St. John's University, in the midst of a 10-year building initiative that will reshape the look and feel of the campus, remains under the watchful eye of local civic groups who fear new dormitories and other additional buildings will have a negative impact on the surrounding community.
In recent weeks there has been increasing speculation that the New York Mets were eyeing the St. John's campus as a temporary home for a minor league team, and while civic groups say they are being kept in the dark, the university maintains it is as willing as ever to work with the community.
"I can tell you without any doubt that the entire community will find this potential development to be most unsettling," wrote state Sen. Frank Padavan (D-Bellerose) to Father Donald Harrington, president of the University, in reference to a possible minor league ballfield on campus.
Jody Fisher, a spokesman for St. John's, said the Mets and the city are currently considering the campus, but he did not know what other sites the team was considering.
"We are really passive in this," Fisher said.
As of press time, the Mets' executive offices could not be reached for comment.
Padavan has been pushing for a plan which would allow the Mets to utilize grounds of Creedmoor, but last week a Mets official said the organization was no longer considering that option. Padavan said the project would require a parking garage, which would exacerbate the all ready crowded intersection of Utopia Parkway and Union Turnpike.
Kevin Forrestal, the co-president of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association, said there was no mention of the Mets at a Jan. 12 Community Dialogue Group meeting, where university official met with members of the community.
Forrestal also said it was revealed at the meeting the third set of dorms planed by the university would be built closer to homes than the community had initially been told.
The first set of dorms built on the Grand Central Parkway service road opened in September and house approximately 700 students. The second set of dorms is being built adjacent to the first and will increase the on-campus population to approximately 2,000.
Forestal said the initial plans had placed the third set of dorms about 100 yards away from the edge of the campus, but the residents are now being told dorms are going to be built directly facing homes on 168th Street.
"There will be no setback and local homeowners will now be looking at high rise buildings," Padavan said in his letter to St. John's.
Harrington wrote in a response to Padavan's letter that the plans for the dorms have not changed and that they will be built 30 to 40 feet inside the property line with trees and greenery providing a visual buffer.
Both Padavan and local civic groups have asked the university to halt construction for one year in order to study the impact of the dormitory project on the surrounding community.
Harrington said on several occasions the university has changed its master plan based on input and suggestions from the community. In his letter, he said the location of three proposed parking structures was moved away from the Grand Central Parkway and 168th Street and the original height of the residence halls was reduced after the community expressed concern.
"As we have emphasized since it was first unveiled, the master plan is dynamic, designed to change as circumstances warrant it, including in response to community concerns wherever possible," said Harrington.
"It is our intention to keep these lines of communication open and filled with a constructive exchange of ideas."
©2000 Community News Group
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