CB5 chairman Vincent Arcuri sent out a statement assuring residents that the board had not received a proposal to open a shelter at the Wilner property at 78-16 Cooper Avenue.
Arcuri noted that the current zoning – M1-1 – does no permit homeless shelters, although one could be allowed if Mayor Michael Bloomberg determined that an emergency housing situation existed.
Arcuri also noted that the property is likely an environmental nightmare unsuitable for adaptation to a shelter. In the past, the building has been home to a knitting mill and machine shops, and includes an internal railroad spur.
The building is also adjacent to a known Brownfield site.
“The building, which currently has several active Department of Buildings violations, may contain lead paint, asbestos and various PCB contaminants,” Arcuri said. “The cost and time to convert this structure to a residential facility would be extensive, and possibly twice as much as new construction.”
Red flags were raised when Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley sent out a letter to constituents stating that she had a conversation with Michael Wilner, the owner of Wilner Realty Management and the site’s property manager, who told her he had been in talks with a nonprofit about running a shelter at the site.
The 70,000-square-foot building has been vacant for much of the last 20 years. According to Crowley’s letter, Wilner told her that he would be interested in showing the property to serious buyers.
Community Board 5 has its own thoughts on the future of the property. Several years ago, according to Arcuri, the board identified the site as a potential economic development site to attract high-tech jobs to the area.
At that time, the New York City Economic Development Corporation was interested in purchasing the site, but the Wilner family was not looking to sell.