The City Council voted overwhelmingly to approve a school at the site of Keil Brothers Garden Center in Bayside Hills, despite the plan having being delayed and thought to be dead.
The Council approved the 416-seat school Thursday 36-2, with Council members Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) voting no. Vallone’s brother, Paul, is the councilman-elect for the district that includes portions of Bayside Hills.
The site, located at 210-11 48 Ave., was proposed for a school in the spring by the School Construction Authority at a meeting of Community Board 11, but residents in the community vehemently opposed it.
It also garnered the opposition of area elected officials including state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) and Weprin, who rallied with members of the community in July against the plan when the Council was due to hold a hearing on it. That hearing was later canceled. In May, CB 11 voted 25-3 with 9 abstentions against the plan.
Several residents and community leaders said the SCA was hostile toward CB 11’s opposition to the plan, which would locate the school in the heart of a residential neighborhood just a few blocks from two other schools.
According to the DOE’s five-year capital plan overview released in January, District 26 — which includes Bayside, Auburndale, Little Neck, Douglaston, Bellerose, Jamaica Estates, Fresh Meadows and Oakland Gardens — has funding for 416 seats. The SCA says the seats would be located in a brand-new school in the Bayside/Auburndale area.
Henry Euler of the Auburndale Improvement Association said the decision to put a school there is unfair, especially because PS 31, located only a few blocks from the Keil Brothers site, serves students from District 25, the adjoining school district that includes densely populated downtown Flushing, despite being located in District 26.
“It’s not fair,” Euler said. “We have students in our community being bused to the other side of the district.”
He claimed that the site is “inappropriate” for a school and blasted the city for not giving more advanced notice of last week’s committee hearing and vote.
“Residents there did not know about the Council hearing under a day or two before,” he said. “I think that’s terrible the residents did not get to express their opinion.”
Avella released a statement Wednesday blasting both Councilman-Elect Vallone and the man he will replace, Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), for being in support of the school.
“I think it is a disgrace that both the Council member and Council member-elect went behind the community’s back and made a deal to have the proposed school approved, while ignoring the will of the people who will be most affected by the new school,” Avella said. “I am afraid this just sets an extremely bad precedent for the duration of Paul Vallone’s tenure in public office.”
Austin Finan, a spokesman for Vallone, said he did not endorse the project.
“Paul Vallone has never once voiced his support for the proposed school nor has he even been formally sworn into office,” Finan said in a statement. “Tony must not have gotten the memo. He’s not the councilman anymore. Moving forward, Paul Vallone will not be responding to the lies perpetuated by Senator Avella, who has clearly demonstrated he is more focused on personal vendettas than he is the future of Northeast Queens.”
A spokesman for Halloran did not deny the councilman’s support for the school, noting the DOE assured him that there would be no traffic problems and the school is needed.
Councilman Vallone said he voted against the plan because he refused to vote in favor of a plan that wasn’t in his district and garnered such staunch opposition from the community.
“I always knew they’d approve it. What we say doesn’t matter,” said one resident who declined to be identified. “What a mess. It’s only a matter of time before we turn into Flushing.”