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St. Albans VA private development plan quashed

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A week after the House of Representatives voted on a plan that would stop private development at the St. Albans VA Hospital, the federal government announced Thursday evening it was pulling its proposal to lease part of the space.

The Veterans Administration said it would not lease 25 of the 55 acres of the space to a private developer who was aiming to build properties that were unpopular among the borough’s veteran population. Since the plan’s announcement five years ago, elected officials, veterans and community groups condemned the federal government’s plan because it would not benefit the growing number of wounded soldiers in Queens and Long Island who use the hospital frequently.

Michael A. Sabo, the director of the VA New York/New Jersey Health Care System, said the vets would now be given the full priority.

“Ending this lease process will not impact the current health care services that VA provides our Veterans at St. Albans,” he said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), applauded the reversal.

“I’m pleased that the VA now recognizes that returning Afghanistan and Iraq veterans will result in a tripling of outpatient mental health services specifically required by these veterans over 20 years,” he said in a statement.

The federal government had selected St. Albans Village LLC as its preferred developer for the leased part of the land but veterans groups were not happy with the proposal the developer put forward. The Rev. Edwin Reed, one of the administrators of the development firm, said they wanted to create a new housing complex, school and jazz center, much to the dissatisfaction of veterans.

On June 13, the House passed a bill co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) that urged the VA to stop the private development. Ackerman said the bill helped put pressure on the VA to rethink the lease.

“We can never thank our veterans enough for the sacrifices they made to our nation. Now, we must do all we can to ensure that they receive the health services they require,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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