New dorms cause stir in Jamaica Estates

Some local residents are up in arms over the current construction of a new St. John’s off-campus dormitory in a Jamaica Estates neighborhood. Their anger stems from the University not consulting with the community before agreeing to the construction, according to affected homeowners.

The new six-story dorm is under construction at 172-14 Henley Road and will house 485 students. The building is expected to be completed by August 2009.

The area where Henley Road is zoned limits buildings to being 40 feet high, but a technicality in the zone’s community facility rules will allow the planned 62 foot building to be constructed, according to a September 18 Daily News article.

The Henley Road dorm will be the third off-campus building for the Queens Campus. The Seton Complex on Union Turnpike and the DePaul townhouses are the other two.

According to a September 20 Daily News article, local residents were not officially informed of the Queens campus’ plans until a community dialogue meeting last Tuesday.

In a September 18 St. John’s press release, the University stressed that it was not the owner or developer of the project. However, they were engaged in ongoing talks with the owner before plans to build the off-campus dorm were set.

A 10 year lease agreement for the building was signed in early August.

The press release indicates that the community was left in the dark about the new off-campus housing plans because “early public dialogue on this issue would have been premature and speculative on the University’s part.”

The press release also stated, “St. John’s consistently has made it known that it seeks appropriate residential sites in the community for the growing number of requests for university-controlled student housing.

“In an effort to comply with that demand, we have entered into the lease agreement with the owner and developer of this site.”
In the September 20 issue of the Fresh Meadow Times, City Councilman James Gennaro referred to the project as a “sucker punch.”

Henley Road residents seem to agree.

“I was surprised and shocked that they would do this,” said Steve Altenburg, who lives right next to the construction site.

“I couldn’t imagine why they would want it here in this neighborhood.” said Rosemary O’Buckley, a resident across the street from the planned building.

Residents are concerned that their neighborhood may not be equipped to handle the influx of people. The area is mostly made up of single family houses with a few three-story apartments.

“Originally in that spot, there were about four houses with maybe 20 people, now you’re talking one giant building with almost 500 people,” said Altenburg. “It’s too much.”

The residents also emphasized potential water pressure, noise and traffic problems as other areas of concern.

“Quality of life will change a lot because it won’t be as quiet as it is now,” said Mobina Sattaur, whose home is down the street from the planned dorm.

“We’ve had students renting houses around here before and the partying and the noise level was just [too much],” said O’Buckley. “The same thing is going to happen with this building.”

Some St. John’s students felt Henley Road residents were justified with their worries.

“I think the quality of life there will definitely go down,” said freshman Shaquana Rankins, “It’s a fact, college kids tend to party and get out of hand.” She added, “as much as people hope that it won’t happen, it probably will.”

Sophomore Schawanda Plummer, who believes that the community should have been informed about the dorms, said,”While I disagree that all college students are loud and unpleasant for families and neighborhoods, I do agree there could be big concerns with the dorm being built there, particularly an increase in noise and just general activity.”

Others were optimistic about current residents and St. John’s students co-existing on Henley Road.

Freshman Yogita Khemai noted, “I believe there will be benefits because this school has a good reputation and it should be able to provide for students that need housing.”