INWOOD – Residents say they're concerned the city is trying to “ram through” the controversial Inwood Library redevelopment plan — after officials unveiled an accelerated timeline for public feedback.
The city's Housing Preservation and Development circulated a flier on Wednesday in which it announced that it would be presenting a final version of its visioning plan to the public during the full board Community Board 12 meeting on May 23 — and will be accepting public input until May 19 — slightly more than a week after a May 8 presentation to CB12's Youth and Education committee meeting.
But community board officials said this is the first the board is hearing of the new timeline — and that HPD hasn't asked CB12 to add its planned final announcement onto the board agenda for May 23. As a result, CB12 has not done anything to alert the public, Chair Shah Ally said.
Jason Rubin, the HPD spokesman, said the “project continues to be in very early stages.”
“What we are sharing on Monday [May 8] is a Community Visioning Report,” Rubin said in a statement to DNAinfo New York. “This is just a summary of the feedback we’ve received to date through community engagement, including three workshops and an online questionnaire.”
Rubin said “the preliminary summary” was shared at two CB12 presentations in April and following additional feedback, “we’ve compiled all the feedback into a report.”
“That’s what we are releasing on Monday night,” Rubin said, adding that after the report is released, HPD is asking “for public comment to ensure that we’ve captured all of the diverse perspectives within the community and that we characterized everything correctly.”
Rubin said there “have been many opportunities for people to submit their comments, concerns, and ideas and we will ensure there continues to be opportunities going forward.”
The fliers list the site as being "100 percent affordable housing" and says that the "site" is currently owned by NYC, but that in the future, "the library will be owned by the City of New York or the New York Public Library" — but not the land on which the library sits. That was a point of controversy for some in the community who were upset with the city permanently selling the rights to the land.
The fliers also promise to ensure a temporary library space for the public while the Inwood Library is closed for renovations — and adds that the renovated library will be the same size as the existing space, but with a "more efficient layout."
The city held three public workshops at the library site — along with posting an online survey — to discuss the project and gather input from the community. The workshops were held in late January and the online survey ran until the end of March.
HPD returned to the Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee and the Land Use Committee during the first week of April to present its findings from the workshops only. The online findings, HPD said at the time, would be presented at a later time during the Youth and Education Committee meeting.
Rubin said HPD is expecting to put out a request for proposals to developers in early summer, “and development teams will be asked to incorporate community priorities into their proposals.” The final visioning plan will be attached to that RFP, he said.
“Once we select a development team, we will need to go through a ULURP process,” Rubin said. “That’s when the formal role of the community board kicks in, when they are granted the standard 60-day review period, and when they are asked to vote to approve or disapprove. At that point, we will have procured a development team, and there will be a real proposal for the community to provide feedback and input on.”
But residents said this is all happening so quickly, particularly given the amount of concerns from locals that the city has yet to answer — including whether the city or the developers will own the land once the sale goes through.
“There’s a significant number of Inwood students who wouldn’t be able to learn how to read, a place to do their homework, is safe and has Wi-Fi and a computer,” said Karla Fisk, who is part of the Save the Inwood Library group in the community. “With the library demolished, how will they maintain the relationship with the librarian and the students? How will they do that? I would like to know what they have proposed for that.”
The Inwood Library, library officials said, is one of the most utilized branches within the New York Public Library network. The branch won the NYC Neighborhood Library Awards in 2016, which is awarded to libraries that go “above and beyond to provide exceptional services and programming for their community.”
“We need more time. I don’t understand them… Do they think this is going to be received as a good thing?” added local advocate Nancy Preston, who said she's concerned that the local organizations leading the discussion in the community were left in the dark about the new timeline.
“It’s being rammed and I have to be suspect of that,” Preston added.
The Youth and Education Committee meeting is being held Monday, May 8 at 7 p.m. in I.S. 52 on 650 Academy Street.