2016-10-12 / Front Page

Community Board 2 Meeting

By Thomas Cogan
At October’s Community Board 2 meeting at Sunnyside Community Services, an old building at 48th Street and Barnett Avenue, recently touted as being an excellent place on which to build a large (600 seat) school, became the center of controversy.  Some at the meeting wanted to preserve the building as a classic structure that is linked to nearby Sunnyside Gardens, while others thought the school could be built within the outlines of the old building; still others wanted another place for construction, perhaps the Sports Authority on Northern Boulevard that isn’t otherwise permanently occupied right now, after the company’s recent demise.  All seemed skeptical of the School Construction Authority official at the meeting, who said he was there only to get the sense of the community before the SCA sought City Council approval and then acted.  Three applications—consumer affairs, landmark and Board of Standards & Appeals—were also considered; one got a quick dismissal.  Nominations for board officers were made and elections will occur in November.

Early in the meeting, Commander Deputy Inspector John Traviglia of the 108th Police Precinct told the meeting that the relatively positive crime statistics from summer, 2015 would have been tough to match or exceed in the summer just past, and though they did not on an overall basis, the season and the year thus far have produced rewards, such as a 30 percent decline in the number of burglaries, thus lessening the progress of a crime that was occurring frequently a couple of years ago, particularly in Sunnyside.

But grand larceny is up, particularly as manifested in crimes of deception and fraud.  The commander said anyone can fall victim to these crimes, citing instances when even family relatives of precinct officers have been swindled.  Other than that, the hottest crime of late is theft of catalytic converters, which are being sawn off the undersides of vehicles so perpetrators can get and resell the relatively rare metals within them.  D.I. Traviglia said a fast-working thief with a hacksaw can separate a converter from its vehicle and be off with it in less than a minute.

The discussion over the proposed school became debate-like when the School Construction Authority’s representative, Michael Mirisola, had requested community commentary by no later than Friday, November 4. At the moment he first spoke it was widely believed, owing to an announcement made by City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, that the chosen site for the school was 38-04 48th St., at the southwest corner of 48th Street and Barnett Avenue.  Standing at that spot is a brick building where Paradise, a pool parlor and bar/restaurant, was in operation until business was terminated, several months ago.  The building extends half a block along 48th Street and for an equal or greater distance along Barnett Avenue.  To a stranger, an old brick building bearing traces of a failed business venture might seem just the place to pull down to put up a school, several of which are intensely sought in Sunnyside or anywhere else in Queens.

However, some of those persons more familiar with the situation had no wish for a school on that corner.  The first Sunnyside resident to speak was Jeffrey Kressler, who came to the front of the room to say that the building was on the National Registry, to indicate it was of exceptional interest.  Laura Heim, an architect, said it must be preserved, even in its currently “degraded” state.  She said that, rather than a school it should be converted to a parking garage.  That was its former status, according to Herbert and Liz Reynolds, who said the building was designed by Clarence Stein, one of the designers of Sunnyside Gardens.  They held up 90-year-old photographs to show that in its original form it was indeed a parking garage, though with an impressive design that made it several stories higher than it is now.  They too wanted no school there, but the following speaker said a school should be built within the frame of the old building, which is privately owned and might otherwise be sold to a developer, who could put up what the speaker envisioned as a 14-story condominium building rather than a seven-story school.  Those living in Gardens houses on 39th Avenue didn’t look forward to the months of construction required to build either.

Mirasola spoke again, repeating his request for input and citing an example of cooperative building between the SCA and residents in Jackson Heights.  Steve Cooper of the board accused him of trying to mollify them with assurances of “trust me,” which seemed a hustle to him.  Patrick O’Brien detected a rush to finality by the SCA, more than he could remember from previous occasions.  Dorothy Morehead said the board had been presented with too many done deals in the past to trust any agency such as the SCA now.  When asked about the Sports Authority store as a possible site, Mirisola said he was unfamiliar with that suggestion but would seek consultation with anyone at the SCA who knew how good or bad it was.  (Several persons, among them Sunnyside residents, were of the opinion that despite being a big box store, Sports Authority had several disqualifiers as a site for this school.)

There was a chance to vote on approval or disapproval of the plan but so many questions remained about it that as far as O’Brien could see the issue should be tabled.  Even that needed a vote, which went heavily in favor of tabling, though four voted against it and one abstained.

The consumer affairs application was for an unenclosed sidewalk café of 10 tables and 20 seats at Corner Bistro, 47-18 Vernon Blvd.  There was little or nothing considered wrong about that plan, so it was approved, though with one negative vote and two abstentions.  The landmark application was about a backyard fence at 39-88 44th St.  It was said it would be six feet high and was repeatedly described as a stockade fence.  Laura Heim condemned it as a violation of Sunnyside Gardens’ traditional openness and most of the board agreed, though the vote was two disagreements shy of unanimity.  The BSA application was made by an automobile service station at 56-02/20 Bway., which asked that the term of its variance be extended another 10 years. Approval was unanimous.  When nominations for the next slate of CB 2 officers were requested, Patrick O’Brien asked that the current board be re-nominated, and so it was.  Elections will be conducted next month, with further nominations accepted until it’s time for the vote.

Dorothy Morehead’s environmental committee report consisted of the news that Smiling Hogshead Ranch, the onetime “guerilla garden” and now urban farm at 25-30 Skillman Ave., located on a disused freight car siding, has at last been given approval by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  That allows it to remain at the spot where made its claim five years ago.  Approval comes with conditions, but the fact remains that “SHHR” is now permanent.  


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