Development Leads Town Hall Issues
Gus Haralampopulos and his grandfather, George, listened attentively in the Riklis Theater of the Museum of the Moving Image where a large panel of elected officials and representatives of state and local agencies came to answer the concerns of some 200 residents at a town hall meeting, jointly sponsored by Assemblymember Michael Gianaris, the United Community Civic Association (UCCA) and the Western Queens Gazette.
The issue of potentially harmful radiation emitted from cell phone towers has raised the ire of parents and residents, like the Haralampopulos’ who live near P.S. 122, and was just one of the issues highlighted at the February 3 meeting. “How would you like to get an x-ray morning and night,” Gus said.
Gazette Publisher Tony Barsamian led off a three-hour question and answer session that touched on issues of snow removal, education funding, air and noise pollution, traffic safety, sewage, a Jets stadium, graffiti, taxis and limousines, subways and buses, parks, illegal conversions, electronic voting and development in the community.
“This neighborhood is always in flux with development and growth,” Barsamian said, citing plans for expansions at MMI, Kaufman Studios and construction of the new Frank Sinatra H.S. “All development has pros and cons. How do our elected officials feel about this infusion of capital into the community?”
“I think it’s a plus,” said state Senator George Onorato. “More development is very helpful to the economy with the addition of new jobs.” Onorato, a ranking member of the Senate Labor Committee, said although the economy appears to be on the upswing, employment is still a major issue among his constituents, especially those seeking a first job.
Gianaris agreed, adding that development meant people wanted to be in the neighborhood. He cautioned, however, that the area can become overly dense, putting additional stress on infrastructure and services. “At this time, we welcome development,” Gianaris said.
At least 30 to 40 people submitted questions about the growing presence of cell phone towers in the neighborhood.
Ralph Gonzales, a lifelong Astoria resident whose children attend P.S. 122, wanted to know why it took so long for legislative action to address the problem. Gianaris, along with City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., has introduced bills to regulate tower placement and prevent their occurrence near schools.
“We are trying to move in the right direction,” Gianaris said, noting the telecommunication companies are very powerful. The Astoria Neighborhood Coalition and parents at P.S. 122 are actively organizing a fight with support from Gianaris and Vallone. “We’re trying to build coalitions with other neighborhoods and get them all together so we can move as one,” Gianaris said.
George Haralampopulos has lived in the same house with his family at 19-31 Ditmars Blvd. for the last 45 years. Gus Haralampopulos lives at 22-04 21st St. and has lived in the neighborhood all his life. “I got three kids and we don’t want to move,” Gus said, regarding the cell towers. “They should be put somewhere else, not near schools or playgrounds. There should be legislation not to allow this in any neighborhood.”
Gianaris said the Assembly will hold a public hearing on his proposed cell tower legislation on February 25 and Vallone announced the city council will have a hearing February 15 at 11 a.m. on his bill at which the public can testify.
Maria Dapontes–Dougherty, president of the Presidents’ Council of Parents and Parent–Teacher Associations in Community School District 30, asked for state legislation to assure community input for money secured by the city as a result of settlement of the Campaign For Fiscal Equity lawsuit. “We would like to see some accountability,” she said about the $5.6 billion judgment.
“It is our opinion that the governor [George Pataki ]is not willing to provide these funds,” Onorato said, pointing to legal appeals filed by the governor. Gianaris agreed, saying, “The real villain here is the governor but when the time comes, we will support legislation. But we have to get the money first.”
Issues of air and noise pollution from La Guardia Airport and power plants were raised by Sante Benecini, who noted studies showing that 60 percent of pollution comes from 1,200 daily flights at La Guardia.
Warren Kroepel, general manager of the airport, said every effort is being made to employ new technology to make the [planes at the] airport quieter and less polluting. “We share your concern and we want to be a good neighbor,” he said.
Gianaris said he has introduced legislation to provide incentives for buyers of hybrid automobiles. In addition, he pointed to his efforts to negotiate with power companies, resulting in an agreement to close the old Charles Poletti plant when a new one is opened and to cut the size of the Steinway Street plant in half from the proposed 1,000 megawatts.
Residents also lobbied for a traffic agent at Ditmars Boulevard and 81st Street to regulate traffic to Riker’s Island and petitioned for stop signs at 23rd Avenue and 24th Street. Complaints of limo drivers threats at 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard were also recorded. “This is a chronic 311 call,” said 114th Police Precinct Commanding Officer Inspector David Barrere. Gianaris presented Barrere with a state proclamation commending him for his recent promotion to full inspector.
The most pressing criminal complaint was graffiti. New York Police Department Patrol Borough Queens North Assistant Chief James Tuller said Queens North led in graffiti arrests and that police have revamped their attack on graffiti crimes. “We look to make sure that people are held accountable,” Tuller said.
Vallone said legislation he introduced has doubled penalties for graffiti crimes and said his public safety committee would hold hearings on February 13 for two new bills he is seeking to introduce. One would hold commercial building owners responsible for graffiti on their property while a second, based on a law that has reduced graffiti in Chicago by 95 percent, would ban the sale of spray paint to everyone in New York City. “It’s a drastic measure but it’s a huge problem, Vallone said.
Photo Tony Barsamian