2019-01-09 / Features

2019 Starts Off With Discussion On New High School; Amazon


The first meeting of Community Board 2 for 2019 had two big features: A presentation of the new middle school planned for construction on Barnett Avenue and 48th Street in Sunnyside; and further coverage of Amazon’s venture into Long Island City, a controversy that might go on for years.

Additionally, it was the first CB 2 meeting since the December 13 fire that destroyed a whole chunk of the block between 44th and 45th Streets on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside. Two local activists were cited for rapidly organizing a fundraising dinner to get repairs and reconstruction started.

Michael Mirisola, director of internal affairs for the School Construction Authority, was speaking to the board meeting for the third or fourth time about the school proposed for the junction of 48th Street and Barnett Avenue, though on this latest occasion he had decisive news. He was accompanied by John Dias, director of in-house capacity design in the SCA’s department of architecture and engineering.

At CB 2 meetings in October and November 2016, Mirisola and other SCA representatives first went over plans to build the school, saying that a brick garage, built on the edge of Sunnyside Gardens in the late 1920s, could be transformed into the middle school that parents and others in the neighborhood had sought for years. At that time, the end was hailed but the means were questioned. Some preservation-minded residents feared a fine old building would either be demolished or distorted in the attempt to transform it into something significantly different.

Mirisola said the SCA had thereafter consulted closely with the neighborhood and pledged to “hearken back to the original building” when planning and undertaking construction. He said the school building would look more like the old garage than the building does in its current state—the last occupant having been a restaurant and pool hall. It will have five stories. The school will be fully air-conditioned and accessible to the handicapped. There will be no designated parking for teachers. With exceptions, construction hours are to be confined to daytime, Mirisola said, and there will be union labor. No street closings are anticipated.

Mirisola said the occupancy date is at the beginning of the school year in September 2022.

Community Board 2 Chair Denise Keehan Smith got the Amazon business started by saying that the company has said it is open to a “town hall” type of meeting, but at no time earlier than early February, in a large Long Island City site, yet to be selected. She said that Amazon hasn’t specified its plans yet, so there’s nothing to vote on, for, or against.

First Vice President Lisa Ann Deller was asked to read a letter she had written but had yet to send to Amazon, expressing the board’s concern about how the state and city of New York presented Amazon’s arrival in Long Island City as an accomplished fact, needing no examination of the company’s merits or faults by any local bodies such as community boards. The letter did not question the state and city’s carte blanche treatment of Amazon, saying instead that CB 2 wanted to have a dialogue with Amazon, the state and the city.

Board Member Jeremy Rosenberg said the letter should contain an amendment that mentions the likelihood of great local displacement of residents and businesses, should Amazon’s “second headquarters” be established in LIC. He added that it should also deplore the company’s collusion with the Department of Immigration, Customs and Enforcement, or ICE, to turn in undocumented immigrants. Board Member Steve Cooper said that such protest is out of place in this letter, which should simply be a statement of concern that the community board was being ignored when its views should be considered.

A long line of public commentators spoke, nearly all of them condemning the Amazon deal. Dutch Kills Civic Association Vice President Tony Benetatos, at one point a designated liaison between Amazon and the community, swept all of that away and urged everybody to oppose the deal as sanctioned by state and city. Two young men, one in the building trades and the other a techie, supported Amazon and got some applause, but when Thomas Grech, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, backed Amazon and said, “It’s tough to say ‘no’ to 25,000 jobs,” one heckler quickly yelled “No!”

Early in the meeting, Jamie Faye Bean, executive director of Sunnyside Shines, and Melissa Orlando, head of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, were praised by CB 2 for quickly organizing a fundraising dinner in the wake of the hugely destructive fire in Sunnyside, December 13. The fire occurred on a Thursday and in the following four days the two put together the dinner, which was sold out when it was held, Monday evening, December 17. It was reported that a total of $140,000 was raised.

Getting a jump on warmer weather, three Sunnyside restaurants were applying for unenclosed sidewalk caf├ęs. Riko, 45-23 Greenpoint Ave., was seeking outdoor approval for 10 tables and 20 seats, but was not in attendance and had its case tabled. On the other hand, SoleLuna, 43-45 40th St., applying with five tables and 10 seats, and The Skillman, 45-20 Skillman Ave., with 10 tables and 28 seats, were unanimously approved, each by a raised-hands vote.

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