2018-02-14 / Front Page

HPCA Meeting Hears Van Bramer On Zoning

By Thomas Cogan

The Hunters Point Civic Association welcomed City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer to its February meeting, to hear him talk about development in Long Island City and cover the topic of local schools.  Just a week before, there was a meeting that brought Department of Education officials to the auditorium of P.S. 76.  It became so tumultuous the councilman called it “the worst meeting of my life.”  Hundreds of local residents were there and disagreements between them and the DOE contingent reportedly got out of hand.  At the HPCA meeting, visitors were practically crowded out of the small downstairs room at the Irish Center of New York where it was held.  They did, however, pay respectful attention to Van Bramer, and if there were any differences, they weren’t expressed with anything like the fury extended to the DOE.

The councilman said that the city rezoned Long Island City in 2001, 2004 and 2009.  Any rezoning must come with infrastructure plans, he said, as these three certainly did not.  At the moment there are six potential rezonings in LIC but nothing has been started so far.  Any future development must consider the effect it has on transportation, he said.

Good neighborhoods have good streets, schools, parks and libraries, he said, at the same time wondering aloud what might be done to bring green space to Court Square, which is bereft of parkland.  Mentioning libraries brought him around to Hunters Point and an anecdote about a prominent developer who wanted a tall tower on the land where the unfinished Hunters Point Library now stands.  He said that when the site was still vacant, the developer told him he could build a 50-story building there and create a library on the bottom three floors.  Van Bramer replied that a free-standing library had been planned for that site and should be built there for all to see, not merely included within a tall tower.  He is glad that the free-standing plan prevailed, even if the current wait for a functioning library is galling.

The need for more schools was talked about, as it is, or seems to be, at practically every meeting.  One place that several people find promising is the huge 1930s building at Vernon Boulevard and 44th Drive, some of which is a DOE office bearing the original concrete sign over the entrance saying it is (or was) the Department of Education, Bureau of Purchases.  The building is very much in use (there is another part, whose own concrete sign identifies it as belonging to the Department of Purchase, which seems to make it a forerunner of the Department of Citywide Services and Administration or DCAS), but apparently there’s a belief that all or part of it could be converted to schools.  As one woman at the meeting exclaimed, “Can you imagine the utopia that will be here?”

Utopian dreams might be worth rallying about, and the councilman was invited to a rally and said he’d be there, at least when time and place for it were determined.  There is a grave need for long-range planning about schooling, he said, and it must be infinitely better than anything so “horrifically planned and presented” as the P.S 76 meeting the week before.  At that time, classrooms in trailers, deplored by Van Bramer and everyone else, got an odd defense from him after the DOE representatives said the trailers should be taken away and the very young students bused to existing schools while permanent facilities are built in Hunters Point.  Busing for six-year-olds was seen by the councilman as an abomination, even worse than trailers

Mary Hanlon, a local activist, brought up the Plaxall meeting five weeks earlier.  Van Bramer could not attend the meeting and Hanlon understood him to be undecided about the great project that would transform the Anable Basin area at the edge of the East River.  She wanted some further thought.  The councilman said Plaxall’s “massive” plan, which has been proposed since Michael Bloomberg was mayor, agrees that "in terms of what amenities the community would be offered is not appropriate.  True, a great amount of putatively affordable housing is promised, but what, Van Bramer asked, is affordability, a truly relative term?  And even if it were perfect, the huge population increase Plaxall seeks would crush available transportation.  There is the promise of a school or schools, but like the prospect of a library at the base of a high-rise tower it seems a promise easily offered but not thought through.

The Plaxall meeting was another occasion for worry about the situation north of the Queensboro Bridge, where there’s no boom promised for public housing, only further hardship as the New York City Housing Authority wallows in bankruptcy.  Van Bramer said he has visited the Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses quite often lately, a good deal of the time unfortunately because of shootings and domestic violence incidents.  He said there should be more attempts by black and white people to come together from either side of the bridge and encouraged those in the audience to attend the annual Black History Month meeting at the Jacob Riis Center in Queensbridge Houses Monday, February 26 at 6:00 p.m..

In the parks of Hunters Point there’s a lack of shade structures, a big problem since there’s a lack of trees.  A midwinter meeting was an occasion none too early to talk about protection from the summer sun.  Up to now, demands for shade structures, big metallic covers that block the sun in lieu of tree shade, have not been successful.  Van Bramer said insufficient local participation in participatory budgeting has meant weak support for shade structures.  Public housing residents are quite a bit more interested in participatory budgeting, he said.  If south of the bridge does not respond with comparable assertion, the city can’t be blamed for believing it’s a comparatively minor issue.  He said the next participatory budgeting meetings will be coming soon, and for those who weren’t attentive to them in the past, this is another chance. 

Hearing that the cost of shade structure is currently at $800 thousand, Van Bramer called it “egregiously high,” though the Parks Department determines it.  A woman said she asked Parks about the high price and those she was talking to laughed at the idea of such an expense.  They could make shade structures for a far lower price but then the budget has to be presented to the city, where the price might be altered.  Another woman said Hunters Point Park is not only a local park but also a tourist attraction, so visitors need those shade structures too.


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