Mount Sinai Queens, Flower Vendors Are Board 2 Issues
The first Community Board 2 meeting of 2010 was not long or involved, being mainly concerned with a presentation by Mount Sinai Queens (Hospital) and another one by the Department of City Planning that accompanied a proposal to stem the decline of residential front yards throughout the city. Further health news came from a speaker who complained that private insurers are frustrating the local health scene. There was good news in the report that the wretched conditions so long in effect along Barnett Avenue near 48th Street have been relieved at last and are due for even further improvement. Also, a Woodside florist whose business has become undermined by wildcat flower peddlers may have made the board an ally in his quest for justice.
Caryn Schwab and Anna Rodriguez made the Mount Sinai Queens presentation, covering what Schwab called the “looming healthcare crisis in Western Queens”, which Mount Sinai is trying to address with its projected building program. Schwab said that with the closing in the past year of Parkway, Mary Immaculate and St. John’s Hospitals, more than 1,000 beds were lost. The New York state average of hospital beds is 3.3 per 1,000 residents, she said, but in Queens it currently stands not far above 1.0. As for Mount Sinai Queens, which assumed that name when Mount Sinai in Manhattan took over Western Queens Community Hospital, otherwise known as Astoria General Hospital in 1999, she said it has improved greatly in the past decade in ways someone looking at its apparently unchanged exterior at 25-10 30th Ave. could not realize. The improvement—$40 million worth –is technological, not physical; which is to say, as Schwab did, that Mount Sinai is “running out of space in a vibrant, growing community”.
The hospital’s plan is to raze the century-old original building on Crescent Street, now known as The Annex and used for keeping records, and erect a nine-story facility that would bring in even more advanced technology. All this might be an accomplished fact as early as 2013 if funds could be obtained to get the job started. Millions have been raised for the new building, but Mount Sinai is still millions behind—$75 million to be exact. It is unlikely to come from the state and any federal stimulus package funds must be spent on informational technology, not on building construction, Schwab said. She was asked why Mount Sinai didn’t simply take over the now empty St. John’s building on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst. She answered that the legal situation there is complicated, entailing the proposed sale of the bankrupt facility to developers. Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley interrupted to say that building an entirely new Mount Sinai facility would be a far wiser investment than trying to renovate an old and closed hospital. Marvin Jeffcoat, head of the Board 2 veterans’ committee, asked Schwab if the hospital might go into partnership with the veterans’ hospitals, since a large group of veterans who need health care exists. Schwab found that an interesting suggestion but said the federal veterans’ hospitals have resisted similar offers in the past.
She closed her presentation the way other Mount Sinai presenters at other meetings have closed theirs, by asking for public lobbying. Write to your city and state officials, she said. The board’s Rita Manton proposed a template of letters to officials that board members might sign.
The Department of City Planning’s proposed residential streetscape preservation text amendment was said to address, in the words of Planning’s Penny Lee, “the systematic destruction of front yards” in neighborhoods from Woodside to Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights and beyond. It is also designed to address the proliferation of curb cuts to accommodate the vehicles of residents who are using their front yards as carports. The proposal seeks minimum standards of planting in front yards to prevent their being paved over. It calls for planting strips at least one foot wide in every residential front yard. Lee said the proposal also would establish rules for curb cuts where now they don’t exist. One rule would be that curb cuts could be made only to give access to driveways. A motion to approve the residential streetscape preservation text amendment passed, with negative votes from only a few Woodside residents who foresaw a further reduction in street parking spaces.
The public comment speaking segment was begun by Paul Rhee, who runs an Advanced Health Pro store at 67-06 Roosevelt Ave. where orthopedic footwear and other health maintenance items are sold. He said that Woodside, Sunnyside, Long Island City, Maspeth and Jackson Heights have no private healthcare provider to any local health maintenance outlets such as his. All those outlets seem to be systematically blocked by those providers, seemingly because the providers don’t wish to support any such coverage. Rhee accepts Medicare and Medicaid (subject to qualification approval) but cannot accept private health insurance. To find a place that does, he said, local people in need of these healthcare items but using private insurance such as Blue Cross, must go to the Queens branch of Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics, at 118-35 Queens Blvd. in Forest Hills. Rhee concluded that 200,000 people in Western Queens are prevented from using private health insurance should they need health maintenance items to relieve chronic ailments.
Justin Park told the meeting that at Woodside Florists, 61-21 Roosevelt Ave., he operates a law-abiding operation that is being undermined by nearby flower sellers whose much lower prices are something the Consumer Affairs Commission might look at. He said the wholesaler who sells flowers to him is in business underselling him just a couple of doors away. Conley said Consumer Affairs has been alerted to the case, and added that it is a community board’s responsibility to intercede in local merchants’ grievances such as Park’s.
The most enthusiastic moment of the meeting came when residents of Phipps Houses announced that the Barnett Avenue problem may be on the way to resolution after decades of neglect. Phipps Houses, a 472-unit structure that has stood on 39th Avenue between 50th and 52nd Streets for nearly 80 years, backs on Barnett Avenue and stands next to Sunnyside Park, which occupies a similar two-square-block space running between 50th and 48th Streets. On the Barnett Avenue side of the park, there has never been anything beyond the fence but a natural embankment, with no sidewalk. The embankment was long used as a dumping ground, with old tires and other items heaped on it. There was two-way traffic between 48th Street and Woodside Avenue to the east, but no sidewalk on either side between 50th and 48th Streets. For years, residents and others clamored for improvements but failed to make an impression. Such protest apparently formed a critical mass recently, because the embankment was cleaned and cut into. At its base, a temporary blacktop sidewalk was laid (with a permanent one to come), parking spaces were designated beside it and the route between Woodside Avenue and 48th Street became one-way.
Kieran Staunton, long considered the leader of the drive for improvement on Barnett Avenue, appeared at the meeting to hail those who have been his allies, particularly Conley, whom he would like to canonize for sainthood, he said. On a more down-to-earth basis, he said that the embankment should be the site of plantings in the spring.