After months of rumors, Community Board 5 discussions and angry statements from elected officials, it was finally time for the Glendale community to speak up regarding the proposed homeless shelter planned for 78-16 Cooper Ave.
And its collective voice was loud and clear.
With Department of Homeless Services’ Assistant Commissioner of Government and Human Relations Lisa Black and Samaritan Village Executive Vice President Doug Apple in attendance, over two dozen of the nearly 200 residents who piled into Christ the King High School on Thursday vehemently spoke out against the plan.
They called the 125-family structure, proposed by Samaritan Village, to be built at the potentially contaminated site of a former airplane factory everything from “unsafe” and “dangerous” to “criminal” and “disgraceful.”
Steve McGarry, a 23-year Glendale resident, questioned the area sewers’ ability to handle hundreds of extra toilet flushes and showers per day, saying some residents’ basements flood “if a squirrel spits,” as well as the possibly toxic lot the building presently sits on.
“The fact that an environmental study has to be done to test the toxicity level at the building itself … means that you should have walked away,” McGarry said. “To me, it’s criminal to house people, especially children, in an area where they will get sick.”
DHS and the Briarwood-based human services agency have a five-year, $27 million contract in place regarding the operation of the shelter, but Black emphasized the deal is not final, as the environmental study of the plot has yet to be completed.
The only way the deal would be finalized, she said, would be after the study is finished and the project is reviewed by City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office.
Another Glendale resident, Timon Kalpaxis, echoed McGarry’s concerns about inadequate infrastructure, claiming the shelter would not only be out of place in an industrial area, but that Cooper Avenue itself and a lack of public transportation will lead to numerous safety issues.
“It is quite problematic to try to put something with a very large footprint like a homeless shelter in there with 125 families,” Kalpaxis said. “If you take a look at properties around there, how much more development can the community stand? Does somebody have to die first on one of those roads before we take a pause and say ‘maybe that’s enough?’”
The strongest words against the shelter were saved for the night’s final speaker, CB 5 District Manager Gary Giordano, who laid into DHS and Samaritan Village.
“I think it’s disgraceful this plan has got this far,” Giordano said. “I don’t think you can pick a much worse site. Something very suspicious is going on here, in my mind.”
Some speakers, such as CB 5 member Rich Huber, went so far as to say the partnership between Samaritan Village and DHS came about because of Samaritan Village President Tino Hernandez’s past employment in city government.
The New York City Housing Authority chairman from 2001 to 2008, Hernandez was also the deputy commissioner for adult services at DHS from 1993 to 1994.
“Does anyone not see the numerous conflicts of interest in this matter?” Huber asked.
When asked if Hernandez’s past positions had any impact on the tentative agreement, DHS simply stated Samaritan Village proposed the shelter the way any other agency would.
“Samaritan Village made a proposal to DHS through its open-ended request for proposal. Anyone can do this,” the statement read. “We will continue to work with elected officials and community members moving forward.”
Samaritan Village did not respond to inquiries for comment by press time.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale), state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) also voiced their opposition to the shelter at the hearing, with all three backing up their constituents.
“I think the transportation is inadequate, I think the site is inadequate environmentally and I do believe 125 families for that given area is just not appropriate,” Addabbo said. “The bottom line is a dialogue between those with the city and my constituents is critical.”
Some residents brought up a proposal earlier this year to turn the closed Pan American Hotel at 79-99 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst, which has since reopened, into a shelter.
Black confirmed the proposal was denied by DHS, citing the lack of a kitchen and a bathroom in each unit. Residents didn’t take too kindly to Black’s reasoning as some booed and shouted about the relative simplicity of renovating the hotel as opposed to the Glendale site.