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Late activist has park view named for him

TimesLedger Newspapers

The site of what almost became a nine-story apartment building on Douglaston Parkway will morph into a scenic overlook at Old Oak Pond, all in the name of the late activist Joe Hellmann.

Hellmann, who died at the age of 70 in 2010, was a ringleader in the fight to turn the lot on Douglaston Parkway into a park and oppose a potential apartment building in its way. Even when other residents of the community thought it was impossible, Hellmann led the charge in resisting the new development on the property in order to preserve the natural landscape of the area.

Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece announced at the board’s April meeting that an overlook would be built at the spot in his honor, fulfilling one of his wishes before his death.

It was Hellmann’s wish to see a walkway through the park so that residents could enjoy the scenic view.

“His heart was in the right place. He was an environmentalist,” Iannece said. “He was instrumental in getting that park together and he just kept on fighting. He was all the things a good civic activist is supposed to be.”

According to Iannece, an overlook will be built near the entrance of the park off Douglaston Parkway, with benches and fencing as well as a sign with Hellmann’s name on it, identifying the overlook in his honor. With some help from the city Parks Department, Douglaston residents and some community board members will clean the park, create a pathway down to the nearby water and thin out trees to enhance the view from the overlook.

Most importantly, a historic plaque will be installed telling the story of Hellmann’s fight for the park’s creation and paying tribute to his service to Douglaston.

Hellmann was a director of the Douglaston Civic Association, served on the community board, was a founding member of the Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance and was a director of the Douglaston-Little Neck Historical Society.

Iannece said he hopes to see the overlook finished by this time next year.

The original plan, introduced last June, was to name the area Joseph B. Hellmann Park, but pushback from the Parks Department resulted in the overlook as a compromise.

Hellmann’s wife, Joan, said she was happy to see her late husband being recognized by the community he fought so hard for.

“I’m absolutely thrilled. Joe put so much work in for that area,” Joan Hellmann said. “I can’t wait for it to happen. The people of Douglaston love the environment and I’m sure they’ll be walking through there, too.”

Douglaston Civic Association President Eliott Socci said it was a worthy tribute to Hellmann’s legacy.

“It’s a good spot with a beautiful view. That’s for sure,” Socci said. “There are a lot of people in the immediate area who are environmentally oriented.”

Iannece said a sign with Hellmann’s name should appear at the park within the next month or so with a rendering of the overlook to follow some weeks later.

“It’s a community board initiative, but for a worthy recipient,” Iannece said. “To me, there’s no greater honor.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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