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Plans for St. Albans VA slammed

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Plans to redevelop the current site of the St. Albans VA Hospital has come under heavy fire as dozens of residents, politicians and veterans struck back at a controversial developer after he laid out his plans for the site.

The Rev. Edwin Reed made an appearance at the Linden House in St. Albans Monday night to unveil what he and his development firm, St. Albans Village LLC, want to do with the 55-acre site. In 2006, the Veterans Administration announced plans to build a new medical facility at the existing site and set aside roughly 25 acres for private use.

Reed, who used to work for the Rev. Floyd Flake’s development firm, said he wanted to get input from the veterans on his proposal for the land before finalizing the plans.´╗┐

“We are looking for preferences from the veterans in everything we do,” he said.

St. Albans Village, which has been named the preferred developer and is involved in negotiations with the VA to be the group that does the construction work, will upgrade the current hospital with a new building, adhering to the guidelines set aside by the federal government, Reed said. The hospital will have outpatient care, domiciliaries, after-care housing and other amenities, according to the developer.

“It mirrors what is at the site now, but it’s state-of-the-art and will deliver much better care than it has now,” he said.

As for the rest of the land, Reed said his group has several plans that would incorporate the needs of the community. He said he is looking into creating a housing complex for nearby residents, a new public school and a jazz center to reflect the community’s roots in the musical genre.

The private plans angered the veterans who were at the meeting, which was hosted by City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), and many lashed out against Reed for his proposals.

“Can you tell me your vision of a jazz plaza and how that will benefit the vets in this room and their health?” asked veteran Steven Epps.

Reed said he can only do what the VA asks his company to do and the federal agency does not want to use all the land on the site.

“I cannot not get engaged in that battle,” he said.

Reed was once a board member of the now-defunct nonprofit New Direction Local Development Corp., which is being investigated by the U.S. attorney’s office for its questionable finances.

On Saturday, several veterans gathered outside the hospital to call on the VA to rethink its plans and dedicate the entire site to health care services.

Retired Army Reserve Lt. Col. Paul Schottenaheml of Glendale, a Vietnam veteran, said the VA needs to increase services at the hospital, since area residents depend on it for their health-care needs.

The closest VA hospital facilities in the city are near Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn and on 23rd Street in Manhattan — too far for many Queens and western Long Island residents, he said.

“The Vietnam veterans are getting to the age now where they need the VA more than ever,” Schottenaheml said at the protest.

John Mazzulla, a spokesman for the VA, said the space at the hospital will not increase or decrease by more than a couple of beds´╗┐, and that the 55-year-old hospital will see great benefit because the developer will use the remaining acreage to build a brand-new, updated VA hospital.

“The VA for this will get new nursing home facilities, expanded primary and specialty care and our psycho-social rehab program would also be new constructi­on,” he said. “It will allow us to expand the primary and specialty care services that are provided at St. Albans at that campus, and everything else will remain essentially the same.”

Mazzulla stressed that St. Albans Village has not been selected as the final developer, but this step forces the company to give more specific plans of what it wants to do with the space.

Protesters against the proposals said that since the plans are tentative, they still have ways of making sure they get their needs met.

“I understand that you are a businessman´╗┐ and you need to make money, but not on our watch,” Queens Village vet Tom Holloran told Reed.

Reach reporters Ivan Pereira and Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com.

Updated 6:10 pm, October 10, 2011
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