Construction crews are busy at work on a former Queens factory that local residents fear will be the future site of a homeless shelter.
But it is still unclear what plans property owner Michael Wilner has for the site, at 78-16 Cooper Ave. in Glendale.
A group of community activists are gathering together on Saturday outside the former mill, at which they will board buses to travel to Wilner’s Long Island home, hoping to confront him and get some answers.
“We are going to see Mr. Wilner and send him a message that he is a member of our community,” said Michael Papa, a Glendale homeowner helping to organize the trip. “We are not going to allow him to destroy the fabric of this community by putting in a shelter for deviants and ex-cons.”
Wilner could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered the phone at Wilner Realty Management hung up after hearing the caller was a reporter. Another call to the number was not answered.
For seven years, local residents have feared the structure will be converted into a shelter, sparking lawsuits and protests.
The city, in an effort to deal with a growing homeless population, aims to open shelters in every borough, to help the city avoid placing people in commercial hotels and locate them closer to their community roots.
Councilman Robert Holden said Wednesday he has been assured by Steven Banks, commissioner for the city’s Human Resources Administration and Department of Social Services, that there is no current city contract associated with the property.
“I’m working with the city on an alternative — smaller shelters run by faith-based organizations in Community Board 5,” Holden said. “We have churches here with the space willing to work with families and smaller groups.”
Before Holden was elected to the City Council, he helped as a community leader to lead the fight against previous plans to transform the Cooper Avenue site into a shelter. A 2012 proposal contemplated moving more than 100 families into the facility, but later plans involved restricting residency to men.
Holden has also argued the Cooper Avenue site would be better used as a new, state-of-the-art school for special-needs students currently at P.S. 9 in nearby Maspeth.
According to plans filed with the city Department of Buildings, Wilner has several permits that allow him to install an elevator and conduct plumbing work associated with an initial plan to turn the four-story warehouse into an office building. In 2018, he filed paperwork to change the building into a transient lodging house, but he has yet to schedule the plan exam the agency reviews when considering such an amendment.
“No final determinations have been made regarding use of this location,” said Department of Homeless Services spokeswoman Arianna Fishman. “We will promptly notify the community board, elected officials, and community residents if this changes.”
But Papa is not convinced. He said once Wilner finishes renovations, the structure will be available as a shelter.
“Yes, they don’t have a contract, but that can change,” Papa said.