Tells town hall audience: ‘We will not use that site’
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayor Bill de Blasio came to Bay Ridge for a town hall Tuesday night bearing gifts for local residents looking for solutions to a variety of issues, including the city’s plans to build a pre-K school next to a highway and the uneasy presence of a hotel allegedly rife with drugs and prostitution.
A few minutes into the town hall at Fort Hamilton High School, de Blasio told a packed gymnasium of residents that he had pulled the plug on the School Construction Authority’s controversial plan to build a pre-K school at 621 86th St.
The site is located next to the 86th Street exit of the Gowanus Expressway and both the Community Education Council of School District 20 and Community Board 10 had raised strong objections to the plan, citing concerns over the safety of children having to cross the street at a highway exit with trucks roaring by.
“We will not use that site,” de Blasio said firmly.
The mayor also vowed to take action to clean up the Prince Hotel, a notorious Bay Ridge spot located on 93rd Street that has been the target of complaints by residents of the block for many years.
Community Board 10 Vice Chairman Doris Cruz told de Blasio that drug activity and prostitution take place at the Prince Hotel, that residents and civic leaders have complained about the situation to officials and that “nothing has been done.”
The mayor promised to do something.
“I find the situation with the Prince Hotel unacceptable. I’m not going to stand for it,” de Blasio said. He apologized to Cruz for the fact that the city had not previously cracked down on the place and vowed that things will change. “There will be enforcement at the Prince Hotel,” he said.
The town hall was de Blasio’s first in Bay Ridge. It was part of the mayor’s “Working for Our Neighborhoods” series of town hall meetings around the city. The event was an invitation-only affair. Invitations were distributed through the event’s co-sponsors, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and the Bay Ridge Center.
The mayor received an enthusiastic reception from the audience when he entered the gymnasium and appeared totally at ease answering questions from residents, at one point even joking with young Preston Ferraiuolo, a student at Christa McAuliffe Intermediate School who asked him about mandating that all schools have student governments. “Preston, why are you wearing a nicer suit than me?” de Blasio asked him.
Councilmember Vincent Gentile served as the moderator, selecting people from the audience to ask the mayor questions. U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan, state Sen. Marty Golden, Assemblymember Pamela Harris and Public Advocate Letitia James were also in attendance.
The town hall featured questions on wide array of issues, from hyper-local problems like the fast timing of a traffic light at the corner of Ovington and Sixth avenues that one man said doesn’t give pedestrians enough time to cross the street, to citywide concerns, like the proliferation of illegal home conversions.
Bob Cassara, president of the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance, asked de Blasio to do something to stop illegal home conversions, the problem of developers buying single-family or two-family homes and then gutting the interiors to create multiple housing units. The result, according to Cassara, is a situation where 30 to 40 people are living in a space designed for a single family.
“We really need your help. You’re the guy who can push the agencies,” Cassara said.
“I hear you loud and clear,” de Blasio told Cassara.
The mayor, who noted that all of Bay Ridge’s elected officials had urged him to take action, said funding has been put into the city budget to pay for the hiring of 100 new inspectors for the Department of Buildings to check sites suspected of having been converted illegally. “We know we need more firepower,” de Blasio said, vowing that unscrupulous developers “are going to be penalized.”
Other issues that came up at the town hall included parking problems, the lack of elevators at subway stations on the R line, property taxes, day spas serving as fronts for prostitution and de Blasio’s affordable housing plan.
The mayor told residents that there is plenty of good news for the city.
More than 200,000 jobs have been created in the past two years, crime is down 58 percent from two years ago and 2,000 more cops have been hired to patrol the streets, he said. He also announced a new graffiti cleanup effort and said 20 sites in Bay Ridge would be cleaned up. His universal pre-K program is working well, he said. In School District 20 (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst), 1,170 new pre-K seats have been added, the mayor said.