While investigations by both the state attorney general and inspector general continue, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) announced at a rally on Saturday that he was calling for a federal investigation into the redistricting process that removed a key piece of land from his 11th Senate District.
At the sidewalk gathering, held on Winchester Boulevard in the shadow of the Creedmor Psychiatric Hospital campus in Queens Village, Avella told the two dozen civic association leaders and concerned area residents in attendance, “Hopefully, the investigations will get to the bottom of this. Whoever did this, if you think that is going to stop me, you’re crazy.”
At issue is the sale in a no-bid deal of 4.5 acres of land at Creedmor by the New York State Dormitory Authority to the Indian Cultural and Community Center, a nonprofit group, at well below market value.
According to Jerry Wind, president of the Bellerose-Hillside Civic Association, who was in attendance at the rally, the land has a value of $7 million, but was sold for around $2 million.
Avella has been one of the loudest voices of opposition to what has been described as a “shady land grab” and suggested on Saturday that the redistricting was “done deliberately to try to silence me.”
He further indicated that the redistricting put him “at a significant disadvantage” and was intended to “nullify my involvement.”
But instead, he said, “It just gives us more cause to fight.”
In the next election, Creedmoor will be within the 14th Senate District, represented by Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica).
He indicated that the ICCC, which could not be reached for comment, is still battling the inspector general’s subpoena to turn over relevant documents.
“What are they hiding?” he asked.
The situation dates to 2008, when the ICCC purchased two parcels of land adjacent to homes on the west side of 242nd Street from Union Turnpike to 82nd Avenue, allegedly in order to build a community center, as well as an athletic field and a parking lot.
The plan now includes two nine-story apartment buildings, which Community Board 13 voted against back in October.
“The way the lines were drawn makes absolutely no sense. It smells fishy. This looks like this was done purposely. The lines were an absolute disgrace. They absolutely ignored us,” said Wind.
As for the construction of the buildings, which would contain 126 units of affordable housing for seniors, Wind said, “I support senior housing, but until I see the plans, I can’t give my support.”
Wind claims that he had been told by the ICCC last May that the plans were still being worked on, but he subsequently found out that the previous month the group had already filed its proposal with the Buildings Department.
“They lied to me,” he said.
The proposed buildings “don’t fit with the character of the neighborhood,” he said.
Another contentious issue surrounds a variance being sought by the ICCC that would allow the group to go ahead with its plan to erect the two buildings on a parcel of land that is in a commercial zone, which prohibits use of the land for residences.
According to Richard Hellenbrecht, who heads CB 13’s Land Use Committee and also represents the Bellerose Commonwealth Civic Association, more than 2,000 local residents have signed letters in an attempt to block the variance, which, he said, is now on hold.
“We will continue to fight against it,” he promised.
Bob Friedrich, representing Eastern Queens United, was also on hand, and issued a statement that said, in part, “Redistricting reform that the governor is touting as a victory is a sham masquerading as reform. Pulling out this state-owned land from the district of the one senator that is calling for accountability on this matter is the manifestation of this corrupt process.”
Mike Castellano, of the Lost Community Civic Association, in noting the presence of so many of the area’s residential leaders, said, “You see here the unity we have. We’re not going to be stepped on.”
Caroline Vereline, who has lived in the Bellerose area for 55 years, called the plan to erect the buildings “sinful,” claiming that “if they build the twin towers, they don’t have enough piping and they’d have to rip up the whole block. Are we paying for that with our taxes or are they paying for that?”
She was also concerned that the new buildings would block homeowners’ views, deprive local children of their play area, and create parking problems.
And based on information she said she has heard, she believes the new buildings are “not a senior place but a condo.”