QUEENS — A large chunk of Maple Grove Park was suddenly transformed into a parking lot for the Queens District Attorney's Office — with no timetable for when it might be restored, and neither city nor state officials saying who signed off on the decision.
For the past six years, the state Department of Transportation has had the right of way to use a lot near the 1.5-acre park tucked between Queens Boulevard, Hoover Avenue and the Van Wyck Expressway as a staging area while the agency works on the lengthy Kew Gardens Interchange project, according to DOT spokeswoman Diane Park.
The project seeks to widen the highway and rebuild its bridges and ramps between Union Turnpike and Hillside Avenue.
But recently, a portion of the green space was paved over to accommodate a second parking lot located between the staging area and the park's seating area, locals said.
A spokeswoman for the Queens District Attorney’s office, Meris Campbell, said the new parking lot is currently being used by DA's staff. She noted the lot was built by the construction company working on the Interchange project, ECCO III Enterprises, Inc., but couldn't say which city agency gave permission to build it.
"Following the closing of the municipal parking lot, the construction company generously allowed the DA’s office to park our vehicles there,” Campbell said, referring to the decrepit 500-spot garage in Kew Gardens that was closed and demolished in 2014 due to safety concerns. A new municipal parking lot in the former lot featuring 302 parking spaces is scheduled to replace it this fall.
ECCO III Enterprises, Inc. — which parks its vehicles in the staging area, according to the DOT spokeswoman — did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The spokeswoman also told DNAinfo to “check with NYC Parks for any arrangement they may have made with the DA to park within Parks’ jurisdiction.”
Asked about the new lot, the city Parks Department said it was investigating the issue.
It was not immediately clear where specifically the Parks Department’s jurisdiction ends and where the state DOT’s right of way begins.
A map showing Maple Grove Park on the city's Parks Department website.
“This is a temporary displacement of the space,” Campbell said about the lot where DA staff is parking.
“Once the construction project is completed the area will be restored to its former glory," she added, without elaborating on how or when that would happen.
But locals said they were worried that the new lot may become permanent.
Phil Serpico, a former NYPD detective who once enjoyed going to the park, said he fears the green space may never return.
“Are they going to vacate this spot eventually? There is no indication that… they are going to withdraw from the park and restore it to what it was," he said, noting he uses a motorized wheelchair to get to the park, which sits across the street from his apartment building.
"Before I became disabled, I used to go there with a folding chair and a small blanket and read a book."
David Varney, who lives in the same building as Serpico, said the lost green space amounts to "tak[ing] away like three-quarters of what was parkland.”
The DOT spokeswoman said the staging area behind the park will soon be used for cars currently parking in a restricted parking area along 132nd Street, located behind the courthouse, which the DOT will be taking over during the next phase of the Interchange project.