2016-10-05 / Front Page

First Court Square Civic Association Is Held

By Thomas Cogan

Amadeo Plaza, founder and president of the Court Square Civic Association, hoped he would draw about 25 to the association’s very first meeting, held last Thursday evening in a room at MoMA PS 1.  At first it appeared that 25 might be too great an expectation, but soon interested persons were arriving in modest amounts and then heavily.  More folding chairs were brought in and the meeting finally drew about twice Plaza’s estimation. The meeting mainly featured a discussion between Plaza, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Paul Januszewski, of the developer, Rockrose.  (A Department of City Planning representative was also invited but did not attend.)  

They went over many topics, among them the quest for green space; maintenance of the available parks; schools; zoning; and transportation—which are always worth discussion, however familiar they become.  The many questions from the audience might have prolonged the meeting well beyond the time limit if Plaza hadn’t enforced it and brought a successful inaugural event to an end.

Plaza and his wife Noelia, CSCA’s secretary, provided visitors with two pages of literature, including a map of CSCA’s boundaries.  Its northern border is Queens Plaza South, the west, 11th Street; and the south and east are bounded by Jackson Avenue and the Sunnyside Yard.  Plaza said quite a lot of change is going on there and some of it “could be better.”  He was

careful to draw his map as far west as 11th Street so he could take in Murray Playground and annex some badly-needed green space. 

Van Bramer was having his usual busy time tending to matters within and outside his district, so there was a short wait for his arrival.  When he showed up he briefly described his nearly six years on the City Council.  That included a reference to his earlier work with the Queens Public Library and a report on the progress in building the Hunters Point branch, which was celebrated earlier that day in a preview meeting at its Center Boulevard site.  Januszewski, Rockrose Development Corp.’s vice president for planning, spoke of his 12 years at the Department of City Planning and later area development in Long Island City before coming to Rockrose four years ago.

Plaza called Court Square “the epicenter of the arts scene” in Long Island City.  Januszewski spoke of street art that had been applied to one Rockrose building, and also the company’s support of the Sculpture Center on Purves Street.  Van Bramer spoke of “protecting what we have” and retaining studios for artists.  He promoted public art, even “The Sunbather,” defended and reviled on Jackson Avenue.  As always, Plaza was on the hunt for green space and asked Januszewski about the Department of Transportation’s Under the Elevated plan to make green space out of land it owns in seemingly undesirable places.  He was told that “issues” are delaying work on it.  Van Bramer envisioned a High Line-like structure which would provide green space where none now exists. 

Plaza said maintenance of parks is lamentable, and while Van Bramer said the City Council has swung funds for park maintenance, “we need to do more,” adding that there’s nothing more important than “a clean, safe neighborhood.”  Januszewski brought up the Long Island City Partnership’s plan to expand its business improvement district (BID).  Van Bramer said that if the plan goes through, more street clean-up should follow. 

Plaza noticed that elementary schools have been or are being built in Hunters Point and speculated that in Court Square a school for older children might be in order.  He asked Januszewski if Rockrose could have a school in one of its buildings and the Rockrose man found it a fine idea, since schools pay rent too.  Van Bramer said that 10 schools have been built or been scheduled for construction in his district during his time in office.  He brought up the old assumption in city government that young adults moving into places like Long Island City would only depart for the suburbs eventually, to raise their children there.  That assumption created a mindset that retarded school planning and construction for years, he said.

Plaza mentioned a transit crisis (and doesn’t everybody?), speaking of Court Square as a “bottleneck” for transportation. Van Bramer said the city should control the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, regarding city transit, anyway, to make it more responsive.  He couldn’t see anything inn

the way of a cure-all, believing that plans for ferries and dedicated buses are nice but limited in the effort to ease congestion.  A new subway line?  “Not in our lifetimes.”  Asked about the light rail Brooklyn-Queens Connector, he reserved comment.

From the audience came a question about a circa-2011 Long Island Railroad survey regarding a Long Island City station that would provide commutation to Manhattan.  The inquiring woman wondered what has become of it.  Januszewski said it seems to have become forgotten, but Ira Greenberg, a Sunnyside attorney, said the plan is still alive somewhere.  Richard Mazda of the Secret Theatre asked why the MTA is so adamantly opposed to running buses or jitneys through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel as another option for commuters.  Van Bramer said his proposals for that were of-the-moment, during some of the MTA’s many weekend subway shutdowns, and the MTA spurned him and them repeatedly.  But, he said, the agency might eventually be forced to establish bus service through the tunnel, because the crises are now daily, not just on weekends.

One man in the audience decried the lack of taxation for builders sheltered under 421-a, which allowed much for them if they would provide affordable housing.  The measure had a time limit and 421-a has expired, but its revival is desired by many, if not the man at the meeting, who said an untold amount of revenue was lost because of it.  In contrast, Januszewski said 421-a allows the building of rental apartments, and without it, it’s condos everywhere.

New zoning has been proposed for Hunters Point.  Van Bramer, answering an inquiry by Christian Murray of the Sunnyside Post, said such proposals are followed by a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, and brought before the City Council.  The councilman called that legislative body influential, pointing to the recent withdrawal of the Phipps Houses affordable housing project on Barnett Avenue in Sunnyside.  Faced with a critical Council meeting about the building plan, Phipps decided to end its effort to build there.  As for zoning in Hunters Point, Ira Greenberg said City Planning told him and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan that new zoning is on the verge of release.

Finally, Amadeo Plaza asked how to plan a community and calm the buy-and-build frenzy of land purchase and construction.  Van Bramer said groups of parents, artists or other concerned people must form to state their ideas and desires for civic improvement and livability.  Plaza had already furnished one answer to the question with his stated purpose for starting the Court Square Civic Association, which is to “Champion and facilitate the holistic development of the Court Square neighborhood through community collaboration and civic participation.”

The next meeting is expected to be in November, though a firm date has not yet been decided.







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