2016-06-08 / Front Page

CB 2 Talks Access-A-Ride

By Thomas Cogan
The June meeting of Community Board 2 at Sunnyside Community Services lasted about four hours, and when it was ended, the summer break began.  The first major matter at the meeting was Access-a-Ride (AAR), the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s taxi service for the elderly and infirm.  It began with reference to the city controller’s report on the agency, more than 30 pages long and said to be critical.  That was followed by a live report by two AAR officials, followed by the audience’s questions and commentary, which were definitely critical.  There were ULURP hearings, for a police vehicle storage facility and the Barnett Avenue housing matter; Consumer Affairs applications for unenclosed sidewalk cafés; Landmark applications for two houses across the street from each other in Sunnyside Gardens; and the Long Island City BID expansion plan.  All these were put to a vote when the land use committee’s time came.  Seeing how late the meeting was running, the other committees sent their business off on vacation.  Retiring Board Chairman Pat O’Brien officially became ex-chairman and a new leader was named.

The two AAR officials were Ken Stuart and Luke DePalma.  Stuart, who faced the board several months ago, did most of the talking.  Despite that prior experience, he began by saying, “It’s actually a pleasure” to be at the meeting.  He said AAR’s reply to the controller’s report is pending, and also that AAR does not provide ambulette service, as some persons seem to think it does.  Steve Cooper of the board insisted Stuart and DePalma make some comment about the controller’s report’s comparison of differing response times in different boroughs, but Stuart’s reply had Cooper griping that he wasn’t being given a straight answer.  One board member had an anecdote about how a friend of hers was driven many miles out of her way so the driver could pick up another passenger.  When public comments from the community came up, Jim Condes of Woodside said the controller’s report expressed what he has been saying for years.  And as Condes has often done, Board Treasurer Diane Ballek also lamented AAR’s discontinuation of vouchers.  (See city agency audit report about the MTA’s oversight of Access-a-Ride, dated May 17, 2016, at http://comptroller.nyc.gov). 

Other public commenters included Laura Heim, Sunnyside architect, who announced that the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s website now posts every permit applied for in the city in the past two years.  James Mackay of the MiQ (Made in Queens) Store invited everyone to the opening of the store at 27-24 Queens Plaza South on Wednesday, June 15 at 6:30 p.m.   Magdy Jahin, a street vendor, appeared again, as he had at the 108th Precinct meeting two nights earlier, to complain that he was being prevented from making a living selling food items in a space in front of the Falchi Building at 33-00 47th Ave. by a building manager who has put planters in his vending space and bolted them to the sidewalk.  O’Brien told him and a woman from the vending project of the Urban Justice Center to put his complaint in writing so the board can use it to pursue agencies to determine fair treatment for the vendor.

The NYPD’S ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) application is for acquisition of a parcel of land between 54th Avenue and the Queens Midtown Expressway, west of Maurice Avenue and south of Mt. Zion Cemetery.  The police department spokesman said the purchase would involve no zoning changes and no development, just the construction of a police vehicle storage facility.  “We want to begood neighbors” to the heavily industrial surroundings, the spokesman said.  The application was approved unanimously by the board.

The other ULURP application, “a zoning map change and related text amendments to facilitate the development of affordable housing” at 23-25 Barnett Ave., got a far different reaction.  The proposed housing across from the Phipps Garden Apartments, whose ownership seeks to build it, has thus far generated a couple of public meetings that have produced many more denunciations of the plan than statements of approval.  Speaking in favor of it at the board meeting was Jack Freeman, a Sunnyside Gardens resident who said that if the building isn’t built there will be no counterforce of affordability to market rate housing in the neighborhood.  Speaking against it was Frank Castillo of Service Employees International Union, Local 32 BJ, who accused the developer of trying to underpay workers here as it allegedly has done at other Phipps residences in the city. 

At voting time, calls for a greater number of affordable units, reduction of the size of the building, relocation of displaced parking spaces and improvement of the eyesore that is Barnett Avenue struck Steve Cooper as superfluous, since nearly every board member was opposed to  putting up the apartment building anyway.  Lisa Ann Deller, land use committee chairwoman, said she would add them to the motion, to say that their absence in the developer’s plans is reason to vote for disapproval.  It was nearly unanimous when the roll call vote was taken, though there was one abstention and one rejection of the motion.

A new application from the Long Island City Partnership to expand its business improvement district (BID) boundaries was ultimately passed, but not without some expressions of skepticism.  LICP President Liz Lusskin said it would involve adding a few blocks to the district, at a cost of $250,000, to bestow BID benefits on those businesses willing to join.  Questioning the procedure, considering the possible effects it could have on what she called “voiceless businesses,” Second Vice President  Sheila Lewandowski brought up the Small Business Survival Bill, which purports to speak for those voiceless persons.  Pat Dorfman, president of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, applauded Lewandowski’s reference, being very much an activist for the SBS bill.  She went to the front of the room to remind those at the meeting that a BID is a property owners’ association.  Nearly the whole board blessed the LICP’s expansion, however, with only four voting against it.  

Three restaurants were on schedule for hearings on their applications for unenclosed sidewalk cafés.  One, The Haab, 47-22 48th Ave. in Woodside, did not show up for the land use meeting eight nights earlier, nor to the board meeting, so it was disqualified.  But Riko, newly ensconced at 45-23 Greenpoint Ave., where a predecessor restaurant had been for several years, found favor when it agreed to reduce the size of the proposed sidewalk café on its 46th Street side from 12 tables and 24 seats to 10 and 20.  By that alteration, board and owners agreed, they could avoid causing any hindrance to passing foot traffic.  The vote was unanimous, as was the vote for Soleluna, a restaurant applying for an outdoor café at 43-45 40th St., succeeding a restaurant that had an address around the corner on Queens Boulevard. 

Both Landmark applications were “to complete work on exterior alterations,” but the case of each presented different difficulties.  The man at 39-39 47th St. was working on the repair of his front steps.  He had not consulted with the Landmarks Preservation Commission; he also worked on the steps in conjunction with a neighbor who didn’t

make any application and was said to be generally uncooperative with boards or commissions.  The land use committee didn’t quite know how to judge the case and recommended offering no opinion, instead asking Landmarks for one.  The full board concurred.  The two at 39-36 47th St. had plans for a backyard deck, always a sensitive issue; and the land use committee found their blueprint faulty.  They were rescued by the reappearance of Jack Freeman, not only a Sunnyside Gardens resident but head of Hamilton Court, where the house in question is also located.  Freeman called Hamilton the last of the “original” courts, where standards are sturdily upheld.  He said that he and other Hamilton Court members support the two men and their plans.  “They’re doing it the right way,” he said, and that was enough for the board. 

Alexis Wheeler, the Department of City Planning’s representative to CB 2, announced there would be a meeting about BQX, the light rail streetcar expected to be constructed for two-way travel between Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Astoria in Queens.  The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 14 at 6:00 p.m. at the CUNY Law School, 2 Court Square in Hunters Point.

Elections were also swept out of the way as adjournment approached, though there was one important exception.  The new season will begin with the same sub-chair officers, minus the secretary, until elections can at last be held.  The September meeting will be called to order by Chairwoman Denise Kehan-Smith, formerly the secretary, who nominated herself for leadership and gained the board’s approval.

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