By Phil Corso
Tensions are high in Whitestone as community leaders and residents are condemning rumors of the city eyeing a 6-acre lot in the northern Queens community as a site for a new school.
Neighbors noted over the past few weeks that representatives with the city School Construction Authority were surveying a site at 150-33 6th Ave., where Whitestone Jewels once operated, elected state officials said. News of the proposal spread throughout neighborhood quickly and met widespread opposition as community leaders took a stand against any plans being pushed through without their consent.
Democratic City Council candidate Paul Vallone staged a largely attended protest at the site last week and called on the city not to act unilaterally in mulling the site for a potential school. Vallone, who is running for the 19th District seat soon to be left vacated by outgoing Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), said the issue of unwanted school construction was one of several to fall by the wayside in the wake of Halloran’s arrest on federal corruption charges in early April.
“Quality of life issues are paramount in northeast Queens — they are what separates us from much of the rest of the city,” Vallone said. “The construction of a school in this neighborhood would tarnish the precious quality of life we enjoy here. The local homeowners know it and the SCA knows it. We must find another site.”
City Education Department spokesman David Pena said the city was just beginning to take steps in considering the location, and no official decision had been made.
“As we do throughout the city, we always take preliminary surveys of areas where we have identified a need for new school construction. This is just one area we are surveying,” Pena said. “We go through a public process before there is any approval on a particular site.”
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said his office tried reaching out to the School Construction Authority, but was shot down when all inquiries were instead referred to the DOE.
“The School Construction Authority’s interest in this site makes no sense. This is a quiet, residential neighborhood that has no public transportation options. Any new school would have a very negative effect on the quality of life for residents, including increased traffic congestion and parking problems,” Avella said. “Just because this site has remained vacant for years, does not mean that the community will allow anything to be built there. Even more troubling is the SCA’s refusal to share any information regarding their interest in this site with an elected official.”
Members of the community have long yearned for another high school in northeast Queens’ 26th School District to alleviate overcrowding, but the Whitestone lot was not ideal, community leaders said. Hundreds of residents gathered on 5th Avenue Saturday to circulate a petition, opposing the plan.
“While there is certainly a need for more schools in Queens, the Whitestone Jewels property is an inappropriate location,” said Debra Markell, president of the Waterside Estates Homeowners Association in Whitestone. “It simply does not offer the infrastructure and transportation options necessary for the development of a new school.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.