Glendale neighbors argue against proposed shelter at public hearing

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Photo: Max Parrott/QNS

Councilman Robert Holden joined Glendale residents to raise procedural and financial arguments against the proposed 78-16 Cooper Ave. shelter site at a public hearing the city held over contract on Thursday morning.

The hearing provided an opportunity for the Department of Homeless Services to hear testimony from the community before the agency makes a final decision on whether to approve the five-year, $61.8 million contract.

The arguments against the shelter were split between technical objections to the contract and general concerns about how the shelter would disrupt the neighborhood.

Addressing representatives from the DHS and the mayor’s office, Holden was more subdued than he was at last weekend’s shelter protest. He argued that the project should not go forward because of its proximity to schools and nearby sports complexes and what he claimed to be procedural missteps in its rollout.

He also brought up a procurement policy mandate that elected officials have a right to obtain a contract before a hearing, but claimed his office was flatly denied. When Holden sent a staff member to the Office of Contracts, they found that an itemized budget for the project was left missing in the contract. 

“We cannot allow taxpayers to continue to be victims of fishy bait-and-switch tactics by city agencies and their friends,” he said.  

He continued to claim that he had made proposals for alternative locations for shelters that DHS Commissioner Steven Banks liked, even though the agency previously confirmed to QNS that it has found all of his proposals unviable. He finished by saying that he called for a city investigation into the contract procurement and asked that the process be delayed until. 

After Holden’s testimony, Glendale resident Dawn Scala argued that the value of the contract had been inflated by Westhab, the service provider in charge of running the site.

“That breaks down to $5,150 per person per month to sleep on a cot in a dormitory-style setting,” said Scala. 

Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano reiterated Scala’s financial concerns and reminded the city representatives that the community board had voted against the project last month.

For the most part, the tone of the hearing was less hot-blooded than previous hearings and protests, which gave residents a more clear-headed chance to explain where their hostility toward the idea of hosting the facility. 

Dotty Wenzel, a Glendale resident since 1978, described the neighborhood as a secluded little community as part of her argument that the shelter would turn the fabric of the community into a “nightmare.”

Wenzel’s testimony serves as a reminder that Glendale’s secluded quality is not an accident, but a result of zoning and direct action from residents. 

For almost a decade before this project was first proposed, residents have been fighting against big buildings and large influxes of new residents. They pushed for two major rezonings in 2006 and 2009 which limit the density and keep any new buildings in character with the neighborhood.

The disruption of this idea of Glendale as a neighborhood, a characteristic that residents have defended for years, has scared them. 

“I literally have nightmares once a week crying in my sleep because I’m afraid of what’s going to happen in my neighborhood,” Diana Shanley said in her testimony.

The Department of Homelessness will consider these arguments before they announce their final decision. Paul Romain, the Human Resources Administration’s Chief Contracting Officer who listened to the arguments, said that he couldn’t say what the next step of the process will involve.