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Editorial: NIMBY rampage

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Last week scores of residents of School District 24 packed a City Hall hearing to explain why they would rather have a Staples store than a modern new elementary school in Maspeth. It did not matter that District 24 is the most overcrowded district in the borough. Children are already attending class in hallways and restrooms and by next fall the schools will reach 115 percent capacity.

We find it hard to imagine anything more bizarre than a community coming together to tell the city that they would rather have a box store on the block than a school. Some argued that the school would disrupt the "tranquility" of their neighborhood. But the desire of homeowners to enjoy tranquility is far outweighed by society's obligation to provide the best possible education for its children. The disruption caused by any grade school is minimal. There is the hour in the morning when children and buses arrive and another hour or so when they leave. To that you can add recess. If people can't stand the sound of children for a few hours a day, society should feel no obligation to accommodate them. Do these people really think that a Staples store with deliveries in the middle of the night would create less of a disturbance?

Some said the proposed site was not suitable. NIMBYs always think someplace else would be more suitable. Others said the 900-seat school is too big. The size is dictated by the need of the district. This is not unusually big for a New York City school.

A few speakers hinted at what we fear may be the real reason for the impassioned opposition to the school. They are afraid it will draw hundreds of children from other neighborhoods. Children who don't look like their children. Children with accents. The ghost of Archie Bunker still haunts this part of Queens.

We applaud Borough President Claire Shulman for having the courage to support the building of this school. At the same time, we are dismayed that City Councilmen Walter McCaffrey and John Sabini have equivocated on the isssue. McCaffrey, who is running for congress, actually said he prefers putting a Staples on the site. Let's see, Walter, a new public school in one of the most overcrowded districts of the city or another stationery store? Tough choice, huh?

Never forget

A generation has passed since the last young Americans were drafted into war. By now, even those who fought in Vietnam have gray hair, if they have hair at all. Of course, our troops still stand by, ready to be sent anywhere in the world on a moment's notice. And on occasion American forces are called upon to help the United Nations bring peace and stability to some third-world country. Nevertheless, the fact remains that a generation has grown up not knowing the devastation of war.

While as Americans we are grateful for a quarter century of peace, we must not allow ourselves to forget those Americans who gave their lives to purchase the freedom that we all enjoy. On this Memorial Day weekend, those heroes - alive and dead - who fought for freedom will be honored in solemn ceremonies, prayer services and parades in every part of Queens. In Douglaston, Whitestone and College Point, marching bands, color guards, floats and thousands of school children will parade down main streets throughout Queens. Others will celebrate Memorial Day by taking the time to bring a flag or some flowers to the grave of a loved one who bravely served his or her country.

We can only hope that the people of Queens will never tire of these celebrations, that we will never be too busy to honor our heroes. We salute those men and women who work countless hours to organize these parades ceremonies. They bring out the best in us.

Huang hits back

No man that we can think of has done more to abort the economic revitalization of Flushing than the developer (we use the term loosely) Thomas Huang. Huang is the owner of the RKO Keith's Theater on Northern Boulevard, a landmark building that has sat unused for 15 years. After years of stalling and violating numerous laws, Huang has filed a $39 million suit against the city in federal court.

The suit charges that the Landmarks Commission and the Buildings Department have prevented him from developing this site. If you look up the word chutzpah in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Mr. Huang. He is much like the man who kills parents and then seeks sympathy because he's an orphan.

Huang purchased the building, which was once one of the most beloved theaters in Queens, for $3 million in 1986. He had to know at the time that the lobby of this historic building had been given landmark status and that there would be limitations on how the property could be developed. In 1987, the city issued a stop-work order alleging that Huang had damaged the protected interior. This was the beginning of 14 years of legal nonsense that culminated last year when Huang was placed on probation for spilling hundreds of gallons of heating oil in the basement of his building.

In the meantime, the once grand theater became an eyesore that never went away. The RKO Keith's was first opened on Christmas Day 1928. During the dark days of the Depression, people would pack this vaudeville theater for the chance to escape their troubles, if only for a few hours. The RKO Keith's has a special place in the history of Queens.

Echoing the sentiments of many of his Flushing neighbors, we have repeatedly urged the city to get tough with Tommy Huang. We asked that he be forced to develop the property in a manner consistent with the building code or that the property be taken away. No developer has the right to damage an entire commercial district.

Now Huang wants to be compensated for the damage he has caused. We hope he gets what he deserves.

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