Construction continues despite protests

Local residents and politicians continue to pressure St. John’s University and developers to discontinue construction of a new six-story off-campus dorm
in a residential Jamaica Estates neighborhood.

The latest concerns center on the area’s sewer system, which may be unable to fully accommodate the new building.

One of the main detractors of this projectis State Senator Frank Padavan, who claims that along with the additional traffic, noise and other potential issues brought on by the planned 485 students living at 172-14 Henley Road, the site of the construction, the area’s current eight-inch sewer line also presents
a huge problem.

“The current sewer system, which was built decades ago, will not be able to handle that much activity in that neighborhood,” he said. “It just won’t work.”

But according to David Belt, who is renting the building to St. John’s, H2H Residences, the developer of the site, has done an extensive study with the Department of Environmental Protection.

“We were looking to see if we were contributing to any problems,” he said, but he added that through their study, they found no issue with the sewers.

Padavan said this issue was brought up with the city’s DEP. After a survey of the site, the agency concluded that the sewer system would not be able to manage the addition of the building and its nearly 500 inhabitants.

He also mentioned that the DEP asked the Department of Buildings to issue a “stop-work order” to H2H Residences, based on the inadequate sewer system. This stop-work order would temporarily stop construction on the dorms, but according to Debra Caruso, the media contact for H2H Residences, “any talks of this [stop-work order] have dissipated completely.”

Instead, the developer was given 10 days at the beginning of January to prove that the current Henley Road sewer system could handle the planned six story building, a January 10 Queens Chronicle article reported.

Although the deadline has passed, the developer has since been given an extension and an order from the DOB to stop construction has yet to be given, said Padavan.

The controversy surrounding the new off-campus dorm began in September, when Henley Road residents and local politicians say St. John’s failed to consult them about construction of the 62-foot structure.
The University signed a 10-year lease agreement for the building.

“There was no communication from [St. John’s] to anyone, no one knew what they were doing,” said Pavadan,
“This was done very surreptitiously and the actions of the University have been unconscionable.”

Dominic Scianna, head of media relations at St. John’s, however, said that St. John’s has been holding community dialogue meetings with residents of Jamaica Estates since September, and has another meeting scheduled for Tuesday, January 29.

Other objections against the project revolve around concerns that the neighborhood, made up of mainly single-family houses, is not equipped to handle the number of new residents.
But Belt feels that it’s “ridiculous” that “the news has been making [St. John’s] students out to be scoundrels.”

Since news of the construction broke, Padavan said more than six protests have taken place, including one on October 20 outside of Gate 1 and another one outside of Carnessecca Arena on December 20.

The senator added that there is another protest scheduled for Wednesday, January 23 outside of Madison Square Garden during a St. John’s basketball game.

Despite pressure from local residents and politicians and the threat of their work being called to a halt, H2H Residences seems undeterred.

The company released a statement in the beginning of January saying that construction on Henley Road will continue.

“…We are confident that neither [the DEP or DOB] will bow to [Senator Padavan’s] political pressure and that both DEP and DOB will do the right thing and concentrate on technical issues as opposed to
political aspirations.”

Padavan believes the only way St. John’s can begin to repair their damaged relationship with Henley Road residents is to “withdraw plans to build in the area.”
“The only issue here is that the University insists that by building this dorm on Henley Road that there will be no problems, which couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Padavan said.

“Until St. John’s decides not to build in a residential area, talks can only be [based] on that fact.”