2018-09-12 / Front Page

CB 2 Returns After Summer Break, Tackles Hard Local Issues

By Thomas Cogan

On the first Thursday in September the heat was stifling all day, so summer was still with us according to weather and calendar. Officially, though, it was over and time for civic groups like Community Board 2 to head into the fall season.  CB 2’s September meeting had a small agenda but still managed to last three hours, though that was generally acceptable after June’s meeting, which was more than twice as long. 

The meeting’s principal issues included renewed opposition to further growth in Long Island City.  Next, the seemingly lost cause of opposition to the Department of Transportation’s safe streets makeover in Sunnyside proved to be still full of life, enough to prompt two angry outbursts and a resolute statement that the fight isn’t over yet.  Added to this, two speakers from the School Construction Authority had a preliminary report about a cluster of high schools to be built beside a shopping area on Northern Boulevard.

The meeting opened with Matt Wallace, chief of staff for City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, hailing an item protective of children at a local school and a multitude of items citywide, also aimed at protecting schoolchildren.  The first was a traffic light placed at the intersection of 42nd Street and 47th Avenue, down the street from P.S. 343, the Children’s Lab School, in Sunnyside.  The councilman had insisted on a light at the intersection since the school was opened at 45-45 42nd St. in 2014.  Officials throughout the city, the councilman among them, had campaigned during the summer to have power restored to the traffic speed cameras mounted on several schools, after they had been turned off in June when the state legislature let funding for their continuing operation lapse.  The cameras have been turned on again, if only for a designated period.  Wallace also said that city funding gained in June by the Woodside branch of Queens Public Library will allow extensive repairs and redesign on the Skillman Avenue building.

The public comment segment of the meeting was another occasion for the Long Island City Coalition to protest the endless construction projects in Long Island City.   Peter Johnson, a member, likened the situation, as he had previously, to fourth stage cancer.  He said the fifth stage, which would be fatal, will come if developers are allowed to reconstruct Sunnyside and Woodside in their fashion.  Another LICC speaker, Maine Bradley, requested that CB 2 resolve to support the group in demanding downzoning and a moratorium on further LIC development and building permits.  A Hunters Point Civic Association member said that filling the number of housing units under construction there could raise the local population count to 100,000.

When the Department of Transportation’s proposal to re-manage automobile and bicycle traffic on Skillman and 43rd Avenues, as part of its safe streets initiative, was presented to the community board in the spring, it raised opposition immediately.  It looked confusing, and it seemed the most prominent result would be the seizure of several curbside parking spaces on both avenues and some side streets.  Meetings in advance of June’s board meeting rejected it, and in June it was turned down by a vote of 27-8.  Mayor De Blasio and DOT were unmoved by any trace of community disapproval; and markings that looked designed to attract archeologists were laid on the street surfaces in August.  Dissidents both on and off the board came to speak at the meeting in September.

Brent O’Leary, head of the Hunters Point Civic Association, said everyone should be in revolt against the mayor and DOT and the apparent contempt they have for neighborhoods.       

Gary O’Neill, owner of Aubergine Café on Skillman, said the plan’s distortion of traffic procedure and elimination of parking spots has only generated in him a renewed willingness to fight.  Bill Kregler, Woodside activist, said that the June vote having been 27-8 against the DOT plan, the eight who voted for it should be dismissed from the board.  Patrick O’Brien, former board chairman, found Kregler’s suggestion of a purge outrageous and said so angrily.  Kregler responded with comparable anger but retired to his seat before anyone’s face could get any redder.  Ellen Kang of the board must have been nursing a slow burn, because she arose to say she was stunned to reflect that the organizing and demonstrations and the lopsided board vote took months to complete but came to nothing before the city government’s lack of concern, which infuriated her.

Michael Mirasola, a School Construction Authority attorney, arrived with an assistant to describe the multi-high school project expected to be built at 51-30 Northern Blvd.  He said the SCS would have 3.14 acres of space adjacent to the Clock Tower shopping area.  51-30 had been a Sports Authority store but the nationwide chain went out of business and was bought by Dick’s Sporting Goods, which closed that location.  At present it contains a Hyundai dealership and the parking lot is crowded with cars.  For its part, according to Mirasola, SCA proposes to construct one building that will contain three separate high schools.  He said the schools will have a total of seats somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000.

Lisa Ann Deller and Sheila Lewandowski, board vice presidents, asked about the enrollment figures in two nearby high schools, William Cullen Bryant H.S. (at 48-10 31st St.) and Long Island City H.S. (14-30 Bway.).   He could give no figures, much to the annoyance of Deller, who expected him to be better prepared.  He told both of them he would find the information and let them know.

During the board meeting segment, Dick Gundlach, a Woodside resident, might have been thinking of the great attention paid to the safe streets plan for Skillman and 43rd Avenues when he said the board should pay more attention to Woodside’s street concerns.  Board Chairwoman Denise Keehan-Smith, also from Woodside, agreed. 

The committee reports included environmental information from Dorothy Morehead, who said grass had been planted and was growing on the banks of the Dutch Kills waterway, near Newtown Creek.  She said that altogether the water is actually cleaner than lately it had been. 

An egret recently made an appearance, perhaps agreeing.  Morehead added that the Navy recently installed oyster castles in the creek so the oysters, known as “the kidneys of waterways” can perform wonders of purification.

Alexis Wheeler, the Department of City Planning’s ambassador to the board meetings, is leaving, having become deputy director of DCP’s Queens office.  She reported that the residential project at 69-02 Queens Blvd. had been given Planning Commission approval despite popular and board disapproval.  (It earned only one favorable vote at the June meeting.)  The commission’s approval seems to refer to the plan for two buildings and 561 units.  The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) is next and then everything goes to the City Council.

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