De-fence! Facing tough opposition, Poly Prep withdraws plan to take dead-end street

Officials at a Bay Ridge prep school shockingly withdrew their request to takeover a section of a dead-end street that they say is rife with crime and prostitution during a tense Community Board 10 committee meeting on Wednesday night, bowing to community pressure over the plan that would have taken away valuable parking spaces from residents.

Poly Prep Country Day School was seeking to lease from the city a 185-foot section of Battery Avenue between Fort Hill Place and the Fort Hamilton Army Base, claiming it is a den of drug dealing, prostitution, and drinking that couldn’t be contained by police and was a threat to national security.

The school planned to fence off the space, freeing up police from patrolling it, and making sure drugs aren’t sold through the fence to American soldiers. Residents, on the other hand, claimed the school just wanted to privatize a public space so it would have a convenient place to park buses when visiting teams come to play football on the school’s nearby field.

So on Wednesday, Poly Prep associate headmaster Steven Anderson was grilled and prodded by local officials — and heckled by residents — as he defended the proposal for nearly an hour before finally rising from his seat and bowing to their demands, telling the crowd that he would not seek to block off the street.

“We’re going to withdraw the application,” Anderson said, to cheers from the crowd, which included roughly 75 people who spilled into the hallway at CB10’s office on Fifth Avenue between 81st and 82nd streets — from small children with hand-painted protest signs to irate elderly neighbors. “We’ve made a mistake here.”

The reversal was a strange twist to a bizarre tale about a school’s attempts to reel in out of control crime that no one else — not even police — say existed.

Anderson and Vincent Ruteulo, the school’s head of security, stood by their claims that the remote section of the dead-end street abutting the Army base and the school was a haven for pot smoking and prostitution, as did other school workers who live on the block.

“I wake up some nights in the middle of the night and there are people having sex on top of a car,” said Gaudenico Amdraede, a school employee who lives on the block in a house paid for by Poly Prep.

But many dispute those claims — and neighbors were irate over charges that their quiet residential block was a den of ill repute as they balked at the prospect of losing parking spaces and a safe, traffic-free play space for kids.

“This is the safest block in Bay Ridge,” said Elaine O’Rourke.

One pol agreed.

“Unequivocally, this is not a problem area for the 68th Precinct,” said Councilman Vincent Gentile.

Still others wondered if such an extreme use of the broken window theory was an effective way to combat crime.

“Do you think it’s appropriate to close down streets when there is crime?” CB10 Steve Harrison asked Anderson. “If we followed your model, there would be no public streets.”

Some neighbors were so upset, they demanded an apology form Anderson after he backed down.

“Are you willing to stand up and apologize for these slanderous comments?” Joseph Rizzi, a Battery Avenue resident, asked Anderson, in a tense exchange.

The school’s officials were blind sided by the opposition, and were noticeably tense and defensive when questioned by community board members and local officials.

“We didn’t realize that we were going to walk into this tonight,” Rutuelo admitted after the meeting, adding that he was shocked when his boss suddenly backed down from the crowd. “I was very surprised.”

Residents declared the flip-flop a victory, and some even thanked Anderson after the meeting.

“The school showed class,” said neighbor Mike Masi.

Reach reporter Dan MacLeod at [email protected] or by calling him at (718) 260-4507. You can also follow his Tweets at twitter.com/dsmacleod.