Thursday, March 19, 2009

Maspeth School Hearing Postponed as Zoning Argument Continues

Crowley Vows to Vote Against Current Plan

By Conor Greene

A key hearing on the city’s proposal to build a high school in Maspeth has been postponed for two weeks to give Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley more time to negotiate with the Department of Education over the school’s zoning.

Crowley (D-Middle Village) wants the DOE to zone the school it’s considering at the former Restaurant Depot site on 74th Street for children attending five neighborhood schools. However, the DOE is sticking to its stance that it doesn’t restrict admissions to those living near the school and has offered to give preference to students throughout District 24, which stretches from Long Island City to Corona and south to Ridgewood.

Under Crowley’s proposal, students from PS 58, 49, 128, 229 and 153 would get the option of attending the new 1,100 seat high school, according to her spokeswoman, Meredith Burak. “These schools are extremely overcrowded, so she is hoping that if a school is going to be in this area it helps alleviate overcrowding in this area,” said Burak. “Her belief is that parent and community involvement is fundamental for a good education.”

The city’s proposal calls for opening admission first to District 24, and then to District 27 and District 28. At its meeting last week, Community Board 5, which initially voted against the school proposal, agreed to the city’s latest plans with some exceptions, including that Crowley’s plan is implemented.

A City Council land use sub-committee was supposed to vote on the proposal this week, but agreed to delay the vote for two weeks while Crowley and DOE officials continue to discuss how the school would be zoned. According to Burak, Crowley is ready to vote against the plan, despite the area’s need for a high school, if the city doesn’t guarantee it will be open to neighborhood children.

“We are hoping for more community involvement, and as it stands right now she will only support a school that gives preference to local children,” said Burak. A school that is open to all of District 24 “is just not the best thing for the community, and she won’t support something that doesn’t benefit the community… If the DOE doesn’t budge on giving preference for District 24, the councilmember is not going to support anything that isn’t locally zoned.”

However, according to comments made by the DOE and Deputy Mayor for Education Dennis Walcott, it appears that the city is not willing to budge from its current stance. “We always try to respond to residents, but not to go counter to our beliefs,” Walcott told the New York Times this week. “We don’t want students blocked out, which can lead to a have and have-not type of society. We want to build an inclusive society.”

Walcott went on to say that the city will not make any further concessions, and the school might not be built if the land use sub-committee doesn’t approve the application this month. “We have been very accommodating with this particular project. We have a responsibility for the borough and the city at large,” he told the Daily News. Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office, the City Council has yet to reject a new school plan.

During public hearings, many Maspeth residents have argued that the area is already too congested, especially since there are two schools within three blocks of the proposed site. The city is currently attempting to negotiate a purchase of the site from owner Lucky Star Elmhurst, LLC but has said it might use its powers of eminent domain to seize the land if no deal is reached.

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