The Juniper Park Civic Association has been very active in seeing that our community has input on what will be built on the old Elmhurst Gas Tanks site between Grand Avenue and 57th Avenue. Over the summer, we formed an Ad Hoc Committee consisting of Robert Holden, President, Tiffany Elliot, Vice President, Lorraine Sciulli, Vice President and Ed Kampermann, JPCA Advisor as well as elected officials, Congressman Anthony Wiener, Congressman Joe Crowley, Councilman Dennis Gallagher, Councilwoman Melinda Katz and Assemblywoman Marge Markey. We all met with officials of Keyspan on August 21st at Our Lady of Hope Rectory. The meeting had been canceled from an earlier date because of Assemblywoman Marge Markey's inability to attend. State Senator Serf Maltese sent his representative, Rosemary Iacovone. Councilwoman Melinda Katz is Chairperson of the Land Use Committee in the NYC Council and she represents a portion of our area.
Congressman Anthony Weiner chaired the meeting which was a preliminary discussion about the 6 acres of available land on Grand Avenue in Elmhurst, formerly the site of the Elmhurst gas tanks.
Congressman Weiner started the discussion with a clear and accurate presentation of the community's interest in the land. JPCA representatives concluded that Congressman Anthony Weiner did an excellent job. We're very fortunate to have him representing us.
The following is a snapshot of what's on the table at this point in time.
There are 6 acres of land involved, which mathematically translates to 258,000 square feet, with a market value of about $13 million. Keyspan has the land up for sale and their representatives were very clear in stating that Keyspan's main loyalty in the sale process is to their rate payers, that's you and me. The land is currently zoned M3, which means there could be heavy duty, noxious development. Thus far there have been 49 interested respondents to the sale. Keyspan has narrowed the possible purchasers to about 9 or 10 with the highest bid being $12 1/2 million.
These are the categories of possible use of the land – (1) manufacturing, (2) big box (Home Depot, Lowe's etc. who, as of this writing, can go in there and build as of right) and (3) mixed use, which is retail and residential.
One of the presentations showed housing with about 353 units mixed with retail and a portion set aside for a small park, very small. Obviously, this was the presentation that caught our eye since it would have the least amount of negative impact on the surrounding area and the community as a whole.
Keyspan officials stated that environmentally they are about six months away from a squeaky clean ruling from the EPA. They made it clear that the land was never environmentally contaminated beyond the lead paint that had been used to paint the gas tanks. At the moment it is clean enough for rougher, more commercial development but in order to have it cleared for the possibility of housing, they need about another six months.
Inherent in all of this is the fact that Keyspan has to answer to the Public Service Commission on any moves they may make.
The Juniper Park Civic Association would like to see, combined with residential and retail, some community land use put in place since there is a conspicuous absence of such facilities in the area. Keyspan has a long history of neighborhood participation, Keyspan Park in Coney Island, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, is an example of their generosity and concern for the communities they serve.
Robert Holden, President of the Juniper Park Civic Association clearly stated that facilities such as a YMCA, senior/youth center, day care for children are the kinds of development we would like to see. Keyspan's response was that it would be unrealistic to think they could donate the entire parcel to the community. They cited their chief constraints as being their lawful loyalty to the rate payers. However, they did leave the door open to a portion of the land being made available for neighborhood use. This could be combined with the open market development that would probably take place. Currently, based on Keyspan's presentation, they are thinking about 1 acre for the community, 43,000 square feet, which is just under 20% of the entire parcel.
There was a lengthy discussion, the overwhelming message being that whatever development takes place on the site, could live with the rest of the community. Keyspan understands our concern and seems genuinely sincere in their desire to guide any sale in such a way that all interested parties, ie. rate payers, and community, are well served. But, clearly, they are out to sell the land for whatever the marketplace will pay. Everyone agreed that a possibility is to change the zoning to reinforce more protection for the community in any development.
We have to understand that we are talking about 6 acres of valuable land and the highest and best use of this land will be determined by the marketplace and vigilant community input to minimize negative impacts. This is all very preliminary and we will certainly keep the neighborhood posted on what transpires.