2018-05-23 / Front Page

Protests At CB 2 Against Mixed-Use Building Project

By Thomas Cogan
The second Community Board 2 meeting this month to take up the mixed-use building project at 69-02 Queens Blvd. was even more demonstrative than the first one, at CB 2’s regular monthly meeting in Sunnyside.

The meeting was held a week and a half later on May 14 at the school of St. Mary’s of Winfield R.C. church in Woodside, a couple of blocks from the 69-02 site.

There were a greater number of local residents present this time, joined by many union carpenters and their district council leader. It provided even more voices of disapproval against the project’s developers, who endured frequent hoots of derision and were accused of disregarding the consequences of the project,

Madison Capital Realty (MCR), had been at the first meeting, but the lead speaker at St. Mary’s, Ross Moskowitz, an attorney, was new. He promptly made the announcement that 69-02 Queens Boulevard would have 169 affordable residential units. Out of a total of 561 units, this would be 30 percent, in accordance with MCR’s decision. 

The lot where MCR plans to build two residential towers has an odd shape, one reason for that being the Long Island Railroad’s hold on a part of the property. The LIRR’s commuter line has an embankment and cuts a triangle out of the southeast corner of the lot. A private business, Atlas Floral Decorators, stands on the northeast corner of the lot, at 47th Avenue and 70th Street.  Also on 47th Avenue is an Armenian Center building and a small parking lot, both of which seem due to be replaced.  MCR’s plan is to retreat to a point 30 feet from the LIRR embankment and build a broad strip of parkland between the two residential towers, which will have parking garages that are walled, capped with rooves, and as a result, will be invisible from Queens Boulevard.

Local residents and carpenters took the floor to deliver their protests.  Elaine Kang, a CB 2 member, said that two schools nearest the building site are overcrowded now, so where will the children among the new residents go?  Another local resident, Raymond Lee, brought up the turn-of-the-century fright name for Queens Boulevard, the “Boulevard of Death” (so named because of many pedestrian fatalities there, especially in the 1990s), saying that the traffic coming and going from busy 69th Street to the boulevard, or to the westbound ramp of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, makes the thoroughfare even more dangerous.  Though the residential project has not yet been built, children walking to school have to face the hazard of that heavy traffic.  How many people can you pack into a certain area? Lee asked.

Dave McGuire, a union carpenter for 29 years, predicted an influx of low-paying jobs.  Another carpenter, Shane Toner, called the MCR presentation believable until it got to the schools.  He said non-union work was cheaper but slower.  Was this site, like others nearby along the boulevard, going to be non-union?  The answer from MCR was that it was early in the deciding process, which drew an explosion of catcalls from those who took it to mean that the answer was no.

City Councilman Bob Holden reviewed some facts, notably that the number of residential units MCR wanted to build via a uniform land use review process (ULURP) application is 521, though should the application be disapproved, the as-of-right total it could build without it would be 207 (289 with affordable units).  The councilman said that if five schools could be built within a few square miles of the 69-02 site, all would become overcrowded immediately.  He said he opposed the up-zoning of Queens Boulevard to R7X in that section of Woodside and added that even by that standard, MCR is overbuilding.  Mark Papish, of Assemblyman Brian Barnwell’s staff, called School District 24 the most overcrowded one in Queens and the district, with the largest number of homeless students.  Assemblyman Michael Den Dekker’s representative asked if the ground on the building site where a gas station had stood was examined for brownfield pollution and was told by the MRC group that it had been.

Joe Geiger, executive secretary-treasurer of the N.Y. District Council of Carpenters, asked if the many carpenters in the room could afford to buy housing in one of these new apartments or any other place in the vicinity.  He assumed a negative answer and said that the city’s economic development agencies and the politicians cater to developers, citing the 421a tax incentive, but seldom if ever consider the working class, and aren’t doing so at 69-02.

 Joy Prendergast, a local resident, said she knows how badly overcrowded the local schools are because her daughter attends one of them.  Bill Kregler, a critic of many things in western Queens, said that 10 years ago he told some School Construction Authority people that a school should be built on available room at 69-02, but the SCS replied that it had no thought of building a school beside the “Boulevard of Death.”  Yet a short while later that night, Mary Messino of Woodside told the MCR group that if it wanted to help the community it should leave aside three floors in one of the proposed towers for a new school.

The MCR group was blasted by protesters at two meetings, mainly for its proposal to build residential housing.  Protesters said no residential building should rise without more school construction to provide for the many children who’d surely be arriving with the new housing.  But the local city councilman said any new schools would soon be filled to capacity, for such was the level of overcrowding owing to the population density already there.  It looks like new residency is the enemy of stability, at least until enough schools can be built to reduce the overcrowding of children.  In such a situation, worry about the “Boulevard of Death” could be an afterthought. 

Late in the meeting, a man challenged MRC’s ownership of the lots on which it intends to build.  He added that the group’s plans might collapse it the R7X zoning does not go through.  The MRC reps said that the deal for full ownership is due to be signed during the summer.  Before the summer begins, MRC has to make one more visit to a CB 2 meeting, next month when the board is to vote on approval or disapproval of the building site at 69-02 Queens Boulevard.

 

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