By Kathianne Boniello
Why can’t everybody just get along?
That’s the message State Supreme Court Judge Duane Hart sent to the Queens Women’s Center and the city last week when he suggested the two sides reach a compromise in the fight over the center’s eviction from Bayside’s Fort Totten.
Hart did not issue any decision on the matter during the May 8 hearing, at which the women’s center requested an injunction of the city’s eviction efforts.
The city has been attempting to boot the Queens Women’s Center from its Totten headquarters since last fall. Ann Jawin, a Douglaston resident and founder of the center, has refused to go and flouted each of the city’s three eviction deadlines, setting the scene for a court battle which began last week.
“I just hope they will want to compromise,” she said earlier this week. “It takes two to tango.”
A representative for the city’s law firm, the Corporation Counsel, confirmed that the two sides were expected to return to court May 15.
Fort Totten in Bayside, owned by the federal government, was slated to be taken over by the city Fire Department this past January. The Fire Department said the Queens Women’s Center must leave its building for the transfer to be completed and issued the group eviction notice that was to have been effective Dec. 13, 2001.
Fort Totten, decommissioned by the U.S. Army in 1995, was to be split between the Fire and Parks Departments. Several nonprofits occupy buildings at the Civil War-era fort, but only the Queens Women’s Center has received an eviction notice.
Sol Kodsi, the Manhattan lawyer who is handling the Queens Women’s Center’s case, said a number of issues were raised during the May 8 hearing, including the number of vacant buildings at Fort Totten.
“Parks has seven buildings vacant,” Kodsi said, referring to an admission made by the city’s legal representative during last week’s court proceedings.
Jawin has accused the city of being unwilling to compromise on the matter of her group’s eviction. The city Parks Department told the TimesLedger earlier this year it would not accept the women’s center as a temporary tenant—thus allowing the center to relocate and the transfer of the fort to continue—but the agency did not give a reason why.
Kodsi said another issue that arose in court was that city documents from the late 1990s list the women’s center as one of the nonprofits with a “permanent, low-cost home” at the fort.
The lawyer also said city maps and documents from the late 1990s through the present seem to reflect a change in the status of the Professional Design Center, which was originally in a Fire Department building but whose headquarters is now under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department.
“The bottom line is that the Queens Women’s Center wants to be treated fairly and equally,” he said.
The Fire Department has said Jawin was well-informed of the pending eviction when she first took over the space in 1997. Jawin has said she expected the group to get a chance to apply for permanent status at the fort.
The Queens Women’s Center was founded in 1987 and provides a range of services to women and families, including job training, domestic violence programs, counseling, funding and training for women who want to start their own businesses.
Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.