2015-10-07 / Features

Van Bramer To Mayor: No More Shelters In Dutch Kills

BY LIZ GOFF

City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer last week requested Mayor Bill de Blasio to sign an agreement stating that his administration would not open another homeless shelter in a Dutch Kills hotel for the remainder of his term as mayor,” a source said.

“That means through the end of this term and through another four-year term, should he be re-elected,” the source said.

De Blasio, who is currently on a political junket in Iowa, did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

Van Bramer made the unusual request after de Blasio signed an emergency declaration to open a homeless shelter for 200 women at the for-sale Verve Hotel, located in the heart of the Dutch Kills community.

Neighborhood residents were concerned by the lack of transparency displayed by de Blasio as plans for the shelter were being finalized.

Some Dutch Kills residents are questioning de Blasio’s promise of an “open and transparent” administration after he failed to give them any advance notice that a homeless shelter would be opening in the Long Island City community. The shelter is scheduled to open on October 9.

De Blasio signed the emergency declaration on September 29, authorizing the shelter at the site of the former Verve Hotel at 40-03 29th St. in Dutch Kills. The shelter is located less than 300 feet from a city charter school and the Newcomers High School, and less than 100 feet from two local churches, sparking added community concern. Van Bramer and other elected officials said mayoral aides notified them of the shelter on October 1. But the aides failed to notify officials at Community Board 1 (a mayoral agency) and the Dutch Kills Civic Association.

The civics learned of the shelter through Van Bramer, who advised them that aides to de Blasio had called an emergency meeting for October 2, to explain plans for the homeless shelter.

“You have to wonder if the words ‘open’ and ‘transparent’ mean the same thing to de Blasio that they mean to the people of New York City,” one angry homeowner said following the three-hour meeting.

“These people didn’t come here to discuss the shelter with us. They came to tell us it was a done deal, and there is nothing anybody can do about it,” the homeowner said. “That is, there’s nothing we can do until the next mayoral election.”

NYPD officials said they are not anticipating a spike in criminal activity in the Dutch Kills area.

The Verve is one of more than 15 hotels that sprung up in Dutch Kills over the last decade. Investors and hotel owners said they chose to open big-name hotels in the neighborhood because its proximity to Manhattan and the Queens Plaza transportation hub made it a desirable venue for visitors searching for Manhattan accommodations at Queens prices.

“This is not exactly the kind of promotional material we would include when we list our hotel for potential clients,” a representative of a national hotel chain told the Gazette. The man shook his head as he left the meeting and said, “Does de Blasio know what he’s doing? Does he realize how this decision is going to impact the investment the hotels have made in this neighborhood? Apparently, he does not understand, because his aides made it clear at this meeting that our concern for our investment means nothing to him.”

Van Bramer said residents who attended the meeting showed no animosity toward the homeless or the women. Residents were mostly concerned about how to make conditions manageable, Van Bramer said.

Dutch Kills residents are not strangers to adversity. They refused to sit by and watch their neighborhood fall into disarray when the city arbitrarily rezoned the Dutch Kills. Residents fought back, with help from late Councilman Walter McCaffrey, when the zoning restrictions sparked a scourge of prostitution in an area near the Queensborough Bridge, and they protested an influx of auto repair and related businesses that caused Dutch Kills to resemble the former clutter of shops in Willets Point.

The residents took on city officials in a battle to save their community, and even made the unprecedented decision to use their own funds to purchase a blighted apartment building to restore quality of life in the neighborhood.

Things changed for the better in 2008, when the city rezoned the area. Today, Dutch Kills is bursting with new residential development and is widely considered one of the most desirable places to live in New York City.

“We’ve worked long and hard to make Dutch Kills what it now is,” longtime resident George Stamatiades said. “We built the table, put food on the table, and now Mayor de Blasio has arbitrarily decided who will eat from the table.”

The local leader who served as both president and executive director of the Dutch Kills Civic Association, said residents have earned the right to express anger over another arbitrary city decision that fails to show any respect for the community.

“Someone could have advised us of this plan before the shelter was a done deal,” Stamatiades said.

An item posted on the “Real Deal” real estate website indicates that the owner of the Verve Hotel had received an offer of $20 million for the site. Real estate experts said the city recently entered negotiations to purchase the hotel and “offered the owner a better deal.” The de Blasio administration did not release terms of a lease or sale agreement between the city and the hotel owner. Prince Realty was the sole broker in the acquisition, according to the Real Deal website.

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