Queens Hospital Center’s “T Building” in Jamaica currently sits vacant, but there’s a plan in place to transform the structure into an apartment and supportive housing complex.
According to the plan, the 75-year-old former Triboro Hospital building at Parsons Boulevard and Goethals Avenue will be leased to Dunn Development for 99 years for the mere $1 who in turn will renovate the building for the cost of $12 million. This plan, however, has some steadfast and committed opposition that spoke out during a public hearing on the proposal Wednesday night at the hospital. The hearing was hosted by members of the NYC Health + Hospitals board of directors (referred to in this article as “Health + Hospitals” or “the board”), the agency which will either approve or reject the Dunn Development plan.
More than two dozen people, mostly community residents, spoke at the hearing. Before they took their turns at the microphone, Martin Dunn, CEO of Dunn Development, gave an update on the proposal for the T Building.
Dunn announced that the number of supportive housing units would be 75 and that the number of studio apartments would be decreased. Additionally, he said, multi-bedroom apartments would be increased to be “more in line with the housing stock of the surrounding community.” These units will be reserved for people with special needs, such as those with mental illness; Queens Hospital will provide various support services for them.
Besides the 75 supportive housing apartments – all of which are studios – there will be 131 low- and moderate-income housing units: 15 studios, 49 one-bedroom units, 59 two-bedroom units and eight three-bedrooms.
Dunn pointed out that all residents would be screened; individuals with dangerous criminal records and registered sex offenders will not live there.
The strongest opposition to the plan came from residents living in Parkway Village, the housing development located across the street from the T Building. Many worried about who would be living in the 75 supportive housing units. Despite Dunn’s assurance that those residents wouldn’t pose a danger to the community, residents were skeptical, pointing to other quality-of-life issues in the area.
Douglas Sherman, president of the Parkway Village Equities Corporation, said the community has already had enough quality-of-life problems and feared more from supportive housing residents in the new development.
“We have a homeless shelter operating at Parsons and the Grand Central. We also have Cheap Shots, a bar that has brought public urination, fights and shootings,” he said. “We’ve had enough.”
Resident Juan Carrion expressed the strongest opposition, promising to work for whoever runs against an elected official supporting to plan in the next election. Speaking to the Health + Hospitals board members, he said the corporation has “no credibility” with residents because of the number of issues, such as parking and problems with patients, the hospital hasn’t helped with.
“You don’t live here,” he told the board members. “Promises were made and people leavened they forget and we have to live with the crap.”
But a number of speakers came out in support of the proposal, including Seymour Schwartz, vice chairman of Community Board 8 (CB 8).
“Let’s face it, the building is here to stay,” he explained. CB 8 had voted to support demolishing the building several years ago, but Health + Hospitals did not pursue it.
“If this project does not go through, another proposal may come that will create even worse problems for this community,” he added.
Some preservationists in attendance, including CB 8 member Susan Cleary, said the plan would mean a clear future for the iconic building. Resident Martin Guttman scolded Health + Hospitals for allowing the vacant structure to fall into disrepair.
“It’s a shame you’ve allowed it to come to this,” he said.
Many of the words of support were met with boos from those in opposition, with some suggesting the supporters were being paid by Health + Hospitals or Dunn Development for their backing.
But Bhithara Fulton, a CB 8 member who spoke in support, noted that the empty building is already costing Health + Hospitals millions of dollars.
“Certainly we can’t have an empty building,” she said. “We’re paying to keep it open. Yes, we have to use it. Yes, we have to help the homeless. I would like to see the community come together. I don’t see how we can’t make this work.”
If Health + Hospitals approves the proposal, it would have to go before the City Council for final approval. As is typical with land use issues, the Council will likely side with the member representing the district that includes the project; in this case, that member is Councilman Rory Lancman.
Though Lancman didn’t say whether or not he supported the project, he did seem to agree with Schwartz, hinting that rejecting it might be against the community’s best interest.
“If this does not go through, something will,” Lancman said.