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On Jan. 10 Community Board 8 members approved plans for the restrooms at their monthly general meeting despite a large turnout by civic association members opposed to the facilities. Some two dozen members held handwritten placards at the meeting proclaiming: "No Bathrooms."
The $480,000 restrooms would be built with funds secured by Leffler. The item has been on the CB 8 capital budget list for several years.
"I think it was a substantial vote, 27 to 11, so I think that was significant," Leffler said of the CB 8 vote. But he acknowledged the board only makes the recommendation for the restrooms to the city Department of Parks and Recreation, and he is prepared to withdraw the money if he sees overwhelming opposition.
Leffler was expected to make a final decision this week on whether to canceling the funds.
"He had made a commitment to us," said Claire Fallon, a Holliswood Civic Association member, explaining that Leffler had promised that if the neighborhood/association could demonstrate large-scale opposition to the bathrooms, he would consider withdrawing the funding.
"I am waiting for his answer," Fallon said, adding that if he does not consider pulling financial support, "we have a plan, and it will be put in force."
Whether community support or oppose the restrooms depends largely on how far they live from the playground situated at the corner of Francis Lewis Boulevard and McLaughlin Avenue.
"Our ultimate goal is not to have the park updated to include the restrooms," said Kurt Hoppe, co-chairman for zoning and security for the Holliswood Civic Association.
"It was really a setup deal last night," he said of the board's vote. "We had about 140 people at the meeting and they were only allowed to speak for 30 seconds."
A representative from Young Israel temple in Holliswood, which has 200 members, said at the hearing the group overwhelmingly opposes the bathrooms because of safety concerns. They worry that the restrooms will become magnets for pedophiles, homeless people, and drug users.
But Alfred Kadushin, president of a group of co-op buildings in the Hilltop Housing Complex four blocks from the playground, wants bathrooms.
"There is a tremendous amount of children here right now, and we are getting more and more of them," he said in a phone interview.
Miriam Null, 74, who also lives in the Hilltop complex that houses about 900 families, said at the hearing the park needs a bathroom for the community, children and seniors.
In a letter sent to the community board, state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said he was against the bathrooms and he thought the funds could be better used.
Plans for the playground facilities call for demolishing an existing tool shed and replacing it with the comfort station to be made of brick with a cast-stone base. It would have separate male and female stalls, a baby-changing station, and be handicapped accessible.
A playground associate would be stationed in the park to maintain the facility in the morning and would lead recreation programs for children in the afternoon. The associate's hours would be flexible, and the bathrooms would be locked when the associate was not on duty.
Shortly before the vote, Marc Haken, the board's Youth and Recreation Committee chairman, stressed that without park restrooms, there would be no park attendants and without attendants no youth programs.
But Hoppe said neither was needed.
"They're not important there," he said. "The park is 150 feet by 60 feet. I don't think it's even an acre. It's used by very small children, and is very small itself," he said.
Earlier this year, CB 8 voted against installing restrooms at Utopia Playground in Fresh Meadows, where there was similar opposition. City Councilman Morton Povman (D-Forest Hills), who originally secured the money for those restrooms, withdrew funding following public protest there.
"The people who voted for this don't live in the neighborhood," said Fran Lashinsky, who has lived in Holliswood 38 years.
Board member Jim Gennaro had a different view. "The park belongs to the public," he said after the meeting, "all the public, not just the people who live in the immediate vicinity of the park."
Pending final approval, bathroom construction would begin this summer with completion by spring 2002.
©2001 Community Newspaper Group
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