Thursday, April 9, 2009
Crowley: Not Enough Support to Block School
Council Approves DOE's Plan for Maspeth High School
By Conor Greene
In the end, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley was unable to get the backing of enough of her colleagues to reject the city’s plan to build a 1,100-seat high school in Maspeth.
Crowley (D-Middle Village) maintains that by the time she took office, it was too late to convince the city Department of Education that the former Restaurant Depot property at 57th Avenue and 74th Street isn’t a good location for the school. She also said that despite her efforts, she was unable to get enough fellow council members to vote against it.
City Council voted 38-10 last Thursday to approve the DOE's plan for the school, which will include two separate 500-seat high schools and 100 special education seats. The project is expected to cost about $80 million.
“By opposing the site from day one, the end result would have worked against the community more than this end result does,” she said in an interview Tuesday in her Dry Harbor Road office. “If I opposed this one hundred percent, it would have likely been a citywide school with 1,650 students” as the DOE originally proposed. “At the end of the day, I knew I didn’t have the votes,” she said.
According to Crowley, the project was being pushed by the Bloomberg administration and had the backing of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. In addition, Crowley said she was unable to gain support from the Council’s Minority Caucus. That group, which has 25 members, felt like Crowley was “getting a sweetheart deal” since the city agree to give priority zoning to students in District 24 and reduce the size of the school.
“I built reasonable expectations so that the DOE could meet the community at least halfway,” said Crowley. “At the end of the day, we did get more than any councilmember has ever gotten in terms of priority zoning… I knew I didn’t have the votes because the Minority Caucus wasn’t with me.”
Many residents testified at hearings over the past year that the site is not appropriate for a school due to the proximity of two existing schools within three blocks. Responding to criticism that she should have opposed a school at the site instead of pushing for it to be zoned for local children, Crowley said the process was too far along by the time she took office to block it.
In the end, the city agreed to give priority to students in District 24, which stretches from Long Island City to Corona and south to Ridgewood, but refused to set aside seats for students in Maspeth. According to Crowley, a student living directly across from the school has just a one-in-twenty chance of being enrolled there under the city’s current plan. “It’s the mayor’s fault the DOE spent a year and a half on this,” said Crowley.
The problem, according to Crowley, was that two-thirds of the council would be needed to quash the project for good. She refuted claims made in an NY1 story that she didn’t explicitly ask her colleagues to vote no. She said she contacted every member of the subcommittee and Land Use Committee and asked the full Council three times to vote no during her speech on the chambers floor.
Ultimately, Crowley says the project was essentially a done deal by the time she took office and said the process had begun during former Councilman Dennis Gallagher’s term. By the time she was elected, the mayor was pushing the plan, making it tough for a “brand new councilmember” to go “against the administration,” which had already committed two years to the project.
“I felt like the mayor and his administration were pushing this onto our community for political reasons,” said Crowley. “He tends to like things done his way and not necessarily in the most democratic way.”
Now, with the proposal apparently moving forward, Crowley has shifted her focus to lessening the impact the school will have on the neighborhood as much as possible. “Now we have to make this work for us,” she said. She plans on working with the Department of Transportation to ensure local buses can handle the influx of extra riders, especially since the Restaurant Depot site isn’t served by subway lines.
“If there needs to be service increases [including additional buses], they will have to meet those demands,” she said, adding that she will allocate discretionary funds to mitigate traffic issues and will continue to push for implementation of the Maspeth Truck Bypass Plan, which would reroute trucks away from Grand Avenue.