CB 7 rejects homeless housing proposal

Community Board 7, at its February meeting, voted to reject an application that would provide a variance to construct homeless housing on Second Avenue and 32nd Street in Sunset Park, because – in the words of the board’s Land Use chair — “it raised more questions than answers.”

The application for an 11-story building, with 200 units of housing for homeless veterans, was submitted by Overcoming Love Ministries (OLM), which reportedly learned that the site was available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The board’s ’s Land Use and Landmarks Committee had previously voted to recommend that the board turn the proposal down.

The deed of the property was obtained by Reverend Leopoldo Karl, founder of OLM, in 2011. It states that it may only be used for housing homeless, Karl claims.

Richard Lobel, OLM’s lawyer, explained that the ground floor of the building would be focused on social services, such as counseling, job creation, education and social welfare. All of the above floors would be for studio apartments and one-bedroom units.

Lobel said that the Department of Homeless Services reviewed and approved the project in 2007.

The site is currently an M3-1 zone for “heavy, intense manufacturing,” which several board members said they would like to keep that way. When Jeremy Laufer, district manager of CB 7, asked Lobel how many people currently reside in the zone, he could not provide an answer.

“[This is an] M3-1 zone. [It’s] very little residential,” commented Fred Xuereb, chair of CB 7. “We pride ourselves on keeping manufacturing here. This isn’t Williamsburg. We want to keep the area manufacturing. Vocational training would fit, but as far as housing goes, that’s another story.”

Xuereb noted that fuel used to be stored on the premises and asked if any testing had been done at the site. One board member contended that the site is “landfill on top of salt marsh.”

Laufer explained that the property was obtained through the McKinney Act, which requires the federal government to offer property to non-profits before any other organization when they are disposing of it.

According to that legislation, Karl has three years to begin construction. If he does not, the land will go back to the government.

“We are concerned that you haven’t tested the ground. We don’t know what’s in there,” Laufer said.

Karl insisted that a $35,000 environmental report was done and submitted to the government. “Nothing toxic was found,” he said.

Board member Ed Wade brought up the fact that those living at the shelter will not have access to food.

“Two hundred homeless vets will find way to get food,” Lobel retorted.

“The reason you are homeless is because you can’t handle your own things. You penalize those people and someone’s going to make a lot of money and we are the victim,” Wade contended.

“I see no laundry, refrigeration, and the nearest grocery store is 10 blocks away and they don’t have good-soled shoes,” he went on. “You are victimizing them and putting them in a bad place. The site is terrible for homeless people.”

However, Johanna Coxeter, who is on the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee, said she was in favor of the housing. ““I am surprised so many people are against this,” she said. “I know no one wants this in their backyard, [but] since it’s industrial, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Maria Delgado, who lives up the block from the proposed site, said that there are no resources in that area. “Homeless people don’t have transportation and Third Avenue has no transportation,” she said.

Alice Walsh, from the 400 54th Street Block Association, added, “Whole Foods has been trying to establish a location on Third Avenue for years and can’t because of the soil contamination. There were so many questions asked that you didn’t answer properly,” she said.

John Burns, chair of the Landmarks and Land Use Committee concluded, “I am disappointed with the application and presentation. I think this is a very bad application to come before a community board with. It raises more questions than answers,” he said. “You aren’t feeding people. It’s almost insulting to me. It’s mind boggling.”

DHS did not respond to a request for comment.

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