.

“I don’t know if this is the best time to acquire property,” he said, noting the state’s budget woes are severe. “However, you don’t want to jeopardize what we already have in the state.”

Gov. David Paterson’s initial budget proposed a 20 percent reduction to the fund from $255 million to $205 million. The governor’s budget proposal also includes changing the EPF’s primary funding source from the real estate transfer tax to an updated bottle deposit law expected to bring in an estimated $118 million in unclaimed recycling deposits.

These funding shifts will also indefinitely suspend the fund’s property acquisition program, currently the best hope for the state Parks Department, said Parks Commissioner Carol Ash in a Feb. 5 letter to Crowley.

Two months of negotiations remain before the March 31 deadline for approving a state budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

“Replacing these dedicated funds with another funding scheme, as Gov. Paterson has proposed, will have far-reaching negative consequences for the state’s environment and economy,” said Tim Sweeney of the nonprofit Parks & Trails New York in a statement.

In a letter to a Ridgewood resident last summer, city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said the city would consider purchasing the land if its current owner was willing to sell it, but said local elected officials would have to provide the “full purchase price of the property, its improvement as a park and the cost of maintaining the site into the future.”

The property’s value was assessed in April 2009 at $112,950, according to the city Department of Finance.

Acquiring the land would be the last chapter in the saga of the church, which was constructed in 1847 and used by the same Episcopal congregation until the mid-1990s.

The Juniper Park Civic Association and other city-based preservation groups spent two years raising funds to disassemble the church and remove it from its old property, where developers were hoping to construct private homes. That project cost $140,000.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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