Locals Berate HHC For Neponsit Luxury Home Plan
If the comments made by a majority of the seventeen local residents who rose to speak at a Health and Hospitals Corporation hearing on the future of the Neponsit Health Care Center land can be taken as something of a consensus, the Rockaway community is opposed to building luxury homes on the Beach 149 Street site.
The hearing, which was held at the DSSM-Neponsit Adult Day Health Care Center on Beach 102 Street Tuesday night, drew about 125 locals and officials to speak their mind on a HHC proposal to turn the land over to the City Of New York for residential development.
In fact, there were only two of the speakers who favored that plan and one of them, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, had reservations about how the plan could be implemented, her spokesperson Joann Shapiro told the crowd.
"We have questions about what agency would lead the development, who would safeguard the property while the plan is being implemented and the timeline for the project," Shapiro said.
Peter Salmon, the President of the Neponsit Homeowners Association, the local civic association, was the only speaker who categorically favored the luxury home plan.
"We are working to get homes zoned R1-2, single family homes that are compatible with our existing community," Salmon said. "That is what our community wants to see on the property."
The majority of the others who spoke, however, opposed the plan, preferring other options for the abandoned site, such as a school or a halfway house for wounded soldiers.
The most outspoken of those was Steven Wohl, a Rockaway Park resident, who told the crowd, "The fascist Gestapo came in the night and ripped elderly residents from their beds and the land from the community," Wohl screamed. "The state administration is giving the community the bum's rush now before Spitzer comes and changes everything. We will not accept this land being given to robber barons and developers."
Democratic District Leader Lew Simon outlined his long fight against the city's removal of the residents from the home and asked the corporation to postpone any decision on what to do with the property until the state had made a determination on whether it would change the mandated land use, which now includes only a health care facility or a public park.
"I am annoyed that the HHC would vote to make this deal now when it will take the state seven years to make any changes in what is allowed," Simon told the crowd. "I smell a rat."
Others locals had other ideas for the property.
Peter Stubben said that the land has a "strategic value" to Rockaway , situation between Neponsit and Gateway National Park. And, while he believes that former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani did the right thing by evacuating the buildings, he thinks "his timing was off."
"Rockaway history shows that there were many hotels here. The site should be used for a hotel, not more homes."
Several people urged the land be used for a new school, particularly in light of the building boom going on all over the peninsula.
Fran Benjamin was one of those.
"Our schools are already overcrowded," she said. "New homes will only serve to lower the property values of the older homes in the community. We need a school more than we need homes."
Keith Goldberg, the head of the Scholar Academy's School Leadership Team, agreed.
"The new Scholar's Academy is already too small to accommodate all the students who want to go there," Goldberg said. "Schools are the community's greatest need."
Graybeard's activist Kevin Boyle had perhaps the most intriguing idea and got a large hand for suggesting that the hospital property be used as a halfway house rehabilitation center for the "Wounded Warriors" coming home from Iraq without limbs.
"This could be a public-private partnership for our wounded soldiers," Boyle said. "The government is closing Walter Reed Hospital and this would be a perfect place to bring them to enjoy themselves and bring themselves back into the world. We have already shown that with our successful Wounded Warrior project that has twice brought these men to Rockaway."
The hearing was adjourned without decision, but the Health and Hospital Corporation Board of Directors will vote on transferring to the land to New York City on December 14 at their offices at 145 Worth Street in Manhattan. According to Pheffer's office, the city will then have to decide how the land will be utilized.