Thursday, March 27, 2008
BY NICHOLAS HIRSHON DAILY NEWS WRITER
Wednesday, March 26th 2008, 4:00 AM
Queens veterans are protesting plans to build a high-tech VA medical center in St. Albans - and let a developer lease nearby acres they say should remain for veterans only.
Plans call for the 231-bed facility at 179thSt. and Linden Blvd. to be demolished and replaced by a 221-bed center, while the developer leases 25 of 55 acres at the VA-operated site, said agency spokesman Raymond Aalbue.
Veterans are outraged the VA denied their repeated requests for a hospice and women's residences, while letting a developer decide how to use the extra land.
They are set to rally against the plan on Saturday morning.
"What they're proposing [for vets] is pretty minimal," said John Rowan, national president of the Vietnam Veterans of America. "There shouldn't be any reason to skimp on this thing."
Other vets were irate with Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) because of rumored links to a possible developer who wants to put a parking lot for a nearby funeral home on the land.
"Meeks is attempting to take over and give away some of that land," griped Vietnam War vet Paul Schottenhamel, 59, of Glendale. "The veterans end up getting pushed out."
Aalbue said the plans do not include a parking lot.
Even so, a flyer for Saturday's rally, with the headline "Stop the Madness, Stop Mr. Meeks," said the event was sponsored by state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica).
But Huntley said someone distributed the leaflets without her approval - and now she won't support the rally, even though she wants "fair and equitable housing" for vets.
"I'm against the way they did it," Huntley said, adding she wouldn't use divisive tactics. "They're wrong."
Ida Smith, a special assistant to Meeks, said the congressman supports a proposal for an easement for cars going to the funeral parlor - not a parking lot.
But she also understood why the vets are mad at her boss.
"He is a representative of the federal government in their eyes," Smith said.
The VA will choose among several developers by May - and at least one is proposing co-ops offering assisted living for vets, Aalbue said.
"We took the local veterans' concerns, and we tried to incorporate them into the criteria for the developers," Aalbue said.
"We're the Veterans Administration. We take care of veterans."