Residents of Bellerose are up in arms over a plan by the Indian Cultural and Community Center to put two looming nine-story buildings on the grounds of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, when they originally promised a much smaller community space.
The psychiatric center is located at 79-25 Winchester Blvd., in Queens Village, near the Bellerose border.
“It’s a bait and switch,” Richard Hellenbrecht, chairman of the Bellerose Commonwealth Civic Association said Friday. “It seems that every time we turn over a stone there are more problems.”
In 2008, the group purchased two parcels of land at the site, approximately 4.5 acres adjacent to the homes on the west side of 242nd Street from Union Turnpike to 82nd Avenue, which they told the Creedmoor Civic Association 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, according to Jerry Wind, president of the civic.
The sale was backed by Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) and former Republican state Sen. Frank Padavan, who both received campaign funds from the group, along with former Assemblyman and now City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), according to published reports. Weprin also backed the plan.
Now the group is seeking to purchase another six acres in order to build two nine-story apartment towers, which they told the community would be affordable residences for seniors, Hellenbrecht said.
Building A would have a footprint of 10,695 square feet, while building B’s base would be 9,072 square feet, according to Hellenbrecht, and both would be built 30 feet from the fence on the east side of the property the ICCC already owns.
The Assembly passed a bill backing the second sale on June 22, but Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) who replaced Padavan, refused to sponsor the bill, so Clark enlisted the help of Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) and he introduced the legislation the following week. However, it failed to come up for a vote before the session ended, according to Hellenbrecht.
The civic leader said that residents are concerned because the structures would not conform to the commercial zoning of the area and therefore would be out of context with the surroundings; there would be hardly any buffer between the buildings and the residential homes of the neighborhood; it would eliminate a lot of trees, which are lacking in the neighborhood; and it would be built near the potentially toxic site of a former diesel power plant, which is scheduled to close next December.
The Floral Park-based ICCC said in an emailed statement that senior housing was always part of its plan because there is a great need in the community for such buildings. In response to concerns voiced by the community, the statement said, “We want to enhance the community and improve the quality of life of the people who live here.It is a simple fact that we are interested only in providing much-needed services to the area.”
The group submitted plans to the Department of Buildings in April, but they were rejected because the zoning prohibits any residential use, according to Wind. On June 6, the group applied for a variance.
“We live in this community and you never came to us once to ask us what our concerns were — never once,” Community Board 13 member Seymour Finkelstein told Smith and Clark at the group’s monthly meeting on June 27, adding, “I’m also asking that this board send a letter to the governor and the attorney general to investigate this matter.”
Clark said that the state has been trying to sell off Creedmoor land for years and when the ICCC decided it wanted the land to build a cultural center, she thought it was a good idea.
“That’s it,” Clark said. “That is the extent of what I know. There was nothing in the bill about any buildings, any housing, anything.”
But Avella said Clark knew full well what was going on because her staffers had told his staffers that was the case. In a letter to Clark dated June 28, Avella criticized the lawmaker for “misleading” attendees at the CB 13 meeting.
“She is trying to cover up her tracks,” Avella told the Chronicle Tuesday. “Her actions are pretty disgraceful.”
Clark informed attendees at the CB 13 meeting that the state requires those who purchase Creedmoor land to take a contaminated portion of the site as well, so the bill was reworked this year by the state Office of Mental Health to include sections that had to be remediated. The ICCC has agreed to take one of the most contaminated pieces at the site, which is where the diesel plant is located, Clark said.
Avella noted that the reason the ICCC wanted the additional land was because the initial property was landlocked and it needed an entranceway that would lead out to Union Turnpike or else the DOB wouldn’t let the group build on the site.
A bill was drafted to satisfy requirements set forward by the OMH, according to Clark, but when she asked Avella to sponsor the bill, “He decided he wanted to look into it.”
“Well, he did and he said he found a lot of things that he didn’t like,” Clark said.
Avella said that his constituents from the South Asian community were concerned that the center would not be all inclusive, which caused him to think twice about the plan. But that wasn’t the only reason. He said that Clark, along with Weprin and his brother Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) had called him and “increased pressure” on him to sponsor the bill.
“I began to think what’s the rush?” Avella said.
He was also concerned about whether the ICCC would have the money to remediate the contaminated land, which he said could cost millions of dollars. He was also outraged that the group never mentioned building the two nine-story structures when he met with them last month.
“They lied to me,” Avella said. “They never indicated that that would be part of the proposal, so I said I’m not doing this.”
Avella also said that when he met with Clark and other elected officials in Albany six weeks ago to discuss the plan that she was “borderline threatening,” and when he still refused to sign on, she turned to Smith to sponsor the legislation.
“Tony is now incriminating Senator Smith as though he is some kind of a crook or something, just because he got aggravated that I went to a senator that I’ve known for a million years and asked him to put in a bill,” Clark said.
Clark said she reiterated to Avella that the bill would not allow or prevent any housing from being built, the city would have to do that, but if the ICCC can’t acquire the land then nothing could be built.
“I thought the cultural center had a whole lot of merit, and it was something that I wanted to help them get done,” Clark said.
Avella is so concerned about the plan that last week he contacted Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asking him to look for inappropriate or criminal behavior.