Editor's Note: After DNAinfo New York published an earlier version of this story, CB12 said the meeting date had been pushed back by developers from Dec. 19 to Jan. 23, 2017.
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — After a year and half of declining to share their plans with the community, the private development company overseeing the long-delayed renovations to the George Washington Bridge Terminal plans to hold a public hearing — but the board organizing the hearing isn't sure there will be time for public questions not submitted in advance.
George Washington Bridge Redevelopment Venture LLC — which is working with the Port Authority — had agreed to come before Community Board 12 on the Monday before Christmas, after not speaking to the public since a 2014 public hearing. But after DNAinfo New York contacted the developer, they postponed the meeting date to January, pending a walkthrough of the space with selected board members and elected officials.
The developers have blown several deadlines for the project, which was originally announced in 2008, at which time it was slated to be completed by mid-May 2015, and small businesses slated to open inside the terminal say they have been stonewalling them and driving up costs.
Shah Ally, Chairman of Community Board 12, said he originally reached out to several community members with a vested interest in the project, including several small business owners frustrated with the pace of construction and what they called red tape from the Port Authority and developers, and asked these residents to submit questions ahead of time.
He said he gave George Washington Bridge Redevelopment Venture LLC the questions ahead of time to allow them to draft a presentation targeting those concerns. But after the developers rescheduled the meeting, Ally said the board will resubmit new questions to fully get a scope of the project and "know what they're talking about."
“My goal is to maximize the amount of time we have,” Ally said, adding that although the presentation is scheduled for an hour, he will try to allow a few minutes for residents to ask further questions.
The developer also agreed to provide “written responses” to questions they can’t answer during the meeting on a later date, Ally said. “That’s a low stressful way of them communicating to us without the emotion of this project,” he said.
Ally said he repeatedly requested the developers be more forthcoming with the community throughout the process. But in the time since he became chair earlier this year, the developer had not once reached out to update the board on their construction timeline, he said.
“We’ve been wanting them to come in for a long time,” Ally said. “It was just a matter of when will they come in, will it be enough time… I wanted to get something before the year is over.”
Ally said although he wanted to coordinate a time during the transportation committee meeting or the business development meeting, the developer wasn’t available.
They had to schedule the meeting during CB12's executive committee meeting, which doesn’t include time for public open commenting.
Ally said some of the questions submitted so far included general concerns on the project’s timeline, when the terminal is expected to wrap up, and whether the businesses inside the terminal will open simultaneously or one at a time.
In addition, he said, the developer has been asked to address the status of the contracts with small businesses, who told DNAinfo previously that the developer was bogging down their site plans with red tape along with battles over construction companies and costs.
The small business owners said they’re looking forward to the meeting and hope the community comes forward to pressure the developers into sticking to their word.
"We want assurance — in writing or promise — that small businesses will have a non-union construction. That the only way we could all afford to be tenants," said small business owner, Luis Perez,
The meeting will be held on Monday, Jan. 23 at at 7 p.m. at the CB 12 offices on 530 West 166th Street.