At a City Council hearing on Monday, DEP Associate Commissioner of Public Affairs Eric Landau, after mounting calls from local elected officials such as Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and Borough President Melinda Katz, testified that the DEP would allow for the option of a community athletic field on the site, an idea which gained wide traction within the community in recent months.
He said that the DEP would begin immediate talks with area athletic groups about entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which will potentially allow for sports groups to construct and maintain a field on the 47th Street site.
“Understanding that the space may be needed in the future to meet state and federal water quality requirements, DEP is committed to working with the Council and community organizations that are willing to build and maintain the space for athletic purposes,” Landau said in a statement after the testimony.
Crowley, who has long advocated for including open space in the proposal, said she was thankful the agency had shifted their position.
“I am very grateful DEP has agreed to work with a community group to allow for public use of the land,” said Crowley in a statement. “Maspeth residents are also disadvantaged in that they lack access to sufficient open green space. We can promote sports and physical activity by taking advantage of all public space options, ideally by way of increased access to athletic fields.”
“We’re excited at the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a field for the kids and we’re glad the DEP buckled to the pressure of the borough president and Councilwoman Crowley, because they wouldn’t buckle to the pressure of the community board,” said Walter Sanchez, chair of the Land Use Committee for Community Board 5, who has long advocated for including public access at the aeration facility site.
Michael LoCascio, athletic director at St. Stan’s school in Maspeth, testified at the borough president’s land use hearing urging DEP to let the community have part of their creek-front property for a field.
“The DEP has that tract of land in West Maspeth which just happens to be a perfect size to host a plethora of activity, including soccer,” he following the agency's stark reversal. “With this development, the kids in the Maspeth community will not only be able to play soccer there, but someday they will be able to fish off the dock and maybe even eat the fish they catch.
“The DEP property is too big for what they need for the creek aeration project so we all will benefit from the unused space,” he added. “If you look at the Forest Hills Little League fields and the RGMVM fields off Woodhaven Boulevard, the sports organizations have those fields in tip-top shape for the kids.”
Monday’s announcement comes after months of fighting between DEP, community board members and elected officials over including public access at the aeration site, a facility that will pump oxygen into the polluted creek.
During numerous presentations before Community Board 5 regarding the proposal, DEP officials said they would not budge on allowing public access to the 71,000-square-foot waterfront site, of which the aeration facility will only comprise a small portion.
The DEP has consistently said that the area is too far from pedestrian traffic and funding for maintenance and security would make community access unfeasible. If adjacent lots were built up, they said they would entertain the idea of utilizing the space for public use in the future.
“We have concerns about maintenance and security,” said Ibrahim Adul-Matin, director of DEP's Community Affairs, during a hearing on the site at the borough president’s office in March.
Community Board 5 members and numerous locals and elected officials argued that the area is too precious to restrict to the public, especially considering Maspeth’s lack of community sports fields.
Timon Kalpaxis, youth coordinator of Middle Village’s Blau Weiss Gottschee Soccer Club, said last March he was extremely interested in constructing a field on the site, and would take on costs of construction, security and maintenance.