Members of Community Board 18 might find themselves convening in a parking lot when they resume their monthly meetings following the summer recess, after the Mayor’s Office unilaterally decided to lend CB18’s Bergen Avenue meeting room to a federal program that helps people rebuild their storm-damaged homes and businesses.
“The Department of Environmental Protection, for whatever reason, is giving our space to the Build it Back New York program,” said Community Board 18 chairman Saul Needle. “I told them, that’s not going to work.”
The city wants use the board’s meeting room inside the department’s Bergen Avenue facility to provide a convenient location where superstorm Sandy victims in CB18’s area can meet with specialists working for the federally funded Build it Back program.
The city said it choose the board’s meeting room — which will have to be outfitted with cubicles, computers, and phone lines to facilitate the recovery program — because of its central location, and because, as a city-owned building, Build it Back wouldn’t have to spend federal bucks on rent that could be out towards rebuilding a family’s home in Canarsie or Mill Island.
“We’ve been looking for quite some time, and this was a prime location,” said Peter Spencer, spokesman for the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery.
But that prime location was promised to CB18, according to district manager Dorothy Turano, as part of an agreement back in the 1980s to clear the way for a 20-million-gallon water-retention tank the city wanted to install in the district as part of its Combined Sewer Overflow project. So the community board, which was only able to start holding meetings there in 2011, views being pushed out of the building as not merely an eviction, but a broken deal as well.
“We’ve been waiting 20 years,” said Turano. “But now that we’re in here, we’re wanted out.”
The city’s representative, on the other hand, said that Turano and the board have enjoyed very expensive accommodations as a result of that ancient deal, and that they’ll be free to hold the meetings at the building once Build it Back’s job is finished.
“Dottie put $7 million into that space so it could be spruced up for them,” said Spencer. “Let’s be clear, they’re not being kicked out of that space. It’s legally city space, and Build it Back isn’t going to be there forever.”
Given that the city has gone back on its word to the board already, however, Needle is worried that once CB18 is forced off the premises, there’s no guarantee that the city will let the board back in even after the federal program finishes it’s work.
The Mayor’s Office has suggested several alternative locations where the board can meet — including the John Malone Community Center, another Bergen Avenue venue. But Needle points out that the very fact that the city has alternatives in mind for the board means that those same alternatives could be used for Build it Back, and it doesn’t make sense uprooting the community board, a permanent institution, for a temporary one.
“Let’s look at this logically,” said Needle, who happens to be a lawyer. “They say there’s plenty of space for us to move? So, you take the space where you plan for us to move and you take that. What sense does it make for you to move us, for a program that’s not going to last forever?”
The Bergen Avenue Build it Back opening is scheduled to coincide with the closing of the program’s Coney Island location at the end of the month, but CB18’s officers have vowed to shut their doors to the program and bar entrance to any city workers or Build it Back employees who come around to prepare the space.
If that doesn’t work, Needle says there are a whole host of lawyers who would be thrilled to take a case of a “New York City agency throwing out a New York City agency,” and that all it would take is one temporary restraining order to effectively allow the community board to wait out the Bloomberg administration.
Bloomberg, on the other hand, merely wants what’s best for the people living in Community Board 18, and didn’t expect to find a fierce opponent in the form of the board itself, according to Spencer.
“If they’re there to serve their constituents, why wouldn’t they want to help us when that’s what we’re trying to do?” he asked.Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cn