Maspeth park opens, vindicating civic

By Joe Anuta

Instead of asphalt and a big box store, the Maspeth community has a new green space park, thanks to an 8-year-long effort from a Maspeth civic group.

The 6 1/2-acre Elmhurst Park on Grand Avenue near 74th Street will officially open next week, but it is already packed with nature-starved residents on a daily basis.

And the park is more than an oasis for the residential neighborhood. It is also stands as a testament to the power of civic groups.

“One thing we didn’t do is give up,” said Robert Holden, speaking at a crowded Juniper Park Civic Association meeting last week. “This is our biggest victory.”

The park stands on the site of the former Elmhurst gas tanks, which loomed over the neighborhood until the 1990s. When the space was vacated, many in the neighborhood wanted a park, but the owner of the property, KeySpan, had other plans..

“In 2003, everybody was giving up,” Holden said. “They were saying KeySpan is going to sell the property to the highest bidder.”

But the civic got the developer to hold off selling the property for nearly a year to seek out other options to get the park.

And that led to KeySpan’s biggest mistake.

According to Holden, he was called into a meeting with a developer, which told him of the plans to purchase the property from KeySpan and build a Home Depot before the deadline.

“They didn’t want to wait until Dec. 31,” Holden said. “The biggest mistake they made was they lied to us.”

Members of the civic put banners over the expressway, wrote letters and exposed the developer’s over-eagerness to sell the property.

In the end, Mayor Michael Bloomberg stepped in and brokered a deal under which the city bought to property from KeySpan for $1.

“If it wasn’t for [the Juniper Park Civic Association], we wouldn’t have a park,” Holden said. “We would have a Home Depot.”

Holden stressed the group’s autonomy because he said elected officials in the area had all given up on trying to get a park.

“We all got together, but we were basically fighting alone,” he said. “

The park features rolling strips of green grass and several areas of playground equipment. A ribbon-cutting for the park will be held this week.

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

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