The uncertainty remains over a plan to build a high school on the site of a former country club in Whitestone as this year draws to a close.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said in October that he had learned the School Construction Authority was seriously looking into the former Cresthaven Country Club site at 150-33 Sixth Ave. to build a much-needed high school. But area residents oppose the plan, saying the site floods and lacks public transportation and sewers.
Rallies were held and petitions signed with Avella and City Councilman-Elect Paul Vallone publicly coming out against the proposal. Area civic groups opposing the plan include the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association, Waterside Estates Homeowners Association, Welcome to Whitestone Civic Association and Malba Gardens Civic Association.
In November, Avella, Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) and Assemblyman Mike Simanowitz (D-Flushing) wrote to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott voicing their objections to the plan.
The elected officials noted they have received petitions against the school signed by more than 1,600 residents. In addition, they said the property, which is in a residential area, is in foreclosure and that the bank intends to foreclose in the next few months.
“Given the circumstances, we request that this property be taken off SCA’s radar as a possible location for a school,” the officials wrote. “We stand ready to work together with SCA and the Department of Education to find a more suitable location.”
Lorraine Grillo, president of the SCA, wrote a vague response, saying that no decision has been made at this time and if the SCA determines that the former country club site is a good location for a new high school, “the community board will be offered the opportunity to hold a public hearing and submit written comments regarding the issue.”
Grillo added that the site for a high school was suggested by Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), who did not seek re-election and faces federal bribery charges with state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis). She said the location is large enough to accommodate a high school building with outdoor recreational space. “Property of this size, 4.7 acres, does not come on the market often and we would be remiss if we did not take a serious look at this option,” she wrote on Dec. 11.
In a telephone interview, Avella said he doesn’t believe the SCA will go ahead with pursuing the site because it has no infrastructure, which would make it extremely costly, and because of the pending foreclosure.
Vallone said on Monday that Grillo “promised it would be picked as the last resort.” He plans to sit down with her in January, after he is officially sworn into office.
“I want to meet with her on any plans for the area before they come out with a tape measure,” he said. “I want to go over SCA plans for the next four years.”
The councilman-elect said there are other sites that could be used, including the old Flushing Airport, off 20th Avenue in College Point. There is plenty of room there for a school and it is not in a residential area, though part of the area is a wetland.
The Whitestone property has a long and mixed history. Cresthaven Country Club, operated by Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, was located there for 39 years until it closed in 1989. It was situated on 22 acres and had a fancy clubhouse, five saltwater pools, courts for badminton and tennis and a successful summer day camp.
About 16 acres were sold in 2000 to the Mattone Group, which built 110 luxury homes along the East River waterfront. In 2006, Avella, then a city councilman, had urged the Parks Department to purchase the remaining property to be turned into baseball diamonds and other sports fields, but he was turned down.
A year later, Whitestone Jewels LLC bought the remaining six acres for $23 million, with plans to build a 55-home gated community. The firm eventually defaulted on its loan.
Meanwhile, the SCA for over a decade has been looking for property to build a high school in northeastern Queens. One location on 172nd Street in Flushing was eventually rejected because of strong community objections, the site was too small and primarily because the land was contaminated due to previous manufacturing at the site.
Neither Whitestone nor College Point have a public high school, and Grillo said in her letter that area high schools are severely overcrowded and “available land to build new schools is limited in this heavily populated area.”