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Un-Done Deal

A stunning victory was proclaimed by community residents of Maspeth, Elmhurst and Middle Village on Saturday morning, at what was originally intended to be a protest rally. The united efforts of community, elected officials and a mayor willing to listen, have turned what many called a "done" deal into a triumphant reversal.
For more than a year, the combined communities and their elected officials have led a charge against the sale of the former Elmhurst Gas Tank site to a private development group.
The struggle ensued when KeySpan, the owner of the site, inked a deal to sell the parcel to The Mattone Group for $14 million. Plans by the developers to build a Home Depot and several other retail institutions sent waves of anger and shock through the community.
Juniper Valley Civic Association President Bob Holden was the pivotal organizer in the thrust against the energy giant.
"Living here all my life I understand the pressures that exist here," Holden said. "Fifty years ago, when the LIE first sliced through this community, it divided our neighborhoods and destroyed many homes and businesses."
Following the construction of the LIE there were many subsequent projects to add to the burden of congestion. "There have always been projectswhether they be for road widening, adding service roads or installing sound barriers," stated Holden, "which have subjected us to constant spill-off from the expressway and which aided the deterioration of our quality of life."
When the communities were faced with the prospect of yet another development, they began to explore avenues to win their latest war. Internet research provided the knowledge that Queens is last in acres of parkland in relation to its number of residents and that western Queens in particular ranked in the top 10 for the worst air quality in the nation. Armed with knowledge and determination, the Juniper Valley Civic Association and other groups from Maspeth and Middle Village sought the support of their elected officials.
Councilman Dennis Gallagher, whose council district covers the affected areas, went to work lobbying for his constituency. Together with Councilmember Melinda Katz, Gallagher secured $3 million in funds for the city to acquire the site for the community over the next two fiscal years.
Following Saturdays announcement by the mayor that the city had landed the property for community use, Councilman Gallagher had this to say: "I think this represents a remarkable achievement. A community can get together and change a corporations mind. The tanks were a blight to this area for 80 years. Now, thanks to extraordinary effort by these people and the mayor, well have a beautiful park and a lasting legacy of whats good about government." Gallagher continued, "I am thankful for the mayor’s intercession with KeySpan. This step by the mayor will enhance and improve the quality of life for the people I represent."
But Gallagher isnt the only smiling elected official. Congressman Joe Crowley who entered the scene to help on the federal level also lauded the mayor, "I want to commend Mayor Bloomberg, and the work of all the elected officials at the federal, state and city levels for their efforts in trying to turn the Elmhurst-Maspeth gas tanks site into a community space a reality. Instead of looking at asphalt and being subjected to more traffic, these children and families will now have the opportunity to take advantage of an open community space, which will improve the quality of life for the residents of Maspeth, Middle Village and Elmhurst."
The city will now enter into a negotiated deal with KeySpan with a cost having been quoted by the mayor as being between $1 and $1 million that is subject to approval by the Public Service Commission. Clean-up costs will be part of the negotiations for the land that will house a six acre park.
Though negotiations are ongoing, there is no doubt as to who will own the propertythe citizens of Maspeth, Middle Village and Elmhurst.
As for the man everyone knows is responsible for the ultimate consummation of the dealMike Bloombergperhaps the words of one resident sum up a collective feeling. "I dont know how the mayor would feel about it, but some of us here would like to start calling him St. Michael of Maspeth."
Bob Holden was even more effusive in his praise of Bloomberg. "This is the first real gesture from any mayor to say that this community has been dumped on enough. Mike Bloomberg is the best man we have."
As for the mayors own comments, when he visited the site on Monday morning, Bloomberg told the crowd to be aware: "This is one of the best examples we have seen of what can happen when all levels of government get together."
He spoke of the grass and trees that would soon take the place of the gravel-covered ground on which the tanks once stood and how the city would make sure that the clean-up would make the land safe for everyone.
"This is going to be a beautiful park that this community will enjoy for years to come. By the way," quipped the mayor, "anybody who wants the tanks back, raise your hand."

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