There were gasps and grumbles at a public hearing in Bellerose on Tuesday as a nonprofit group unveiled a rendering of the two nine-story apartment towers it plans to build on the campus of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center The deal is being investigated by both the state attorney general and inspector general.
Many of the more than 100 people in attendance at the Bellerose Assembly of God church expressed outrage over the proposal, stating that the plan is out of context with the residential community and was not what the organization originally told area leaders and civic groups it intended to build.
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.
ICCC told community leaders the land would be used to build a 15,000-square-foot community center, a multi-use athletic field and a 100-space above-ground parking lot, but the plan has changed to include the two apartment buildings that would contain 126 units of affordable housing for seniors.
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 now 11,000 square-foot community center would be located does not have an exit to a mapped city street.
The group’s zoning lawyer, Jordan Most, who gave a PowerPoint presentation at the Community Board 13 hearing explaining the details of the plan, said the towers will be the height proposed because a certain unit count is needed to keep the purchase and maintenance cost for occupants low.
Most also noted that the property is located near taller structures allowed under the zoning regulations — two 18 story smokestacks, an eight- to 10-story power plant, a four- to five-story salt dome and a 21-story hospital.
However, several residents said that nearly all of those structures with the exception of the hospital are slated for demolition and added that being located near a hospital should not give a developer the right to build an out of context structure particularly when they do not fit in with the master plan for the site, which was devised under former Borough President Claire Schulman.
“The plan specifically says that any new development not detract from the existing tranquility of the campus and conform to the character of the surrounding neighborhood,” said Jerry Wind, president of the Bellerose-Hillside Civic Association, adding that recent developments on the site such as the Bernard Fineson Center, Father Ritter senior apartments, Country Pointe townhouses and the Lifeline Center for Child Development do not exceed two stories and were constructed without community objection.
“The Indian Community and Cultural Center wants to disrupt our lives by building two buildings that certainly do not belong here ... I hope they will do the right thing and rethink their project,” said Wind’s son, Joseph.
Tensions were already running high at the meeting, but were further exacerbated when representatives from the ICCC failed to provide direct answers to many of the questions asked by attendees.
For example, CB 13 member Seymour Finkelstein wanted to know whether those who provided donations to fund the project would receive preferential treatment when it comes to getting an apartment in one of the new buildings.
Koshy Thomas, the spokesman for the group, and K. George Varkey, a representative for the engineer, initially avoided the question. They talked about the number of contributors, about 70, the fact that anyone who wanted an apartment would have to be able to prove that they could afford the rent, before getting to the very simple answer of “No” but only after being continually badgered by residents who repeatedly shouted “Just answer the question.”
Jerry Wind asked the ICCC officials when the group decided to add the senior housing component to the plan and whether they had notified area elected officials about the change, prior to the legislation allowing them to buy the parcels being passed. Again, the men were evasive. Varkey spent several minutes talking about the type of application the group had to fill out to apply to buy the land, the specific uses that are allowed by the contract and how much seniors need affordable housing.
Finally, after getting shouted at by the crowd for not answering the question, Most said it was in 2007 that the ICCC decided to add the senior housing component and after much more prodding Thomas added that the group did not notify the elected officials of the change.
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), both of whom attended the hearing, said they were against the plan, garnering much applause from the crowd.
“To me this is an absolute fantasy,” Avella said. “I feel sorry for the people who have decided to push this application forward. This had been handled extremely badly from the beginning. This is not working together with the community and as far as I’m concerned, the ICCC has no credibility because they never said what they were buying the second piece of property for.”
Avella also noted that the ICCC deal is being investigated by both the AG and IG to determine if there was any inappropriate or criminal behavior associated with the plan and both current an former officals, something he said further clouds the ICCC’s credibility.
The group maintains that the project would be beneficial to the surrounding neighborhoods for several reasons. The community center would provide social, educational and counseling programs to residents and would be available for use at a low cost or for free to area civics and nonprofit groups; the development would create jobs; it would help seniors to be able to live independently and maintain their dignity as they age; and it would be run by the ICCC, whose mission is to meet the evolving needs of the community.
“We oppose this plan as it is currently proposed. A cultural center, low density — wonderful — but not a nine-story building that will shadow our homes,” said Valerie Lang, a resident of 242nd Street in Bellerose, near where the construction would occur.
Most of the attendees at the hearing were against the plan, but there were a handful of members of the South Asian community that spoke in favor of it.
“We live in this community and we have old people in our house, and they don’t have a place for seniors or anything,” said Shaley Samuel of New Hyde Park. “It will enhance the community. It will create more jobs.”
CB 13 will vote on the ICCC’s application for a variance at its meeting on Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Bellerose Assembly of God church, located at 240-15 Hillside Ave.