While hundreds of city residents showed up to a College Point civic meeting last week to rally against a rumored homeless shelter site, a local lawmaker says there are currently no plans to bring a facility to the neighborhood.
On May 30, hundreds of attendees showed up to the monthly College Point Civic & Taxpayers Association meeting, where discussion of a rumored homeless shelter coming into the neighborhood was on the agenda. The outcry began in December 2017, when residents received word a private developer had filed plans to build a six-story hotel structure at 18th Avenue and 128th Street.
The plot of land was previously the site of a one-story building and is located in a light manufacturing zoning (or M1) district, which allows for hotel use. The city put a hold on the project in December after an audit revealed a nursery was planned for the second floor of the building, but new plans have been filed with the city since the audit.
On April 10, community members met onsite for a press conference organized by state Senator Tony Avella. Residents argued the neighborhood was in danger of being overdeveloped and is already overloaded with struggling hotels. Residents also voiced concerns that, if proven unprofitable, the hotel could be converted into a homeless shelter.
The city has a history of converting hotels into transitional housing facilities. In recent years, multiple hotels have been turned homeless shelters in western Queens, and plans to bring the facilities to hotels in Glendale and Bellerose have fallen through. However, hotels are expected to be phased out of the shelter system by the end of 2023 as part of the mayor’s “Turn the Tide” plan.
Elizabeth Atkinson Cuccia, a new member of the civic group who has lived in the neighborhood for 27 years, said the large turnout on May 30 led to a split meeting. After the Poppenhusen Institute on 14th Road filled to maximum capacity, attendees like Cuccia spent the meeting outside in the courtyard awaiting information.
Councilman Paul Vallone and Congressman Joe Crowley, who were each scheduled to appear to provide community updates, spent time inside and outside of the venue to address the rumors.
“There is no homeless shelter coming to College Point,” Vallone told QNS on June 1. “And we will support protecting College Point in any way we can.”
College Point is “not the right area” for a homeless shelter, the councilman continued, as the neighborhood lacks transportation, mental health services and affordable housing options. He and his office have relayed this information to the city’s Department of Homeless Services in the past.
“College Point has gotten its fair share of everything,” Vallone said. “We’re kind of seeing that College Point is not capable of absorbing any more city services.”
Jennifer Shannon, a member of the civic group and lifelong College Point resident, said she attended the meeting looking for answers. While Vallone and Crowley told the crowd a shelter was highly unlikely, she said, neither ruled out the future possibility.
“A hotel is going up and it could be homeless shelter. That’s what we know right now,” Shannon said. “The unknown is what’s scaring everybody.”
“I thank the individuals who came to the College Point Civic & Taxpayers Association to voice their opinions,” Crowley told QNS in a statement. “This is a city issue and I know all sides will be heard; however, I do not feel that College Point currently has the infrastructure or accessibility to social services programs that would be needed to properly care and support a homeless shelter.”
The issue debated at the meeting is twofold, according to civic vice president Kathryn Cervino. Residents are “rightfully fearful” that the hotel could be converted into a homeless shelter, but have also raised concerns with a recently proposed zoning text amendment that seeks to limit private hotel development in areas like College Point.
Under the proposal, new hotel development within the M1 districts would be subject to a special permit review, which would take an estimated two years. However, the city would be exempt from this special permit process and could still establish a transient hotel as of right.
“There are two major issues, really,” Cervino said. “There’s the whole controversy over the hotel being built, and then there’s the proposed zoning amendment … The city is not holding itself to the same standards and the same review.”
The zoning amendment would come up for a vote in City Council at the earliest this fall, Vallone said.
Cuccia said there has been talk on local Facebook groups to organize a follow-up meeting to discuss the next steps.
“Someone posted something [on May 31] about having some kind of a meeting to discuss what proactive things we can do in order to prevent any of this from happening — or at least slow it down,” she said.