Coney Islanders are railing against the city and a shelter provider, demanding to know why anyone would chose to put a shelter for homeless families on a toxic Neptune Avenue site in a waterfront flood zone without even an evacuation plan.
Shelter provider Women in Need — run by former Council Speaker Christine Quinn — seemingly selected the site between W. 22nd and 23rd streets at random, said one local, calling it the worst possible place they could choose to house homeless women and kids, given the site’s environmental issues and its location on the waterfront of highly polluted Coney Island Creek.
“My question for Christine Quinn and local leadership is, do you think placing homeless women and children on a flood zone, on a contaminated site, is a good idea?” asked Daniel Ioannou, a Coney Island resident. “How does Women in Need select properties? Do they just point at a map and say, ‘let’s pick this one?’ ”
The proposed site for the 200-unit shelter has generated controversy in the nabe ever since plans for it were first announced last year, when locals cited their concerns about its proximity to IS 239, a school about two blocks away, and rough-and-tumble Kaiser Park, about six blocks away.
At a packed meeting last December, local pols and environmental activists drilled down on the site’s possible contamination, citing its past use as a former dye company, Department of Sanitation garage, and dental clinic. But locals’ concerns have fallen on deaf ears, according the local activist who has pointed out errors and omissions in the property’s environmental assessment, commissioned by the Department of Homeless Services from Aecom, a private engineering firm.
“Nobody looked at it and nobody wanted to look at it and nobody really cares,” said Ida Sanoff, the executive director of the National Resources Protective Association, of the site.
Sanoff detailed her concerns about the site in a Nov. 27 letter to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and the commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, and the district manager, Eddie Mark, has asked the city to commission another, more complete environmental assessment. But Sanoff said she has not yet heard back from any of the agencies she contacted, and added that she is also highly concerned about the shelter’s lack of an evacuation plan given its location on Coney Island Creek.
“Even if the building isn’t damaged [in a flood], there’s no electricity, there’s no water supply, the roads are impassable,” Sanoff said. “If these people are already in the shelter system and their shelter is uninhabitable after a flood, then what do you do with them?”
Ioannou agreed that is seems nonsensical to house homeless families in a place that may have to be evacuated in a crisis.
“Putting more of the city’s most vulnerable on a flood site is never a good idea,” he said. “When you put people who don’t have the capability of leaving in harm’s way, that’s never a good idea. What’s Women in Need’s plan? Are they going to hand out MetroCards to people and say, ‘good luck?’ ”
A spokesman for Women in Need said that it would coordinate with the Department of Homeless Services and the city Office of Emergency Management in the event of any evacuations caused by flooding. He added that the building will be designed to be flood resilient, with the ground floor primarily serving as a parking garage.
Plans for the site — which city records show is not city-owned — were filed with the Department of Buildings in October, according to records. The developer, Gal Horowitz, hung up when contacted about the property. The project’s controversial architect, Shlomo Wygoda, could not be reached for comment. The Women in Need spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about the terms of sale or lease of the property.
Ioannou said that Women in Need should consider putting the shelter in a safer, less flood-prone neighborhood nearby.
“It’s time for other neighborhoods to step up and do their fair share — preferably some that aren’t on the front lines of flooding,” he said. “Why should we even allow these possibilities when we could just move two neighborhoods over? Bensonhurst doesn’t flood like Coney does.”
But the Department of Homeless Services chose the site in part because Coney Island currently has no traditional shelters and only one hotel cluster site serving 22 families with children, which it plans to close by the time the Neptune Avenue shelter opens, according to a spokesman.
Ioannou said that he wasn’t convinced, given the contamination and environmental concerns with this site, and alleged that the city may simply be making a sweetheart deal with a powerful political figure.
“This thing is being bypassed without really any say,” Ioannou said. “To say [Quinn] has influence, absolutely, there’s no denying that.”