2017-03-08 / Front Page

Community Board 2 Meeting, Talks Film Festival

By Thomas Cogan

Public Advocate Letitia James made an appearance at the March meeting of Community Board 2 held at the Sunnyside Community Services.

The board heard about an application to the Landmark Preservation Commission from a Sunnyside Gardens resident, seeking to justify adding a certain adjustment to a previous backyard alteration. Another part of the evening was taken up by the latest Department of City Planning presentation of the Long Island City Core Study. An application from a popular local restaurant for a sidewalk café was, as expected, a good deal less a matter of contention than an application to Landmarks or a zoning plan.

One of the first of the public comment speakers was Amadeo Plaza, head of the Court Square Civic Association.  He was at the meeting to inform or remind the board that the Department of Transportation has sold its air rights at the junction of Jackson Avenue and Dutch Kills Street to a developer.  He said the board should give the sale a thorough critical review, since any hope of a recreational or green space, even an elevated one, is now slim.  The nearest park is Murray Playground, at 45th Avenue and 21st Street, and he thought the neighborhood several blocks east of it needed some space of its own.  He said the next meeting of CSCA had a tentative date that has since been pushed back to Thursday, April 6.

Also taking advantage of the public comment slot were two young filmmakers who have works entered in this year’s Queens World Film Festival.  First to speak was Brian Fitzgerald, whose short film, Underwater, comes, he said, out of his years of drug addiction.  Anne Hu said that her film, Cake, is about the search for sexual identity, hers and others.’  It will be shown at the Museum of the Moving Image in its Redstone theatre, Saturday, March 18 at 5:30 p.m.  Fitzgerald said his film would be shown the same day at 3 p.m., but didn’t say where.  For the exact time and place to see Underwater and any of the other films showing at either of MMI’s theatres (Bartos and Redstone) or the one located at the adjacent Kaufman Astoria Studios (Zukor), go to www.queensworldfilmfestival,com, click on 2017 films and then on the green “buy tickets” sign.

Public Advocate James was next to speak saying she has put more bills before the City Council than any of her predecessors.  Lots of lawsuits too, she added, some of them brought against Mayor Bill De Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo.  She cited a recent suit involving both of them, in which the governor wanted to settle but the mayor wanted to continue litigation.  The suit is ongoing. 

James said she hears from her neighbors that the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) may be talked about as a progressive light-rail project that should ease a lot of the difficulty of traveling north and south between Queens and Brooklyn; but in reality, they say, it is likely to displace residents, disrupt neighborhoods and run billions of dollars over budget.  Access-a-Ride’s troubles over often being late or never arriving to transport its aged or disabled customers may result in a switch away from the service’s vans and drivers to taxicabs.  "The leading social problem in the city is homelessness," she said.  Proposals to alleviate it include housing plans which even if fulfilled will reduce the homeless population’s numbers only slightly.  She said she serves on the city’s Pension Board and was happy to report that it had recently disowned its investment in manufacturers of firearms.

Being from Brooklyn, she takes matters like the Atlantic Yards housing project and the Barclay Center Arena quite seriously. The principal builder is Forest City Ratner, and she said that its chief executive, Bruce Ratner, sold the arena to the Russians and a great deal else to the Chinese.

A landmark preservation application at 39-13 48th St. in Sunnyside Gardens would cover interior alterations, a rear yard addition and new rear windows. The applicant brought several photographs of the alterations, which look a little radical for Sunnyside Gardens, a neighborhood that was landmarked a few years ago after a few stormy meetings. The applicant said he had approving letters from neighbors, if not adjacent ones. Frank Carapica, one neighbor not inclined to approve, testified that he found the alterations disruptive.  He said he has lived in Sunnyside Gardens since 1965 and had only in recent days heard of the application. He believes the symmetry and aesthetics of “this lovely courtyard” would be badly upset.  Later, Lisa Ann Deller, head of the board’s land use committee, said it had rejected this application unanimously at its last meeting.  The rest of the board was in agreement, though there were three abstentions.

Penny Lee, of the Department of City Planning in Queens, showed slides and talked about the Long Island City Core Plan, which she first presented two years ago, though work had been started on it as long ago as 2001.  The attack on the World Trade Center in September of that year disrupted progress on it for a long while.  The building boom in Long Island City proceeded however.  The landscape was changed radically and the plan tries to see how the people can be accommodated to it. 

Lee said she has attended countless meetings in Long Island City and Astoria and will attend many more.  Just what can be done about affordability, residents’ quality of life and the want-among-plenty paradox of a transit-rich neighborhood where overcrowded trains and the unlikelihood of transit expansion make such huge local growth seem like a fast track to gridlock?  Lee said that floor-area ratios (FAR) of 5, 8, 10 and 12 dominate in Long Island City, an obvious fact in view of one building after another in excess of 500 feet. 

She sympathized with Amadeo Plaza’s lament about the lack of even elevated recreation space.  She said there’s little unbuilt-on land left in Long Island City that is owned by the city—and with that in mind the DOT has sold its air rights on Jackson Avenue.  She concluded her talk with reference to Long Island City’s remaining loft buildings. Some of them are hives of technical research and innovation, she said, but all those innovators therein might soon be driven out by relentlessly rising rents.  How can they, for instance, be accommodated to the plan?

The meeting handled one final bit of business. Skinny Lee, owner of Skinny’s Cantina, at 47-05 Center Blvd., sees warm weather coming and has applied for an unenclosed sidewalk café with 14 tables and 42 seats.  Everyone found that a fine idea and approved it with a raised-hands vote.  



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