St. Saviour’s activists want state to release funds

A rendering depicting the community's idea for a park at the St. Saviour's site. Image courtesy Christina Wilkinson
TimesLedger Newspapers

Advocates for a park at the St. Saviour’s site in Maspeth are hoping the state will change its mind and provide crucial funds for the project’s future.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation pledged to dish out $7 million in green projects to compensate for the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant’s role in polluting the waterway of the same name, and the winning suggestions were announced Friday.

The state budgeted $75,000 for one of two projects at St. Saviour’s, which is a lot where a church used to sit but where a developer is currently building warehouses. The project is about 1 percent of the total allocation money. But the DEC put it near the bottom of a list of other, more expensive projects that must be completed first, which means the money might dry up before St. Saviour’s’ number is even called.

“It’s just very strange how this all came about, and I hope our electeds get the DEC to make an adjustment,” said Christina Wilkinson, an advocate for the park.

The money — which pales in comparison to projects like a $3 million boathouse in Brooklyn and a $2 million park in Dutch Kills — would be used by the city to begin legal proceedings to acquire the land where the park would be built, know as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

On Sept. 30, a group of 13 Queens lawmakers sent a letter to the DEC asking to release the funds before the final projects were selected from a list of 22 suggestions on how to use the money.

“The release of the funding is imperative, since delaying the start of ULURP further threatens the acquisition and increases the cost of the project,” the letter said.

On Friday they saw that the money had been set aside, but might never be released at all.

A spokesman from the DEC said the state finalized the projects in the order they were ranked by the community.

“The state’s review did not change how the projects are ranked, but provides an opportunity for the development of projects on the secondary list should funds become available after the priority list is exhausted,” said a DEC spokesman.

But the final ranking put St. Saviour’s fourth, not its current seventh.

The DEC is not the agency responsible for actually seeing that the projects are completed. That responsibility lies with the nonprofit City Parks Foundation, the group that released the list and order of the projects.

And the city Parks Department would be the agency responsible for implementing ULURP and has repeatedly pledged to begin the process as soon as the money is available.

Although there is $5.5 million in funds already allocated toward the park from various elected officials and sources, none of that capital money can be used for ULURP.

And the process will likely end in the city using eminent domain to seize the property, according to Geoffrey Croft, president of the nonprofit NYC Park Advocates, who said he had spoken with high-ranking Parks officials.

“The expectation is that the elected will continue to fund the acquisition for St. Saviour’s and by the time ULURP is complete we’ll have money to buy it,” he said.

But Parks has refused to make an official statement regarding the use of eminent domain.

A separate St. Saviour’s project was included in the winning entries, and would set aside $1.125 million for the park’s construction.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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