Parking Vs. Senior Housing Contest Goes To Boro Hall
Arguments for and against an application to build a 184-unit senior housing facility on a site currently occupied by a municipal parking lot occupied most of the time allotted to land use hearings in Borough Hall. The application, by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, would sell the parking lot at 25-03 29th St., Astoria to the Hellenic American Neighborhood Action Committee (HANAC), a longstanding nonprofit organization.
HANAC Executive Director John Kaiteris testified that the building will have a health facility, an exercise room, lounges and arts and craft classes and a senior center that would be open to the general public. The facility would include 49 parking spots and 36 public parking spaces, in addition to 30 spaces occupied by drivers with special permits from the city Department of Transportation that would remain from the 134 parking places that now make up the lot.
“This is a legacy from the Giuliani [mayoral] administration,” Kaiteris added. “The city is looking at parking lots that cost more to operate than the revenue they earn justifies. Affordable housing is a citywide crisis. It makes sense to dispose of this lot to address the problem of affordable housing, especially for senior citizens. For at least 15 years Community Board 1 has designated affordable senior housing as a priority. There are two other municipal lots in Long Island City that commuters can use.”
“One the major factors in opening our office on Astoria Boulevard in 1984 was the municipal parking lot across the street,” Jay Tartell M.D., a partner in Advanced Radiological Imaging, testified. “We see between 150 and 200 patients a day at this office—between 30,000 and 40,000 a year. We have a staff of 30 to 40 people who have to park there, and ambulances and ambulettes use the lot as well.”
Selling the lot for any purpose will cause great hardship to patients and staff of Advanced Radiological Imaging, as well as to two chiropractic offices near the lot and an oncologist who plans on opening an office on Astoria Boulevard in the near future, Tartell added. “How many blocks away must Mrs. A park in January and drag her three-year-old son with pneumonia to our office for a chest x-ray?” Tartell asked. “Mr. B, a carpenter who herniated a disc on the job—how many blocks will he have to walk for an MRI? Mrs. C—she’s 70 years old with a fractured spine from osteoporosis. How far away will she have to park and walk for a bone density test? And how long will all of them have to wait while the technicians who perform these procedures circle the block looking for a parking spot?”
Eric Forte, an area resident, also expressed opposition to the project. “This is a vibrant, growing community,” he said. “The lot is needed now and will be needed in the future. I’m dumbstruck—how can this property be considered worthless when there are million-dollar homes a block away? This is a blatant, obvious land grab.” Louis Farrucci, also an area resident, agreed. “Our tax dollars maintain this lot. To give it away is a travesty,” he declared.
Farrucci added that the property is not suitable for senior citizens’ housing because of its situation at the foot of the Triboro Bridge and the Grand Central Parkway. “The Astoria World Manor catering hall is nearby and so are a lot of nightclubs that use the lot for valet parking,” he pointed out. “Why do you want to put senior citizens next to the busiest intersection in Queens?”
“This isn’t a blighted area,” added Michael Seewald. “Why target this location?” He added that he had presented a petition with the signatures of 750 homeowners in the area opposed to the proposal to the office of Borough President Helen Marshall. “We acknowledge the need for senior housing, but we can’t understand why HPD picked this particular lot. If the parking lots in Long Island City are underutilized, why not use them?”
“There are so many seniors with no place to live,” Anna Silvestros responded. “I need a place to live the last days of my life,” Blanca Diaz De Maio testified. Linda Ferrari, who classified herself as “one of the younger seniors” to testify, added that she was a retired teacher at a Catholic school with no pension and no income except Social Security who lives at the HANAC facility on 21st Street in Astoria. “I drive an 18-year-old car and my HANAC apartment is a blessing—it freed up some money so I can have a social life,” she said. “Can’t we get this building built in some kind of a compromise?”
Tartell did, in fact, later suggest a compromise: in consideration of free land from the taxpayers, HANAC could provide 95 public garage parking spaces in addition to the 34 outdoor spaces left from the original lot. “I admire HANAC, and we’re all for helping our seniors, but it can’t come at a cost to our patients,” Tartell later said.
“HANAC has a long history of serving the community and affordable housing is the biggest problem in the borough,” Borough President Helen Marshall, who presided at the hearings, noted. “The fact is, the city is going to sell that lot to somebody. I do hear the possibility of a compromise here.”
Community Board 1 voted to recommend disapproval of the HPD application by a vote of 28 against, one in favor and two abstentions at its November meeting.