Planned homeless HIV facility nixed after public outcry

Plans to build a shelter for homeless New Yorkers with HIV were abandoned earlier this week after vocal opposition from neighbors and elected officials.

The renovation of an empty warehouse located at 4747 Bronx Boulevard would have created temporary housing for approximately 90 people at a time.

“From the board’s perspective, we’re very, very happy,” said Community Board 12 district manager George Torres after the announcement was made Monday morning.

Torres credited the community for making its voice heard to both elected officials and City Hall.

A statement released by Councilman Andrew Cohen, Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz and Congressman Eliot Engel Monday morning praised the mayor’s office and city leadership for listening to residents.

“Now we must all work to ensure nothing inappropriate is ever brought to that site,” Dinowitz stated.

In that same statement, Department of Social Services Commissioner Steve Banks explained the city had determined the location was not a viable location for a temporary residence or a shelter facility.

“We thank Speaker (Carl) Heastie, Council Member Cohen, Assembly Member Dinowitz, Congress Member Engel and their staffs for working collaboratively with the administration and we look forward to identifying alternative uses that will effectively meet the community’s needs,” Banks stated.

Banks could not be reached for further comment. Calls to the NYC Department of Social Services were directed to NYC Department of Human Resources Deputy Commissioner David Neustadt. A message left at Neustadt’s office Monday was not immediately returned.

A public forum was held by Dinowitz and Cohen June 27 in which residents voiced concerns about what they saw as a proliferation of shelters and facilities aimed at high-risk populations in the northern part of the borough.

Four blocks from the planned facility is Ana’s House, formerly known as the Project Renewal homeless shelter, which houses roughly 100 single men. The facility is named for Ana Charle, a facility director who was shot and killed by a former shelter resident in April 2015.

Another homeless shelter, Muller Center, is planned at a location just around the block that would house another 200 single men.

Torres said the availability of cheap property in Wakefield makes it an attractive location to place special-needs facilities.

“In my district, to say we’re oversaturated would woefully underestimate the issue,” he said.

Torres said the project was not only inappropriate for the location, but was in violation of the building’s current manufacturing zoning designation.

The planned project was a not-for-profit facility with a sleeping area component that would have been run by the non-profit Communilife. That would have required a residential zoning status, Torres argued.

“You cannot have a residential use in a manufacturing zone,” he said.

Torres said the city needed to more evenly distribute such facilities in other parts of the city.

“There really is no vision on what to do with the homeless, and that’s a shame,” he said.

The Bronx Boulevard building is owned by Daniel Turkel, according to public records. A building permit was filed in April for his contracting firm, Liberty One Construction, to renovate and convert the existing structure into a transient hotel with accessory office space.

Torres said presenting the facility as a hotel was an attempt to circumvent the zoning regulations. Work seemed to be moving ahead at the site in spite of the recent decision, Torres said.

“Hopefully they’re building a Hilton or a Marriott,” he joked.

This past Tuesday a small bulldozer could be seen inside the building moving concrete debris out of the building.

Turkel declined to comment on the nature of the ongoing site work when asked.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Turkel said before hanging up.

Calls to Communilife spokesperson Illyse Kaplan and chief operating officer Michael O’Donnell for comment Monday were not returned by press time.

Reach Reporter Arthur Cusano at (718) 260-4591. E-mail him at acusano@cnglocal.com.

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