2015-10-07 / Front Page

October Community Board 2 Meeting Hosts Metropolitan Transportation Authority

By Thomas Cogan
The Community Board 2 meeting for October was held on the first night of the month.  Several speakers came forward with news announcements, including a Metropolitan Transportation Authority man, who was informed before he spoke that the No. 7 line was completely shut down at the moment.  Most of the meeting’s speakers talked about one particular topic, the plan by the owners of Phipps Houses on 39th Avenue to build a 20-story high rise on 50th Street and Barnett Avenue, behind the 84-year-old project.  One of the speakers said that opposition to the plan is about as close to unanimous as he’s ever seen with Sunnyside and Woodside issues.  An even odder building plan on Queens Boulevard was described a little later in the evening.  Near the end, new board officer nominations were called for, which was the occasion for another long-standing officer to announce he was stepping down.

The MTA man was at the meeting to announce that there would be two weekend shutdowns in November on the No. 7 line, occurring from late Friday night to early Monday morning, November 6-9 and 13-16.  At those times, there would be no No. 7 service from Queensboro Plaza to Times Square, in both directions.  When asked about that night’s power failure on the No. 7 line, he said it was news to him.  While he was still standing at the front of the room, Penny Lee of the Department of City Planning interrupted to read an MTA bulletin on her phone screen announcing that power had been restored on the line, after close to an hour of outage.

Board Chairman Patrick O’Brien was absent, so First Vice Chairman Steve Cooper got the Phipps business going by saying that the high rise project had not been certified yet.  At least one extraordinary CB 2 meeting devoted to it will be held later in the month.  The plan by the current owners of Phipps Houses is to build a 220-unit high rise at 50-25 Barnett Avenue, on what is now a parking lot that extends two blocks and has 215 spaces for commercial and residential parking.  All 220 residential units are proclaimed by the Phipps owners to be “100 percent affordable,” with monthly rents allegedly fulfilling the definition of affordable, though ranging widely, from about $500 to $2,800.

Protest was expressed mainly by current Phipps and Sunnyside Gardens residents.  One of the latter was Herb Reynolds, who made that statement about near-perfect unanimity among his fellow protestors.  His wife, Liz Reynolds, arrived slightly late after having hiked in the rain from Astoria because of the train line power failure.  She called the proposed new building a case of bad planning in a planned community, which is what Sunnyside Gardens and Phipps Houses exemplified when they were built in the 1920s and early 1930s.  A few said that building a considerable residential structure on Barnett Avenue was highly foolish, since it is a narrow street, part of which runs one-way between Woodside Avenue and 48th Street, where it is further narrowed by roadside parking spaces installed a few years ago when the street was made one-way as a practical traffic measure. 

The seven-story building at 63-14 Queens Boulevard has its own strange history, comprising a long construction period, a disputed height (it was supposed to be six stories tall), a certain usage plan that failed to get Department of Buildings approval and the apparent implementation of that plan, disapproval notwithstanding.  Mahesh Jaipershud, who resides nearby, told the meeting that dormitories for college students are being built on the second floor and no other floor is being developed at present.  The DOB’s reaction to this has not been loud enough for anyone to hear. 

One topic on the agenda that was not covered but put off till November referred to City Planning text amendments on both zoning for quality and affordability and mandatory inclusionary housing.  Discussion and subsequent voting on them will occur at the next board meeting, following committee meetings that will look into them on two Wednesdays, October 21 and 28.  City Planning’s representative on board meetings, Penny Lee, announced that she would be working on affordable housing matters in the mayor’s office.  While she will still attend CB2 meetings, another person will be making the monthly reports.  She introduced her as Alexis Wheeler,  who had been working on city planning in Seattle, though earlier she had attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology long enough to earn  three degrees.  Lee also said that Scott Solomon would report on the Phipps controversy, though he was not in attendance and couldn’t be introduced.

Committee reports and voting took up little time.  Lisa Ann Deller of the land use committee said the placement of a dock for the proposed East River ferry cannot be determined until safety and practicality studies have been made.  Consumer affairs had a vote on renewal of an unenclosed sidewalk café with 11 tables and 22 seats at Claret Wine Bar, 46-02 Skillman Ave.  It needed no discussion and was passed unanimously with a raised-hands vote.

In contrast, the nominations for board officers were not unremarkable, because First Vice Chairman Steve Cooper announced that he was retiring; indeed, had initially intended to retire a year ago.  That follows Joseph Conley’s retirement as board chairman at the end of 2014 and leaves the board cadre changed significantly.  The current chairman, Patrick O’ Brien, was re-nominated in his absence.  Lisa Ann Deller was nominated to succeed Cooper as first vice chairperson and Sheila Lewandowski was nominated to be second vice chairperson.  Denise Keehan-Smith nominated herself to be secretary and Diane Ballek was re-nominated to be treasurer.  Further nominations are allowed, right up to the time of the vote at the November meeting.








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