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Queens Chronicle

State report slams Creedmoor sale

Cites ‘lapses’ in oversight of deal; says ICCC acted ‘disingenuously’

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Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:17 am, Thu Sep 19, 2013.

A scathing report issued by the New York State Inspector General’s Office blasts actions taken by the Indian Cultural and Community Center — and inaction by the New York State Dormitory Authority — in connection with the sale of more than four acres of property on the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center site in Queens Village.

The ICCC was before the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals on Tuesday in continuing its effort to construct a pair of nine-story towers on the property.

The project has been roundly opposed by residents, local elected officials, civic associations and Community Board 13.

The 18-page IG report found that “the ICCC exploited loopholes in the statute and lapses in oversight by the Dormitory Authority ... which was tasked with overseeing the transaction.”

The ICCC first proposed purchasing about 4.5 acres for the creation of a cultural and community center, an athletic field and parking spaces, a sale that went through in 2008 with the backing of Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), former state Sen. Frank Padavan and then-Assemblyman and current Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens).

By the time the contract was signed, the ICCC was claiming it was allowed to build the two apartment towers, first proposing 126 units and now seeking 143.

The IG’s report states that Dormitory Authority officials negotiating the contract were ignorant of the Legislature’s intent on land use restrictions when making the deal; and that the ICCC representatives did nothing to fill the gap in the agency’s knowledge.

It also said the Legislature never placed the specific restrictions in the authorizing statute itself.

“The ICCC exploited this omission during the process of negotiating transaction terms ... by disingenuously convincing Authority staff that the Legislature did not intend to restrict the ICCC’s use,” the report states.

“Unaware of legislative history, and failing to inquire about it, Dormitory Authority staff acceded to an ICCC request to include a clause ... allowing the ICCC to have a purchase option to remove a restriction that the land only be developed for use as a community center,” it continued.

The IG report calls the clause in the deed “contrary to legislative intent,” but also said it would permit the construction of senior residential housing.

It states the clause was inserted into the contract without any notice to Dormitory Authority staff responsible for environmental review or notice to firms that had appraised the land prior to the sale.

The findings in the IG report are being referred to the office of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, where state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said they belong on Tuesday.

“The inspector general uses the words ‘disingenuously’ and ‘questionable representations,’” Avella said. “I say they lied.”

Avella testified in opposition at the BSA hearing.

He said the report confirms his long-held suspicions about the project. He also has written to Gov. Cuomo, asking that he seriously consider vitiating the sale.

The senator also is concerned more generally about just who is minding the store at the Dormitory Authority.

“That’s an excellent question,” he said.

The IG report was more lenient in addressing the difference between the land’s original assessed value of between $2 and $3 million and the eventual sale price of just under $1.8 million. It said the discrepancy was not unreasonable if certain market factors were taken into count.

A man answering the phone at a number for the ICCC listed in state lobbying records said “I have nothing to say,” and hung up.

Calls to the offices of Clark and the Dormitory Authority were not returned.

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