Ann Jawin, chairwoman and founder of the Center for the Women of New York, has been waiting nearly five years for approval to move into a building at Fort Totten Park, and now says she believes it will happen in a year.
“We should be in in a year. The Parks Department finally approved the design plan and we’re very happy about it,” said Jawin, who now works with her staff out of a small office at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens. “We want to be positive and look to the future.”
The women’s group has been fighting to take over the 1905 former bachelor officers’ residence, which is in a landmarked historic district at the decommissioned Bayside fort.
Fort Totten is now a park operated by the Parks Department and a portion run by the Fire Department. The CWNY had been allowed to set up shot there temporarily, but when it was told to vacate, it objected, in a battle with Parks that became so intense it was eventually mediated by a state Supreme Court judge. In December 2007, after four years of heated negotiations, Parks agreed to allow the CWNY to use the derelict building.
The city agency first said the group’s mission did not meet the criteria for siting it in a park. Then, it cited its rule that 80 percent of programs offered by groups in parks must be on park-related topics such as tree disease identification and yoga.
“We have compromised on some of the issues,” Jawin said. “We will offer courses on landscaping and horticulture, which meets Parks’ criteria.”
The design plans still have to be approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office and Community Board 7. A meeting with CB 7’s Parks Committee was scheduled for Jan. 25, after which the matter will proceed to the full board.
CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty said Friday that the board will hold a “regular hearing” — one at which only members can speak — not a public hearing, since the land use was already determined when Fort Totten became a park.
Kelty added that the hearing will include discussion of what the group is doing with the property.
Jawin believes the additional approvals are “just procedural” and hopes they will be completed in two months so work can begin on fixing up the derelict structure.
The women’s group has secured $1.7 million in public funds that will go toward gutting the inside of the building, removing the asbestos, putting in new windows and a roof, replacing the rotting wooden porch and adding electricity, running water and heat.
The initial work would allow the CWNY to move into the first floor. Additional funding is needed to finish the second floor, but Jawin doesn’t expect problems in acquiring the money. “Hopefully, the economy will be better,” she said, noting that a total of $3 million is needed for the entire project.
The group’s planned headquarters would be used as a conference, resource and learning center. There will be an area devoted to women’s history, workshops, classes and other programs on health.
Some people who were against the fort location for the women’s group say it is not centrally located in the borough and hard to reach by public transportation. Jawin disputes that. “It is no more difficult to get to in Queens than other areas,” she said. “There are three buses that go to Fort Totten from downtown Flushing and a bus near the Bayside Rail Road station.”
She added that the building has some adjacent parking and that there is a parking lot just outside the park.
The city has determined a timetable for the renovations to take place, pending their approval. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” Jawin said.