By Tom Momberg
A group of Bayside residents organized a rally outside Councilman Paul Vallone’s (D-Bayside) office last weekend, asking the City Council to vote against the School Construction Authority’s controversial proposal to build a new 739-seat high school on 32nd Avenue.
Some 120 people at the rally were mainly concerned that building on the 1.2-acre site where the Bayside Jewish Center now stands — near PS 159, Bayside High School and its athletic fields — would create parking problems and greater traffic congestion. Residents were also worried that the potential scale of the building would cast permanent shadows on neighboring homes.
Vallone, quoting the SCA that the City Council has never voted against the construction of a school, said it would be unlikely to overturn that precedent. He tried to urge the public to work with the SCA and city Department of Education to choose a specialty high school program for the site during the public review period.
After Community Board 11 voted against the proposal 31-1 during its November meeting, Vallone announced he, too, would vote in opposition. It was because of the councilman’s sudden change in stance on the project that the Baysiders rallied outside his office Saturday.
“It’s important to hold his feet to the fire,” nearby resident Chadney Spencer told the crowd. “He has the power in his hands to turn this down — not just with his own vote in the box — but common rule in City Council is if a councilman votes something down in his district, others in the Bronx, Staten Island, Manhattan and Brooklyn are going to vote it down.”
Vallone, like some state legislators in Queens, has expressed the need to reform the city’s school site selection process to include public input prior to the proposal stage. And in recognizing the need for high school seats in the borough, Vallone said he was excited to have had the opportunity to bring some to Bayside, home of the coveted School District 26.
“Throughout this process, we have accomplished what no other elected official has before: a real conversation between the SCA and the community about a potential specialized high school for our children’s educational future in northeast Queens,” Vallone said.
Other residents fear there may have been closed-door meetings among the SCA, DOE and their elected officials before entering into private contract with the Jewish center to purchase the site, and that as a result, the proposal, which requires a two-thirds majority vote of the City Council, may already be a done deal.
The purchase contract would be finalized if the City Council votes in favor of the proposal following the public review period that ends Nov. 20.
Spencer and his neighbor, Janet McEneany, a CB11 member and civic leader, have been urging those who are opposed to the school proposal to call the SCA, their elected officials and other Council members to have their concerns known.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb