Dennis Gallagher has let down community, activists claim
by John Lauinger, NY Daily News, 11/13/07
Councilman Dennis Gallagher has been keeping a low public profile since his indictment on rape charges this summer - even as torrential rains swamped his district in August.
Oddly enough, some of Gallagher's constituents wish he would keep things that way.
Instead, the embattled Councilman has been quietly lobbying city planners and Borough President Helen Marshall on behalf of a foreign developer who wants to build houses on the grounds of the historic St. Savior's Episcopal Church in Maspeth.
Gallagher's efforts have infuriated residents and civic leaders who have fought for some two years to preserve the church and surrounding property as a park. Gallagher flatly denied engaging in hush-hush influence peddling in an interview with Queens News on Friday.
"I've done everything humanly possible to try to maintain this property and this church," Gallagher said. "Unfortunately, I haven't gotten the cooperation necessary from the mayor's office and the Parks Department."
However, a planning source told Queens News that as recently as two weeks ago, Gallagher had inquired about the status of the development's application, wondering why it was taking so long to be certified.
The source said Maspeth Development LLC's application to build roughly 70 residential units on the once-wooded property has been snagged by environmental concerns.
But a Planning Department spokeswoman said Friday that it was a "definite possibility" that the developer's application could be certified by year's end.
James Trent, president of the Metropolitan Historic Structures Association, said Gallagher has deprived the community of much-needed parkland.
"This is really a betrayal of the community," Trent said. "Whose interests rule the roost here?"
Gallagher said he tried to have the property landmarked, then looked into designating it as parkland. But in both instances, he said he was thwarted by institutional opposition.
He also said he put $1 million into the city's 2008 budget to preserve the church property, but couldn't come up with $2 million more needed to seal the deal.
Gallagher said he met with Marshall three times regarding efforts to preserve the church, but Marshall refused to discuss details of the meetings.
However, Marshall said the property is "an eyesore right now" and suggested the development would likely move forward. A portion of the grounds would be used as a park, "but mostly for people who live in the development," she said.
Paul Ditta, 51, who lives near St. Savior's, accused Gallagher of never intending to preserve the church.
"I talked to Gallagher about a year ago and he said, 'Do you want an asphalt plant or do you want houses?'" Ditta recalled. "He said, 'You're better off taking the houses.'"
Christina Wilkinson, who has led a campaign to save St. Savior's, said the Parks Department had initially shown interest in the property before the developer cut down 185 mature trees there.
Gallagher brought Parks officials to the site only after the tree-chopping, she noted. Parks later said they no longer had any interest in the property. "Either they lied directly to us or somebody got to them - and that somebody was Gallagher," Wilkinson said.
And Parkside Group, run by Gallagher's best friend, Bill Driscoll.