Board 2 Ponders Emergency Planning In Katrina’s Wake
As Community Board 2 ended its summer break and reconvened in early September, awareness of events more than a thousand miles away could not go unexpressed. City Councilmember Eric Gioia called for a moment of silence for the people of New Orleans, and Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley said that a nephew of his who is on the New Orleans police force told him—when they were at last able to make contact—that the hurricane and flood disaster there is horrifying and can hardly be described to anyone who hasn’t seen it.
The local issues that were discussed at the meeting included further word about the Department of City Planning’s Maspeth/Woodside study, money for improvement of Queensboro Plaza and consternation aroused by a rumor that a “gentlemen’s club” might be built in Sunnyside.
Conley announced that next month there would be a discussion of hurricanes and the threat they present to New York. He said that in recent years, New Yorkers have already been lectured on disaster (especially by the Office of Emergency Management at its Ready New York meetings), usually in reference to terrorist attacks, but remain apathetic. When an emergency strikes, he said, everybody should have a “go-bag” at hand, containing basic supplies of medical goods, money and identity, but at present almost nobody has one.
In the public comment segment of the meeting, Woodside resident Jim Condes led off by saying that he recently complained to Connie Moran, Queens commissioner of the Department of Transportation, about the shabby condition of areas under the Long Island Railroad trestles at 57th Street, between 38th and 39th Avenues and a block away at 58th Street and 39th Avenue. At the latter site, the railroad overpass covers most of a two-block area; under both overpasses are broken glass and broken sidewalks, guano deposits, litter and illustrative graffiti, both sanctioned (by Woodside on the Move) and otherwise. Condes said Moran told him that cleaning up such places was the responsibility of the LIRR, so he had to tell her that the railroad, a state enterprise, is legally exempted; that it is the city’s, indeed DOT’s, responsibility to keep such places clean. Though the commissioner went away better informed, nothing has been done yet to make the situation beneath the trestles less ugly, Condes said.
The next item was the rumor that a gentlemen’s club, suggestive of exotic erotica, would be the next business to open in the old brick building, formerly a factory of light industry, located at a corner of 48th Street and Barnett Avenue in Sunnyside. Community activist Lew Story, who lives a block or so away on 48th Street, put the rumor to rest by reporting that he had talked to the men who are attempting to open the place and was assured that an eating, drinking and dancing establishment is all they wish to maintain. Patrick O’Brien, head of the board’s city services committee, said the men, who also own the well-named Extravaganza, located at a corner of 56th Street and Broadway in Woodside, have been invited to the committee’s next meeting on Wednesday, September 14 at the Board 2 office, 43-22 50th St.
Arnold Marshall, who is now 90 and has lived on 65th Street near Queens Boulevard for 70 years, told the meeting that the current phase of the New York State Department of Transportation’s (NYSDOT) Brooklyn-Queens Expressway reconstruction project is having an unpleasant impact on him and his surroundings. For one thing, NYSDOT workers have cut off the power, if accidentally, to several streetlights on Queens Boulevard at 65th Place. He said that calls to 311 about the situation have been ineffective.
In the main part of the meeting, Neil Gagliardi of the Department of City Planning referred to the June meeting in Woodside, where the department’s Woodside/Maspeth study was presented. He said that certification for the study is expected in January, and its scope will be more limited than was originally intended. He predicted the ultimate difficulty would be enforcement, since examples of blatant building violations are now part of the neighborhood streetscape. The board didn’t treat his presentation kindly. Lisa Deller said that people in Woodside and Maspeth are frustrated and bitter about the seemingly unstoppable advance of high-density housing built where low-density housing used to stand. Richard Gundlach said builders’ loopholes must be closed and high-density builders must find no inducement to build, especially on corner lots. Carol Terrano, a Woodside resident since the 1950s, said the study goes on endlessly while the neighborhoods become places where “the buildings don’t go together.” Conley, who had in the past joked about the length of time the study was taking, was no longer amused and said he would like to see Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden at the next meeting, though he noted she has thus far been unresponsive to any complaints or inquiries he has sent her.
Penny Lee, also from City Planning, said that $19 million for Queensboro Plaza improvement has been granted, the process having begun with funding applications she wrote for Congressmember Carolyn Maloney. She reported also that construction of the second Citibank building, going up not far from the first one, the green glass Citi tower on Jackson Avenue, will include construction of a physical connection between the elevated No. 7 train station at 45th Road and the underground Court Square subway station.
Lisa Deller of the land use committee said that the directors of Queens West Development Corporation have said they want a review of the plan for commercial development at the waterfront site. Penny Lee added that the state authority in charge of Queens West mandates that major changes in plans be publicly announced, and this may be one such change. Dorothy Morehead of the environment committee reported that a pumping station to be built on Newtown Creek would provide aeration to make the water habitable for fish. A sewage holding tank is also to be built at the head of the creek. Over on the East River, Eric Baard is keeping the Long Island City Boathouse Project going at the river and 44th Street, she said. The project goes on despite the Water’s Edge restaurant. Morehead said the restaurant has a “proprietary interest” in the pier located right next to it, and has repeatedly tried to block use of it by Baard and others. Baard insists the public has the right of access to the pier. Morehead said that the lease for Water’s Edge is up in 2006 and at that time, she insisted, the restaurant must be made to cooperate with the boathouse people if it hopes to get a new lease.