2006-10-20 / Community

HHC Cancels Neponsit Home Meeting

Local Pressure Forces Agency To Set Rockaway Venue
By Howard Schwach

The Health and Hospitals Corporation abruptly cancelled a public hearing regarding the transfer of the Neponsit Health Center facility to the City of New York, a hearing that was to be held at the Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica on October 18 and that few Rockaway residents and officials even knew was planned to take place.

"The community board was not notified of the hearing," Jonathan Gaska, the District Manger for Community Board 14 told The Wave. "Nobody in the community was notified, not Audrey Pheffer or Joe Addabbo, nobody."

Gaska said that a local resident had noticed a small classified advertisement in The New York Daily News announcing the public hearing and called him to find out what was going on.

"If someone like him wasn't paying attention, nobody in Rockaway would have known about it," Gaska added.

Democratic District Leader Lew Simon said that he got a call as well and that he contacted LaRay Brown, the HHC's vice president.

"I gave her hell for not notifying either me or anybody else in the community about the hearing," Simon said.

Pat Marcat, a spokesperson for the Health and Hospital Corporation told The Wave, however, that the placement of advertisements detailing meetings and public hearings were placed by a service, not by the agency itself and it had no responsibility to place the notice in any specific community.

Marcat added that the hearing was cancelled to give the agency a chance to find a place "in the Neponsit area" to hold the rescheduled hearing. She said that no date and time would be set until a final decision is made on the venue.

Gaska said that the HHC no longer wants the property as a health care facility and wants to turn it over to the city. He said that the city's Economic Development Corporation has been working with the Neponsit Property Owners Association to work out a plan for single-family homes to be built on the property.

"The zoning for that piece of property is parkland," Gaska said. "It can only be used as a park or a health facility. In order to change it to R-1, the same zone that controls building in Neponsit, there would have to be an act by the State Legislature.

The city can't build any homes there without the approval of Audrey [Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer], Malcolm [State Senator Malcolm Smith] and Michelle [Assemblywoman Michelle Titus]. The city can't pull a fast one on us without them being involved."

The facility, located at Beach 148 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, was closed suddenly in September of 1998.

A Labor Day storm, the city claimed at the time, had badly weakened the buildings, making them unsafe for occupancy.

The home was completely evacuated over a two-day period without prior notice to the patients, their relatives or the staff. Residents, some of whom had lived in the building for more than fifteen years, were bussed out in the dark of night to other facilities all over the city.

One 71-year-old woman was "missing" for several days when HHC lost her transfer papers.

In March of 2000, a study conducted by experts for the City Council found that the buildings were in good structural condition and needed only minor work.

Many of the former patients joined in a lawsuit and in June of 2003 they were awarded a $5 million settlement to be spread among the 300 seniors who were moved.

At the time, there were charges that Mayor Rudy Giuliani had promised the land to a Republican contributor from the mainland, but no formal charges were ever brought in relation to the incident.

That entire incident led to a lack of trust on the part of many west end residents towards the HHC that has been exacerbated for the recent failure to notify them of the hearing.

As for the question of future notifications of hearings that involve Rockaway, Gaska says that the HHC has learned a valuable lesson.

"This won't happen again," Gaska said. "I don't expect any future problems like this one."

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