Wanted: community center in Bayside 1

What’s next for 203-05 32 Ave.? That’s what some Bayside civic leaders are trying to figure out.

Following the city’s announcement last week that it would not put a high school at the site of the former Bayside Jewish Center, after months of community pushback, area civic leaders voiced support for the building to be turned into a community or senior center.

“I’ve been told by many people that they want a senior center there,” Chadney Spencer, president of the Northwest Bayside Civic Association, said. “I’m surrounded in this community by elderly people. If it’s a senior center that caters to all of the community, that’s great.”

Spencer’s group will be having a meeting at a yet-to-be announced date on what should be done with the building at 203-05 32 Ave. Its owners could not be reached for comment.

But those interviewed by the Queens Chronicle made it clear they want something that would service a majority of the community.

“I would hope that the provider is nonsectarian and offers a program that would serve every segment of our community,” Janet McEneaney, founder of the civic, said.

Spencer said there’s already concern that a Korean organization, that “targets Koreans,” is interested in buying the property.

“Therefore, they only serve Koreans,” he added, lamenting that such a group would not be of use to the rest of Bayside’s population.

Both also agreed that the people looking to populate the building need to come to the community first.

“We can’t have any top-down ideas,” McEneaney said.

In May, the School Construction Authority announced it would seek to use the former Jewish Center and almost immediately faced community backlash. State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) led several protests outside the site and Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Paul Vallone) came out against it after Community Board 11 voted it down at its Nov. 2 meeting.

Avella, who also voiced support for a senior or community center, agreed there must be community input on what is put there and is arranging a meeting with the Bayside Jewish Center’s leadership on that topic.

“We want to work with them. We understand the congregation has dwindled and is no longer there,” Avella said. “Let’s work together to see if we can come to some mutual decision.”

He, like Spencer, heard a rumor that a Korean organization is looking to purchase the site and believes those whispers may have started when a CB 11 member abstained from the panel’s vote because a Korean nonprofit organization she works for, which provides social services, had put a bid in to purchase the building.

Paul Graziano, a Flushing resident and urban planner, said there are many facilities that could go in place of the center — but one in particular can’t go there: a homeless shelter.

“Technically, the city can ignore its own rules but the zoning is incorrect for that type of group home to be used,” Graziano said. “It’s also not near transit. It has to be near a subway station.”

Graziano also said the zoning allows for 15 single or two-family detached homes to be built on that plot of land — which is just a little larger than an acre.

That is something Spencer would support.

“Then it’s done,” he said. “We’re no longer going to be dealing with a commercial landlord or new tenants.”

McEneaney didn’t seem so enthusiastic about replacing the building.

“I’d like to see us keep that building,” she said. “It’s really contextual and has a beautiful landscape.”

Avella said homes are something “that might be on the table” and called that possibility better than placing a high school there.

He said if the site turns into anything other than housing, the building should stay as is.

McEneaney and Spencer both said they never had a problem with the Bayside Jewish Center — until its leaders tried to sell the building to the SCA.


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