Normally, anger at Community Board 5 meetings comes from residents who attend.
This month, it’s the board itself that is letting its emotions flow, both verbally and on paper.
Days after engineering firm AECOM released an environmental study ruling the site of a proposed 125-family homeless shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave. in Glendale suitable for housing families, CB 5 and area elected officials sharply criticized the report for being biased and containing numerous inaccuracies at the monthly board meeting last Wednesday, July 9.
Gary Giordano, the board’s district manager, said the group has begun preliminary discussions about taking legal action against the city, which he bluntly said was nearly as frustrating to deal with as other historic regimes.
“We had a meeting last night with our own people and we talked about organizing to take legal action. We’re even talking about fundraising in order to take legal action to stop this,” Giordano said. “This is like dealing with a communist state. This is like dealing with the Gestapo. This is a whole different ball game from anything I’ve had to overcome or try to change in the 25 years I’ve been here.”
Vincent Arcuri, the board’s normally calm chairman, also held nothing back when speaking of AECOM and the Department of Homeless Services’ forwarding the report as a “courtesy,” as said in the department’s email to CB 5 on July 3.
“The full environmental assessment survey was performed by one of the most prestigious engineering firms in the world, and they have lost my respect totally,” Arcuri said. “We went through it item by item and we had to comment on at least 50 percent, maybe 75 percent, of their items that we believe to be incorrect and inaccurate.
“They sent the study as a courtesy,” he told the nearly 100 audience members, “assuming we were too ignorant and stupid to review it and respond within the seven days they gave us.”
In the board’s nine-page response to the report, it claimed that AECOM did not take into account the presence of the Independent Chemical Co. storage facility directly next door to the shelter or the impact hundreds of new residents would have on the abilities of the 104th Precinct and FDNY Engine Company 319 to properly police and respond to emergencies in the area, among other matters.
“The site in question has been a manufacturing facility for decades, and housed a cabinet manufacturer and an aircraft parts manufacturing business,” CB 5 said, in response to AECOM’s report saying there is no reason to suspect hazardous materials at the plot of land. “In addition, the site of the proposed homeless residence is in close proximity to several contaminated sites, including Kliegman Brothers at 76-01 77 Ave., a designated New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Superfund site.”
In AECOM’s report, it is estimated about 210 children of school age will be living at the shelter, if it is filled to capacity. But the firm estimates utilization rate of area schools would only increase by about 1.5 percent.
CB 5’s response, signed by Arcuri, shoots down such a notion by saying AECOM couldn’t even correctly identify the schools in the area surrounding the shelter.
“The introduction of 160 children of public elementary school age exceeds the CEQR Technical Manual Standards and will only worsen the existing overcrowding in District 24 and further lower the education standards for our children,” the board writes. “Table 3 [in AECOM’s report] fails to list PS 119, which is a kindergarten through eighth-grade school, with an enrollment of 1,039 students. Table 4 incorrectly lists IS 119 with only grades six through eight.”
Additionally, CB 5 took offense to AECOM listing 55 acres of St. John’s Cemetery, 53 acres of Lutheran Cemetery and 45 acres of Cypress Hill Cemetery as open space that “operates, functions or is available for leisure, play or sport, or set aside for the protection and enhancement of the natural environment.”
“It is unbelievable that … 153 acres of cemetery space is listed as “open space resources in the study area,’” the board writes. “How disingenuous is this?”
The board even accused AECOM of warping its findings in the city’s favor.
“We believe that the AECOM environmental assessment and supplemental studies are flawed and should be rejected outright,” CB 5 said. “It is disturbing that a respected firm such as AECOM would skew an analysis in favor of its client.”
The company did not respond to inquiries for comment by press time.
A number of residents who spoke during the public forum expressed emotions ranging from anger to panic.
Michelle Smith, a Glendale homeowner for 15 years, said she may potentially move out of the neighborhood in response to worries over how the Pan American Hotel’s recent transformation into a homeless shelter has impacted Elmhurst and whether the same impacts will be felt if the Glendale plan comes to fruition.
“My husband wants to move tomorrow, to put my house up for sale,” Smith said. “Why can’t people bring themselves together and do something about this?”
Nunzio Russo criticized the elected officials for not doing enough to prevent the shelter proposal from advancing and called on his fellow residents to think long and hard when they go to the ballot box.
“The only way to stop this is in November,” Russo said to applause, shortly before entering into a shouting match with state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) when he attempted to speak. “That will turn the tables on them.”
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) served as the bearer of bad news at the meeting, saying there was little left for the furious community members to do except sit back and watch the dirt fly, as he fully expects renovations of the former factory to begin “in two to four weeks.”
He called AECOM’s report a “disgrace” and “horrific,” and expressed interest in taking the city to court, despite not being confident in any positive outcome stemming from a lawsuit.
“I’m sorry to be the one that tells you, but we’re not in the game. This game is over. This has been a steamroll from the start,” Hevesi said. “I want to talk to you about getting legal counsel because that’s where I think we are.
“But I’ve got to be honest,” he continued. “I don’t think it’s going to stop it.”