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Indian Center tried to buy support: Finkelstein

Bellerose resident James Jackowski points to drawings showing how the ICCC's plans would affect the community. Photo by Howard Koplowitz
TimesLedger Newspapers

Citing a lack of information, Community Board 13 tabled a vote on a controversial plan by an Indian group to build senior housing and a community center on the grounds of the Creedmoor campus, but the meeting did not come without fireworks.

After the board voted 22-13 to shelve the matter for next month, CB 13 member Seymour Finkelstein claimed he met an unnamed fellow CB 13 member and two individuals belonging to the Indian Cultural and Community Center — the group behind the plans — who tried to woo him in exchange for his support for the project.

“They told me I was very well-versed on the community and they would offer me a consultant [position],” Finkelstein said.

He said if anyone did not understand what the group meant, “they should come and see me privately.”

CB 13 member Corey Bearak said since Finkelstein made the allegation publicly, he has to bring the matter to the city Conflicts of Interest Board and the borough president’s office, although Finkelstein indicated he would not take those steps.

CB 13 Chairman Bryan Block said the board’s Ethics Committee will take up the issue.

Vinoo Varghese, an attorney for the cultural center, denied the allegations.

“If [Finkelstein is] serious, he can file an ethics violation,” Varghese said. “The ICCC denies any impropriety. It’s inappropriate to make a public comment casting aspersions on people. We without a doubt deny any impropriety.”

CB 13 First Vice Chairwoman Tanya Cruz motioned to table a vote on the ICCC’s plans, saying the board did not have enough information to make a decision and CB 13’s Land Use Committee did not make a recommendation for the project.

CB 13 Land Use Committee Chairman Richard Hellenbrecht said there were “time constraints” that prevented the committee from meeting before the board’s general meeting.

But the board had two opportunities to hear about the proposal.

Jordan Most, an attorney representing the ICCC’s request for a variance to build on Creedmoor, presented the group’s plans during a public hearing last week and briefly discussed the project again at CB 13’s meeting Monday.

Most cleared up some questions civic leaders and residents had over the project, saying the ICCC received the money to purchase the Creedmoor property from the state through individuals who made loans to the group.

Civic and community leaders in Bellerose are opposed to the project because they say it is out of character with the neighborhood, especially the two nine-story towers that are planned as senior housing.

James Jackowski, who lives across the street from the site, opposes the plans and warned that there will be difficulties for fire trucks to get into the site because the area does not lie on a mapped street.

He then showed drawings of what the site looks like now and how it would look if the towers are built.

Supporters of the ICCC claimed those against the project were also against seniors, with some saying prejudice against Indians was to blame for the opposition.

But community leaders dismissed the claims, saying they were in favor of the community center and that they are not against senior housing, but object to the height of the proposed buildings.

“Civic leaders and the community never said we were against senior housing,” said CB 13 Second Vice Chairwoman Angela Augugliaro, who said she was told it was feasible for the ICCC to build the project using one- and two-story buildings. “What we oppose are the heights of the buildings.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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