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Lancman: Save church lot

TimesLedger Newspapers

Before the rumbling trucks and diesel fumes moved in, Maspeth was rich with greenery as one of the earliest settlements on geographic Long Island.

Those early days long paved over, community leaders gathered at the former site of a historic church to call for change and attempt to reclaim a piece of land from modern industry.

State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) joined members of the Juniper Park Civic Association, as well as parks and landmark advocates, calling for the use of eminent domain to convert the former St. Saviour’s Church site — now a vacant warehouse — into a public park.

“The people of Maspeth have suffered through this saga long enough,” the assemblyman said last Thursday. “Maspeth doesn’t need another industrial eyesore — it needs a park, and if I’m elected to Congress I’ll fight to invoke eminent domain and raise the funds to turn this site into a public park that this community can be proud of.”

St. Saviour’s Church, which had stood at the intersection of 57th Road and 58th Street on a tree-filled plot since 1847, was sold in 1996 to the Korean Methodist Church for $450,000 and then again in 2005 to Maspeth Development LLC for $6 million.

In 2008, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission struck down the community’s attempt to have the property landmarked. The property was eventually taken apart piece by piece to preserve its historic nature, and the parts of the church currently sit in trailers near the site.

Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said the land is one of the borough’s most historic properties.

“The first settlers on Long Island settled on this land in 1642, and this was a significant piece of property during the Revolutionary War,” Holden said. “This property must be saved for future generations to enjoy while learning about the history of Queens County.”

But while history is important to residents, most are more concerned with the neighborhood’s lack of green space. According to a city Parks Department estimate for the proper ratio of park space in a community, Maspeth should have 88 acres of parkland.

It currently has 12.

“We were supposed to get all this parkland here in Maspeth. Instead, we have warehouses and truck yards,” said Ed Kampermann, who lives on the border of Middle Village and Maspeth.

Paul Graziano, an urban planning expert who belongs to the Queens Civic Congress, said the warehouse that now stands on part of the St. Saviour’s land is empty and was only erected by the owner to place a false value on the property.

“This is a travesty,” he said. “We didn’t need another warehouse in the first place and we certainly don’t need this empty one here.”

Maspeth Development LLC, owner of the St. Saviour’s site, at 57-40 58th St., could not be reached for comment.

“We’re here because of a greedy landlord,” said Geoffrey Croft, of the Manhattan-based NYC Park Advocates. “It’s sad when you come to a neighborhood desperate for green space and you see this unsightly warehouse.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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