St. John's University leases six-story site, angering residents

Tuesday, September 18th 2007, 4:00 AM

St. John's University has outraged a neighboring community and drawn fire from a state senator by covertly leasing a six-story dormitory being built in a quiet Jamaica Estates neighborhood.

Residents of the cozy community surrounding the Henley Road construction site are furious over the dormitory plan, which they fear will swamp the area of mostly single-family homes with co-eds, late-night parties and adolescent antics.

"We are just shocked at what St. John's is planning to do," said neighborhood resident Beverly Medina, a 57-year-old Queens educator who once studied at the school. "The quality of life is going to be significantly altered in this neighborhood."

The project takes advantage of a zoning loophole allowing a "community facility" to rise significantly higher than the maximum allowable height. In this case, the planned 458-bed dorm will tower some 20 feet above the 40-foot limit.

"Their on-campus dorms only have three stories," said Ana Landron, who lives in the neighborhood and is a graduate student there.

Landron said she is equally dismayed by the school's plan, which she said contradicts the school's pledge to be a "good neighbor."

"Why do they want to build a six-story dorm in the middle of a residential neighborhood composed mostly of single-family homes?" Landron asked incredulously.

Medina, Landron and several other angry residents said St. John's duped the community by repeatedly promising never to "build" off-campus housing in the neighborhood - only to quietly lease the planned dormitory from a developer.

"They've made that commitment but they've violated it now in a very disingenuous way," said state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who wrote last week to St. John's president, the Rev. Donald Harrington, imploring him to abandon the back-door deal.

"St. John's University should be embarrassed by the manner in which it conceived this plan and concealed it from the members of the community," Padavan wrote, noting that the university initially disavowed any connection with the construction. "It is time that St. John's reconsiders this inappropriate and unconscionable decision."

According to legal documents filed with the city's Finance Department, St. John's has inked a 10-year lease on the dorm worth $4 million in the first year alone. It also has an option to renew for an additional decade.

When contacted by the Queens News last week, Dominic Scianna, St. John's director of media relations, initially claimed he did not know about the project.

After being told of the paperwork filed with the city, Scianna begrudgingly confirmed the existence of the lease but declined to comment on the dorm's specifics or Padavan's request for the university to pull out of the deal.

The project's developer, the Kamali Organization, bought six single-family homes and razed them to make way for the dorm, which is expected to be completed around May 2009.

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