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Politicians and civic leaders decried city Department of Education plans to construct an 800-student high school on the grounds bounded by the Grand Central Parkway, Goethals Avenue, Parsons Boulevard and 164th Street. A high-rise building with commercial and residential units and an expanded morgue are also in the works for the campus where the Margaret Tietz nursing home is slated to move into one of the hospital's old buildings.
"We don't want overcongestion in our neighborhood and they should find somewhere else to build," said Bob Trabold, president of Hillcrest Citizens for Neighborhood Preservation.
With at least four major facilities operating in the area, automobile traffic would increase and public transportation would be strained, driving down property values, Trabold said, adding that residents would rather have a park. He also said traffic at Parsons Boulevard and 164th Street, an already accident-prone intersection, would become worse.
"The fact is that this community has already been very tolerant and done their part for Queens County over time," said Democratic state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing), whose district covers the hospital campus. He said the city administration had developed the plan without local community input "under the cloak of secrecy."
"It's very secretive, basically trying to pull a fast one and bomb us with it," said area resident Giovanni Larrea, who indicated that many of the details about the proposed school and high-rise, which could include 100 to 200 apartments, remain unclear.
The city acquired the 67,500 square feet of land and three buildings on the property in late 2002, when the Department of Education set its sights on the property. The plans are still in the early stages, and no start date has been set for construction, said Paul Rose, a spokesman for the Department of Education.
In November 2003 Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott held a closed-door meeting with the Community Board 8 Land Use Committee during which he promised to review the proposed school's potential impact.
The School Construction Authority does plan to hold public hearings on the proposals, Rose said.
"The SCA hopes to begin the public review process, where they gather thoughts and input from the community, in the very near future," he said. "All issues will be addressed."
At the time, Kevin Forrestal, a member of CB 8 and president of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association, called the meeting "pleasant." But City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) said the time for nice-guy politics was over.
Larrea, a lawyer, said he and others intended to file a private lawsuit to stop the construction of the school that would become the home for Gateway High School currently on Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica. He said his legal team will need $10,000 to carry out a private environmental study to block the project.
"There's a limit to what a community can absorb," said state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose). "Look around you. There's no place to park," he said.
"And it's a Sunday," an audience member shouted.
While the city has already issued a public call for proposals on the multi-use high-rise, the school, which appears to be the root of most of the controversy, is still in its preliminary stages. No proposals for the school design have yet been requested, organizers said.
Forrestal said he had seen several proposals for the complex. "And they're all terrible," he said.
While the plans call for additional parking to be built, he said the lots would be expensive and drivers would likely seek out free parking on the street, Forrestal said.
"It's going to be crazy," said Larrea's mother, Rebeca, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. "You don't see one space empty."
Gennaro, whose district includes the hospital, said community complaints about the project had largely been ignored by the city administration.
"But now that we're sort of an army, I think we can make more of an impression on the administration," he said.
"There are plenty of places in the city that would like the high schools," City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) said, promising to use his political sway as head of the City Council's Finance Committee to stop the development.
Area resident Bill Malloy said he thought the ideal solution would be to build the school, which specializes in medicine and science curriculums, at St. Albans Veterans Hospital, where he said the size of the campus would prevent a spill-over effect.
Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at email@example.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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