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Judge nixes St. Peter’s petition

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Bronx Supreme Court Judge Geoffrey Wright has tossed Westchester Square business owners and residents to the curb. On Tuesday, January 19, Wright dismissed demands that the Department of Homeless Services shutter its homeless shelter on St. Peter’s Avenue.

“I think the court rubber stamped the city’s argument,” Westchester Square business leader John Bonizio said. “[Wright’s decision] is beyond logic.”

Westchester Square business owners and residents had argued that DHS defied the City Charter when it opened the shelter at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue in August; it failed to notify Community Board 10 in a timely manner and failed to perform a Fair Share analysis of the neighborhood.

But Wright found that because DHS never signed a lease at or purchased the building, originally meant for market-rate renters, it had no need to conform to the City Charter.

"We are pleased that the judge agreed with the city’s arguments that the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and Fair Share did not apply under these circumstan­ces,” city attorney Amanda Goad said.

Wright based his decision on Ferrer v. Dinkins, a 1995 case, wherein a judge found that DHS could temporarily house the homeless in a north Bronx motel on a per diem basis. Similarly, DHS pays roughly $90 per unit per day on St. Peter's Avenue.

The economic recession has flooded the city’s homeless shelters and forced DHS to rent beds, Commissioner Robert Hess argued.

Bonizio called Ferrer v. Dinkins a “loophole.” The business leader is furious that Wright failed to consider circumstances in Westchester Square. The neighborhood is saturated with government-managed social services, Bonizio and allies claimed.

Wright acknowledged a breakdown in communication between DHS and CB10 but was less than persuaded by Westchester Square’s argument.

“Even though the city admittedly was tardy in informing the community board, such information was a courtesy only, not a must,” the judge wrote. “Therefore, there is no penalty for the delay.”

Bonizio bristled at the phrase “courtesy only” and blasted Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“I guess it’s “courtesy only” to take a homeless shelter and dump it in our neighborho­od,” he fumed. “But in King Michael’s fiefdom, ‘courtesy only’ is how business is done.”

Councilman James Vacca, “very discouraged” by the “shortsighted” decision, agreed.

“The judge used a case from fifteen years ago,” Vacca said. “Why not dust off that decision and come down to 2010.”

Vacca thanked Bonizio for his work. He was surprised that Wright failed to consider the opinion of then Comptroller Bill Thompson, who backed the Westchester Square business owners and residents in late 2009. The judge also failed to consider the “lack of real guidelines to protect neighborho­ods,” Vacca said.

In December, DHS altered its open-ended request for proposals. DHS won’t okay a homeless shelter proposal unless the homeless services provider involved submits proof that the relevant community board is awake to the plan. Before, DHS only required homeless services providers to submit proof of attempted notification.

The change sets no schedule for notification, nor does it address Fair Share analyses.

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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