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A new home for 70 - Precinct on track to move

It’s not happening any time soon, but someday – if things continue moving forward as they now are – the men and women of the 70th Precinct will have a new place to call home.

At this point, according to Inspector Anthony Tria, the commanding officer of the NYPD’s Capital Construction unit, approximately $30 million has been allocated to the purchase of a vacant piece of land at 1326 Ocean Avenue, near Avenue H, as well as for the acquisition of air rights over the Long Island Railroad cut, and the design and construction of a new 44,000 square foot station house, with parking for approximately 80 vehicles on a deck over the tracks.

The current station house, at 154 Lawrence Avenue, is under-sized given the precinct’s manpower. It is also located at the western edge of the precinct. The Ocean Avenue site is far closer to the precinct’s center.

While the allocation is not sufficient to complete the project, additional funding for that purpose would be sought after the purchase of the property is complete, Tria told members of Community Board 14, gathered at the board office, 810 East 16th Street, for the June Police and Public Safety Committee meeting. Design of the new building has already been scheduled for Fiscal Year 2011, which begins in July, 2010.

“Site acquisition is 90 percent of the battle on these things,” Tria stressed. “I think the 70th Precinct sat in limbo for 20 years because we never acquired the site.” Not having full funding in advance is not unusual, Tria added. “It’s a typical process,” he told the group.

Nonetheless, Tria acknowledged, the effort is occurring in an environment where financial restraint is the order of the day. “Given the fiscal conditions in the city,” he told the group, “everything is sitting in a gray area right now.”

The Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) has already been completed, according to Tria who said that – on the date of the meeting – it was still under review by the NYPD’s Law Department, but that he expected to get approval to move forward within a week.

The EAS, said Tria, had indicated that the site – once home to a gas station – had at some time in the past been contaminated by a spill, and that that would have to be remediated.

Once approval is forthcoming, Tria said, he will schedule a public hearing that will allow local residents to weigh in on whether they want to see city funds used for the purpose. The public hearing, Tria said, is the final preliminary step before the city can move ahead to purchase the property, either through a deal with the owner or by eminent domain.

One issue that concerns the community board, which has been one of the prime movers in the effort to get a new station house for the precinct, is that the preliminary plan calls for egress on both Ocean Avenue and East 19th Street.

“We don’t want them on East 19th,” stressed Doris Ortiz, the board’s district manager.

But, said Tria, “You can’t just have one way in and out. That’s basically a command control issue. While it’s a concern,” he added, “it can be definitely controlled.”

CB 14 Chairperson Alvin Berk questioned why a public hearing was needed, given that the board had already gone through Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

“From the community board’s perspective,” he pointed out, “we’ve gone through all the hearings necessary to achieve the community board’s endorsement. I’m concerned that if a hearing is convened at this time, it would appear to be second-guessing the judgment of the community, as channeled through the community board some years ago.”

However, said Tria, ULURP deals with land use. The public hearing required by the NYPD Law Department centers on the use of municipal funds. “Buying a piece of property,” stressed Tria, “is not something ULURP addresses.”

The original ULURP application was completed in the 1980s, when efforts were first made to move the precinct. However, there was no money at the time to acquire the property.

In the 1990s, when Rudolph Giuliani was mayor, the city finally set money aside for the project and began the process of acquiring the site. While, at that time, it appeared for a little while as if it was full-speed-ahead for a new station house, the plan was ultimately shelved.

Subsequently, the lot was purchased by a private developer, who proposed erecting a 10-story apartment building there, but ran into roadblocks when the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) denied the permit for the project, which exceeded what would be allowed as of right. In the meantime, however, the gas station that had occupied the site was demolished.

The board is clearly eager to get the new precinct built. “We want you to come back and say it’s a done deal,” member Joe Basso told Tria. “We’re tired of hearing tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.”

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