St. Albans developer defends VA project


| tcimino@queenscourier.com |

            Despite public outcry, one of the developers of the St. Albans Community Living Center says that the “economic aspect of this [project] cannot be overemphasized.”

            In late June, the Veterans Administration (VA) selected St. Albans Village LLC from a pool of four after a Request for Proposals (RFP) in April 2008 to develop the site, with a 75-year lease.

            St. Albans Village LLC, as a development team, consists of D&F Development Group; GGT Development Group, with which Reverend Edwin Reed is associated; and Holland Horizon.

            Peter Florey, principal with D&F, explained to The Courier that the project consists of two elements: the health care of veterans and a new community, low-density, park-like setting.

            The 55-acre site on Linden Boulevard, said Florey, will be divided roughly in half, and a “significant portion will continue to be dedicated to health care purposes for veterans. All services currently provided will be replaced with new, state-of-the-art facilities.”

            John Mazzulla, VA spokesperson, said, “The VA for several years has been pretty frank . . . all existing health care services currently provided will be provided after the enhanced use lease goes into effect. All clinical services will remain.”

            Stressing that no jobs will be lost, Mazzulla explained that, with the new facility and additional space, primary and specialty care for vets will expand as demand increases.

            Plans for the new community have not yet been finalized, Florey said, as they are awaiting the VA to more firmly establish criteria, but will consist of between 1,000 and 1,400 residential units of mixed income, ancillary commercial space “to support whatever needs the new residential units call for,” and a “significant amount” of parking, as well as green space.

            “All housing will be prioritized to veterans,” he explained. 

According to The United Coalition of Veterans and Community Rights (UCVCR), there are close to 61,000 vets in Queens County and an additional 68,232 vets in Nassau County for a total of 129,081 veterans who would use a full service hospital in Queens. 

The UCVCR wants the St. Albans site to be retrofitted to a Full Service Veterans Medical Center, with Emergency Services with Primary and Extended Care for female veterans and a Transitional Care Facilities for veterans. The building is already eligible for landmark status, they say, and they want the buildings preserved as a landmark and included in the State and National Historic Register.

The UCVCR claims the St. Albans community is a low density single home minority community which has hundreds of vacant stores, restaurants and thousands of vacant and foreclosed homes. The community says the infrastructure in St. Albans and Hollis, including schools, utilities and transportation routes, would be “overburdened” by the rental housing a developer could erect next to the VA facility.

Assemblymember William Scarborough has said in published reports that the plans are "out of character" with the surrounding area.

            In response to the public demonstrations organized by the UCVCR – and letters from politicians like State Senator Joseph Addabbo, in which he writes, “I am deeply concerned with your recent decision to select a developer and to move forward with the Enhanced Use Lease process at the St. Albans VA Facility” – Florey said that they are “trying to reach out to as many of the stakeholders in the community as we can.”

            He continued, “We are actively out listening to as many voices and groups to identify their needs, concerns and priorities.”

            And, said Florey, during construction – and beyond – a “significant number” of jobs will be created.

            “One of the priorities of the developer is significant inclusion of minority participation in the construction and creation of this community. It will be a significant boost to the economy.”

            Dispelling the perception that the project will be a “high-density community,” Florey reiterated that “health care facilities will be replaced and enhanced,” and noted that the developers are “optimistic that once the plan is more finalized it will be better received.”

            In the next few weeks, he added, a web site – stalbansvillagequeens.com – will be launched to provide contacts for the community and allow them to voice their opinions.