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Queens Chronicle

Woodhaven residents fret over group home

HeartShare says they have been waiting for city permits to start work

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Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:30 am, Thu Mar 28, 2013.

The three-story detached house on the corner of Woodhaven Boulevard and 89th Avenue is in a weird spot. Just inches from its north wall is a tall brick apartment building, the house next door is extremely close to the property line and the intersection is one of the busiest — and most dangerous — in the neighborhood.

Nobody lives in the house. It hosted a doctor’s office until a few years ago and now sits vacant. Last June, Community Board 9 approved a plan to tear down the house and replace it with a group home run by HeartShare Human Services of New York.

But some residents living nearby are concerned about the home and say so far little has been done to the site, which they said is in shambles.

“The place is so shabby looking,” said Eileen Baxter, who found out about the home through a letter HeartShare slipped through her front door last summer. Baxter added that the sidewalks in front of the home were not shoveled after the Feb. 8 snowstorm, although she acknowledged the sidewalks were shoveled after subsequent snowfalls this winter.

Baxter is also concerned about the location of the house, noting that it’s at a notoriously dangerous intersection.

So much so that state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) used the intersection as the site for a 2010 press conference calling for more safety measures for crossing major streets — an initiative that helped lead to more countdown clocks at crosswalks such as this one.

The site is also within a few blocks of two public schools, PS 60 and PS 306, and is not far from the Forest Park Senior Center, making the corner a busy one during the morning and afternoon.

Tricia Fleming, a spokeswoman for HeartShare, acknowledged there have been issues at the site, including with trash thrown there by others.

“That’s a problem that we are having,” she said. “It’s not our garbage. We do have staff that go over a couple times a week.”

Joyce Levin, vice president of HeartShare Human Services, said the site has been hard to maintain and the group sends out workers to clean the site twice a week.

Work at the site has been stymied while HeartShare goes through the lengthy process to acquire permits and bids to find a demolition company. Levin said the house will be torn down by the group and a new, slightly bigger home, will be built at the site.

“The new house will probably look a lot different,” Levin said.

It will house 10 residents and be staffed at all times on rotating shifts.

Levin said the process is in the final stages and demolition is expected to be done next month, with construction on a new building beginning in May and to be finished by the end of the year.

She said there will be a large fence constructed around the site once work starts and that should keep garbage from being dumped there. She added that construction and maintenance crews will be on the site daily once work begun.

But CB 9 member Alexander Blenkinsopp, who lives in Woodhaven, expressed some buyer’s remorse over the project. He said he was uneasy about the process in which the home was approved by the board.

“In retrospect, there were bad signs from the beginning,” he said.“First, the vote came as a surprise to me. The residence was mentioned on one of multiple addenda to the meeting agenda, and even there, a vote was not mentioned — only a public hearing. Board members received no advance notice thatthe current building at that location would actually be demolished. At no point did I have any hint about the scale of the project prior to the meeting. There was not sufficient public input on the residence.”

Blenkinsopp said there were numerous facts that came out after CB 9 unanimously approved the site in June that led to him asking if the vote could be reconsidered, but the rules state that is not possible.

“HeartShare had been asked what notice they provided to neighbors, and they led me to believe they had conducted a thorough canvass of nearby residents to let them know about the group home and to inform them that major construction would occur,” he explained. “After the CB 9 meeting, I took the initiative to ask neighbors of the HeartShare property and learned that they had not, in fact, been notified.”

HeartShare did accepted an invitation to speak at a meeting of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association last summer. Ed Wendell, president of the WRBA, said he appreciated their outreach by coming, but said he has not been satisfied by the level of communication since then, though Levin said she has been in constant email contact.

“I’m hopeful it works out and we can work with them,” Wendell said, noting that their mission is an honorable one.

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