At its Monday meeting Community Board 13 voted against a plan by a nonprofit group to construct two large apartment towers on the campus of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, stating that the project was out of character with the neighborhood and was not what the organization originally told residents it had intended to build.
CB 13 denied the group’s application for a variance by a vote of 22-1 with 16 absent. First Vice Chairwoman Tanya Cruz abstained from the vote and board member V. M. Chacko was the only one in favor.
In 2008, the Indian Cultural and Community Center purchased two parcels of land at Creedmoor, which is located at 79-25 Winchester Blvd. in Queens Village, near the Bellerose border. The approximately 4.5 acres are adjacent to the homes on the west side of 242nd Street, from Union Turnpike to 82nd Avenue.
The ICCC told community leaders the land would be used to build a community center, a multi-use athletic field and an above-ground parking lot, but the plan was changed to include two nine-story apartment buildings that would contain 126 units of affordable housing for seniors.
The project is not in compliance with the master plan created for the campus by former Borough President Claire Schulman, and the towers would be located 30 feet from its low-rise neighbors with no buffer for privacy or noise, according to Richard Hellenbrecht, the chairman of CB 13’s Land Use Committee. The apartment buildings would also completely obstruct the sunlight and vistas of neighboring homes, and could set a precedent for other similar high-density projects.
“If the buildings are executed as planned, they would redefine the neighborhood and impose an overwhelming negative impact on the safety and the quality of life,” Hellenbrecht said. “In addition the value of surrounding properties and the essential character of the community would be permanently changed.”
The ICCC is seeking a variance because the northern parcel where the apartments would be located is a commercial zone and prohibits residential use. It also needs additional city approval because the southern parcel where the 11,000-square-foot community center would be located does not have an exit to a mapped city street.
“The community needs a center there,” Chacko said after the meeting. “It’s a growing community — that’s the main reason. Maybe there is room for compromise. Instead of making the buildings nine stories, maybe they could be seven or eight stories.”
A public hearing was held on Sept. 20 and 26. The vote was delayed pending a resolution by the Land Use Committee, which met on Oct. 11 for additional discussion. Several members of the ICCC were present and had the opportunity to provide comment and input, Hellenbrecht said. Last month, some 148 letters of support were submitted by the ICCC. Since then 2,229 letters were submitted by various civic groups and community members in opposition to the plan, he said.
“This should be an opportunity now for the ICCC to truly try to work out a compromise that works and is in character with the community,” said Bob Friedrich, president of the Glen Oaks co-op complex, which is located near Creedmoor, “and if they want to reach out now to do that, maybe we can all meet and agree on something that makes sense for everyone.”
Controversy has long plagued the ICCC’s plan, with the state attorney general and inspector general investigating the deal to determine if there was any inappropriate or criminal behavior on the part of the group and both current and former elected officials.
At CB 13’s last meeting, long-time board member Seymour Finkelstein said members of the ICCC had offered him a consulting job in an effort to curry his favor, an accusation the group vehemently denies, even releasing a statement on Oct. 19 claiming that Finkelstein “has a history of making slanderous and derogatory statements to projects that he opposes.”
Finkelstein could not immediately be reached for comment. In the same letter, the ICCC also wrote that Hellenbrecht should recuse himself from the voting process, stating that he caused an undue delay of the vote by not preparing the Land Use Committee’s official recommendation before last month’s meeting.
“Frankly, there had not been enough time to prepare a resolution,” Hellenbrecht told the Chronicle Wednesday. “It’s not unusual.”
To further bolster its position, the ICCC also cited a meeting of the Bellerose Commonwealth Civic Association, of which Hellenbrecht is an executive officer. A member of the public who attended made a racially inflammatory statement about Sikhs and people of Indian descent not wanting to enlist in the U.S. military.
“I admonished the person and said it was totally out of order,” Hellenbrecht said. “There is not much more a person running a meeting could do.”
Community boards act in an advisory capacity and the application can still be approved when voted on by the Board of Standards and Appeals followed by going to the borough president.