By NATHAN DUKE
Northeast Queens leaders agree that Bayside’s historic Fort Totten is in need of some repairs, but are opposed to a new nonprofit that was formed to raise money for the site’s preservation.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) joined members of Community Board 7, the Friends of Fort Totten Parks and the Bayside Historical Society on Monday to oppose the Fort Totten Conservancy, which they said was formed and filed for nonprofit status without any input from the community.
The conservancy aims to repair and rehabilitate the buildings at Fort Totten, but community leaders—who have called for local residents to instead support the Friends of Fort Totten Parks, which has been tending to the site for 14 years—said that the group has not asked for community support.
Avella also alleged that when Ann Sklar, the founder and president of the Fort Totten Conservancy, finally met with the community, she misrepresented to many of the groups involved with the fort by telling them that other local groups were supporting her—which the state senator said was untrue.
“I have serious concerns over the intentions of the Fort Totten Conservancy,” Avella said. “While I agree that the buildings at the park need repair, the Department of Parks and Recreation and Ms. Sklar should have reached out to the community and elected officials prior to forming and filing for nonprofit status. Not reaching out shows a real lack of respect to the local community.”
Sklar could not be reached for comment by press time.
Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said that the agency has worked with the Bayside community on improvements at Fort Totten.
“Since Fort Totten Park was opened to the public in 2005, we have worked closely with community organizations and various stakeholders to continually improve the parkland and its amenities as well as offer a variety of programs for the public’s enjoyment,” Lewandowski said. “We understand the concern for the local community to remain involved in the continued development of Fort Totten, and we hope that there may be a way forward for such like-minded people to work together for the betterment of this park.”
Community leaders said that they were never approached by the Fort Totten Conservancy and were concerned about its intentions for the fort.
“When you create a group like this, you have to work with the community,” said Paul DiBenedetto of the Bayside Historical Society, which is housed within Fort Totten. “To save the buildings on the site, you have to include us before we can endorse your plan.”
In June, community leaders wrote a letter to the Parks Department notifying the agency that they did not support the conservancy. They have argued that its operators are not from the community.
“I want someone who is in the community and knows us,” said Gene Kelty, the chairman of Community Board 7. “I am not happy with this. I stand by the letter we sent to the mayor and the Parks Department.”