New York Daily News: Controversial plan to build senior housing in Bellerose must be downsized

Tony Avella

March 07, 2014

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) is opposed to the Indian Cultural and Community Center's request for a variance to build two six-story buildings for senior housing on the former site of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. The group had previously told local leaders it only wanted to build a community center, athletic field and parking on the site. 

A controversial South Asian group attempting to build senior housing in Bellerose received the latest in a long series of blows.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz postponed a vote Thursday on whether to grant the Indian Cultural and Community Center a variance to put up two six-story buildings on the site that was formerly part of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center.

The nonprofit group was unable to submit its plans because the city Board of Standards and Appeals ordered the center last week to downsize the buildings so they would better fit into the neighborhood of one- and two-family homes.

“I will do everything in my power to stop this out-of-character, and obnoxious project,” state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) told the Daily News.

He said members of the group offered to help him get reelected — if he helped them acquire a second parcel of land at the site. He refused to support them.

“I have never come across a more disreputable bunch of individuals who consistently misrepresent and lie about their intentions,” Avella said.

The center sparked outrage in the community because its initial plans called for a community center, athletic field and parking facility.

It was only after the center bought the 4.5 acres for $1.8 million — about a fourth of its market-rate value — from the state New York State Dormitory Authority, that it revealed its full intention: to build housing on the site as well.

“It’s a bait and switch,” said Richard Hellenbrecht, a member of Community Board 13. “It’s really not a site that’s good for housing.”

He noted that the area is currently landlocked and not accessible to roads or utilities, and he questioned whether the group had the experience needed to manage a community center and housing.

The group would be required to make the housing accessible to applicants outside the organization, through a lottery system, if it received public support.

The Community Board voted down the project at its Feb. 24 meeting.

The center originally proposed erecting two nine-story buildings, but reduced their height to six stories following a storm of local opposition.

“We’re in the process of further revising the project,” said the group’s attorney, Jordan Most. “It’s going to become smaller.”

The group’s officials declined to comment on the project, but members and supporters, including Varnghese Chunkathil, pointed out the borough’s need for senior housing.

“The area we are considering was completely neglected,” he told officials during the hearing on Thursday. “We need a place for our seniors.”

The new project plans are due by April 22. The group is slated to go before the BSA on May 6.

Link to article: Queens Borough President postpones vote on Indian Cultural and Community Center's controversial plan until group makes the housing fit in better with nearby one- and two-family homes.