Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has agreed to help veteran advocates with their fight to get a full-service hospital built at the St. Albans VA site after meeting with them on Feb. 23. The Veterans Administration wants to upgrade the existing medical facilities and allow a portion of the site to be privately developed.
“We need a full-service VA hospital in St. Albans so our heroes get the care they need,” Schumer said in a statement. “I urge the VA to abandon current plans and build a state-of-the-art facility, and I look forward to continuing to work with the local community and veterans to make it a reality.”
The long-anticipated 30-minute meeting was the final crucial step that the coalition was waiting to take before heading to Washington, DC, where members plan to picket the office of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and lobby Congress to get the private development of the St. Albans site stopped.
But they may not have to go that far.
Schumer promised to schedule a meeting with Shinseki to discuss putting a hold on what the VA refers to as the enhanced used lease process, and has invited the vets to attend. If all goes as planned, a demonstration may not be needed.
“This fight will be won or lost in Washington,” said Andrea Scarborough, leader of the United Coalition for Veteran and Community Rights. “This is a crucial period.”
The St. Albans project has been a source of controversy for years, with the VA believing that replacing the existing facilities with a new nursing home, psychosocial rehabilitation domiciliary and expanded outpatient facilities is the way to go, despite consistent opposition from many veterans.
“Schumer understands that the housing would just be a burden to the community,” Scarborough said. “We are ranked number one in New York City in terms of foreclosures and number four in the state.”
At the meeting with Shinseki, Scarborough said the coalition will “inform him of things that he might not be aware of.”
For example, she contends that the chosen developer, St. Albans Village, LLC, has not complied with rules regarding the bid it won including following city and state ordinances and meeting with the City Council or community board.
“We have been working closely with the Veteran’s Administration to fulfill a development that responds to the core mission of serving veterans through the EUL process,” the Rev. Edwin Reed, of St. Albans Village said in an email. “We have been and continue to meet and speak with community leaders, veterans, residents and elected officials to build a positive, middle ground that supports enhanced veterans’ healthcare, and a vision of the future while continuing to respect the past.”
The area is zoned R3-2, which allows for 500 units of low-density residential homes, Scarborough said. But the developer is seeking to build 1,400 units —three- to five-story buildings that mix commercial and residential uses. For example, a building could have a mom-and-pop store on the ground floor with housing above it, according to Scarborough.
Rene Hill, president of the Addisleigh Park Civic Association, who also attended the meeting, said that Schumer was under the impression that the enhanced use lease process is often used to redevelop federal land, but the coalition’s research has proved otherwise.
Hill said in most cases an EUL is granted to developers who are working in conjunction with a hospital or university to enhance the surrounding neighborhood in a way that is beneficial to the community.
“This project is going to bring in more cars and more people into the area, when we don’t have enough hospitals, schools or open space,” Hill said. “This is going to hurt our minority community. It’s going to overload us.”
Scarborough said the meeting was well attended, drawing a group of 20 community leaders and lawmakers including state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica), former City Councilman Archie Spigner, who used to represent the St. Albans area, and Scarborough’s husband, Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica).
“We want to believe that he is on our side,” Andrea Scarborough said of Schumer. “If he’s not being sincere, of course, he’s not going to divulge that. We are just going to take him at his word and hope that he does the right thing.”