By Steve Mosco
Residents in Glendale are banding together to keep a possible shelter from becoming a neighborhood reality.
Rumors began to swirl last week that the owner of 78-16 Cooper Ave. was in talks with an unnamed nonprofit to transform the vacant building into a shelter for the homeless and recently released convicts.
After the chatter started on the Glendale Civic Association’s Facebook page, residents’ worries were quickly legitimized when elected officials addressed the unconfirmed reports, ensuring they were against the possibility of any such facility popping up in Glendale.
“I do not support turning this site into a shelter,” said City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) in a letter to the civic group. “The site should be developed to enrich the community.”
According to Crowley’s office, the property is zoned M1-1 for manufacturing, not residential use. An M1-1 zone is meant to bring economic opportunity and services to a community, but the land-use laws allow for hotels in the zone and the city has permitted shelters in this zone before, Crowley said.
“But to give an occupancy certificate to a shelter in this location would be an inaccurate manipulation of the law and should be stopped,” Crowley said.
The property’s owner, Michael Wilner, of Wilner Realty Management LLC, did not return requests for comment.
Crowley said she has been in talks with the owner, who said the building has been vacant for the past 20 years. He also told the councilwoman that he has not signed any agreement on leasing the approximately 70,000-square-foot space and is willing to show the building to interested buyers.
Wilner has spoken to nonprofits, according to Crowley, but it was not known where any of the groups operate homeless shelters.
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said while a homeless shelter in the community would be a concern, he wants residents to have up-to-date, accurate information.
“My guess is the property owner has spoken to many prospective buyers,” he said. “This rumor got out and caused a ripple effect in the community. Until we know the facts, we want to remain calm and address the issue. I’m going to keep a close eye on the negotiations.”
Both Addabbo and Crowley said the city Department of Homeless Services has a legal process that must be followed before any site is approved. The elected officials said this process can potentially take months and the local community board must be notified before an application begins.
Community Board 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri said his office had not received any notifications as of yet.
Meanwhile, residents said the prospect of such a facility was enough to cause worry about safety and property values.
Kathy Danile Masi, president of the Glendale Civic Association, said that while property values are a concern, most residents fear for the safety of neighborhood children.
“First and foremost, we need to know what it is. If you’re telling me it’s a shelter for recent prison releases, I have a problem with that. If you’re telling me it’s a shelter for pedophiles, I have a problem with that,” said Masi, who noted that three schools sit in close proximity to the property. “The responsibility is on the elected officials to find out what it is and tell the community what is going on.”
Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4546.