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May 22, 2003
Judges Open Door to Shelter in Factory

by Joyce Shelby
The Doe Fund received an appeals court's go-ahead yesterday to build a 400-bed shelter for homeless men on Porter Ave. in East Williamsburg.

The state Appellate Division in Brooklyn ruled in favor of the nonprofit group, which in 2000 signed a 22-year contract with the city, worth nearly $176 million, to run the shelter.

"We are extremely happy the court has continued to see the tremendous asset this facility will be, not only to our homeless population, but to our community as a whole," said George McDonald, founder and president of the Doe Fund.

The group raised nearly $23 million to buy and renovate a vacant, 74,000-square-foot textile factory at 89 Porter Ave. to house homeless men for up to 21 days before referring them to other facilities.

The proposal drew sharp opposition from homeowners and elected officials, who said the area was saturated with homeless facilities.

Opponents took the matter to court, arguing that the Giuliani administration failed to require public review before awarding the contract to the Doe Fund. And, opponents said, there should have been more careful testing for environmental hazards.

The plaintiffs objected to having a shelter in the middle of an industrial park with more than 500 small- and medium-size businesses. A lower court threw out the case in 2001, but the plaintiffs appealed.

Attorney Marty Needleman, who represented the plaintiffs, called yesterday's ruling a "disaster. This potentially gives the city a way of avoiding the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure). ... The contract dictates how the shelter will be developed, who will run the site, even the employees," Needleman said. "Anytime the city doesn't want public review, it doesn't have to have one."

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who was one of the plaintiffs, added, "The courts are allowing the city to totally ignore the very laws that were established to guarantee that communities would be involved in the siting of substantial facilities like this mega-temporary shelter."

Renovation of the factory is to be complete by the end of the year.

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