By Mark Hallum
Elected officials in Bayside have sounded the alarm about a study being conducted by the city at Fort Totten to possibly expand the footprint of agencies operating there by creating training facilities for the Department of Corrections and the New York Fire Department.
The city and state officials say they are appalled by what they see as a lack of transparency from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to the community and reluctance to provide information about the proposal going back to 2015.
Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) issued a joint statement with Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) on Tuesday saying that there had been no discussion with community members and that the only information they received was from an anonymous tip, mailed to Braunstein’s office, that provided FDNY documents saying a study to redevelop part of the park would be complete this month.
“I strongly oppose the creation of a new DOC training facility at Fort Totten and find it outrageous that the city is secretly considering this proposal which could have a detrimental impact on our parkland,” Braunstein said. “Recently, Community Board 7 notified my office that DOC was considering a facility at Fort Totten. Upon receiving this information, my requests to various city agencies have failed to result in any substantive information. This is despite the fact that the City of New York has been considering this proposal as far back as 2015.”
Braunstein went on: “It is absolutely unacceptable that a proposal of this magnitude was not shared with elected officials and the community board for over two years. Given the lack of transparency and absence of public input, I call on Mayor de Blasio to immediately abandon any plans for a DOC facility at the Fort Totten campus.”
Fort Totten was converted into a park, for the most part, more than 20 years ago, but has remained a government installation with military and other agencies operating at the complex.
Last August, the ribbon was cut on a $12 million upgrade to a U.S. Army building at Fort Totten to help the facility maintain military equipment for installations across the region.
“It is gravely concerning when any of our parks, especially a place as special as Fort Totten, is targeted for development,” Vallone said. “Fort Totten’s location is nestled in a small residential community that lacks the infrastructure, public transportation and accessibility for a development of this magnitude.”
According to the documents: “Over the past two years, the city has moved aggressively to determine not only the overall scope/cost of the agency’s reuse goals but has looked to reuse a portion of the campus to create a permanent home for the city’s Department of Correction (DOC) Training Academy. In 2015, the Fire Department, working with the City’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), initiated the first of two major consultant studies. With the utility study completed the department, along with OMB, DDC, and DOC, initiated an analysis of classroom requirements to realize the Fire Department’s training goals and to create a new DOC academy.”
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) voiced his concerns the week before to Vallone and Braunstein, stating that he had filed a Freedom of Information request about the proposal and that he had not received a response from any agencies involved.
“What are you hiding? In addition, why has the community been left out of this discussion and when were you going to notify the community of your plans — after the fact?” Avella said in a letter to de Blasio. “Fort Totten is a wonderful park resource for the community. We have been happy that the FDNY and NYPD occupy space in the fort; but plans to expand the footprint of city agencies and the use of the fort by DOC must have the approval/support of the community.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall