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Apartment manager denies rumored SJU housing deal

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The general manager of the Fresh Meadows apartment complex denied rumors Monday that housing managers had reached a verbal agreement with St. John's University officials to lease apartments to the university for use as off-campus housing.

The rumors had been sparked by an article in the April 30 edition of the St. John's student newspaper, The Torch, which said while no written agreement had been made, university Residence Life officials were acting as if a deal had been reached based on a verbal agreement.

"There's no such agreement and we're not pursuing it. There won't be any off-campus housing in Fresh Meadows," said Irving Spodek, the general manager of Fresh Meadows, a 3,285-unit rent-stabilized apartment complex with management offices at 188th Street and 64th Avenue. "They can cross that off their list. We didn't think it was a good idea."

St. John's spokesman Jody Fisher said Spodek's statement was a surprise to him, based on what he had been told by Susan Ebbs, the vice president of student life last week.

"Last Tuesday afternoon we had a verbal agreement with the Fresh Meadows complex and we were beginning to notify the students that they would be placed in off-campus housing," Fisher said.

Phone calls to Ebbs were not returned.

Fisher said the university hoped to secure off-campus housing within one housing complex for 75 to 80 students by the beginning of the fall semester. The number is down from three weeks ago, when Fisher said Residence Life officials were seeking to place 150 students in off-campus housing.

Students assigned to off-campus housing would be mostly graduate students, law students and undergraduate seniors, Fisher said. Students would be required to submit an application and go through an interview before they were placed in this housing.

"Students would be screened to make sure they are mature and they can handle the off-campus housing," Fisher said.

Costs for off-campus housing would be similar to costs for on-campus residence halls, Fisher said. A double or triple room in a residence hall now costs $6,050 for two semesters and a single room costs $7,200.

Florence Kleinfeld, a spokeswoman for the Fresh Meadows apartment complex tenants' association, said the nine members of the tenants' association board were opposed to housing off-campus students in the complex's rent-stabilized apartments.

"There are very few rental apartments in Queens, and even fewer rent stabilized. We feel that the apartments should be for families and individuals who are planning to stay here, not transients who would be coming in here for semesters," Kleinfeld said.

In addition, board members believe the quiet, stable neighborhood of the Fresh Meadows complex is not conducive to campus-type life, Kleinfeld said.

"We don't have a lot of parties, a lot of music, a lot of traffic," Kleinfeld said. "Additionally, we have very limited street parking and we feel that this would be a further burden to the tenants."

Members of the Fresh Meadows complex management rarely meet with tenants to discuss issues and had not informed the tenants' association of any negotiations with St. John's, Kleinfeld said.

The Fresh Meadows complex has 27 three-story "garden" apartment buildings divided into three wings, three 13-story buildings, one 14-story building and several two-story buildings.

In addition to the Fresh Meadows complex, St. John's officials had been in negotiations with several other housing landlords to try to secure off-campus housing for students, Fisher said. He declined to reveal the names of the other housing sites because he did not know how far along negotiations had gotten with landlords of those sites.

"At this point we are trying to get in touch with the Fresh Meadows folks," Fisher said. "We are hopeful that we can finalize a deal."

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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