Thursday, December 18, 2008

Juniper Civic Hosts Holiday Party

Maspeth School, Stalled Downzoning Discussed at Monthly Session

By Conor Greene

The Juniper Park Civic Association’s 70th Anniversary holiday party featured food and prizes donated by local businesses and a parade of politicians who addressed the large crowd, which braved a driving rain to attend the meeting.

The civic group’s monthly session last Thursday began with sandwiches donated by Pioneer Supermarket and soda from Community Beverage as several hundred members filed into the auditorium of Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village. “We’re not afraid to come out in a storm,” joked civic President Robert Holden.

Despite the festive atmosphere, the evening wasn’t all fun and games – the civic association’s executive board updated the audience on a host of important neighborhood issues, including the city’s proposal to build a large school at 74th Street in Maspeth and the stalled downzoning effort in Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale.

Holden started the meeting by telling the audience that he is hopeful for the future now that the area has new representation on the City Council. “The cloud has been lifted from over the neighborhood,” he said, referring to Elizabeth Crowley’s victory in November over Councilmember Anthony Como, and to the end of former Councilman Dennis Gallagher’s time in office. “Now we have new leadership with new goals,” he said.

Proposed Maspeth School

The city’s proposal to build a combined intermediate and high school serving at least 1,000 students at Grand Avenue and 74th Street in Maspeth represents a “threat” to the area’s quality of life, said Holden.

Earlier this year, the School Construction Authority (SCA) unveiled plans for a 1,650-seat school at the site of the former Restaurant Depot to serve students in grades 6-12. Despite the need for a local high school, Community Board 5 overwhelmingly rejected the proposal due to concerns over the building size, increased traffic and congestion and the amount of students pouring onto local streets after dismissal, especially since there already are two schools within several blocks of the proposed site.

The SCA recently announced that it will present scaled back plans for a 1,000-seat building to CB 5 at its January meeting. However, SCA officials suggested to resi-
dents at the November 25 Community Education Council 24 meeting that it will seek City Council approval for the plan regardless of the reaction it receives from the community board, which acts only in an advisory role.

“Obviously this area needs a public high school – but there are two other schools there and this will potentially put 5,000 students [on the streets at dismissal time] if this is built,” said Holden. “This is going to be a big problem in the neighborhood, for the commercial district and for getting around – especially if it is not only for our kids.”

The issue of who the school would be zoned for has been a key part of the debate, as many who oppose the school claim they would support it if the city would guarantee that it would only be open to local children. However, that decision is ultimately made by the city Board of Education, so the SCA has been unable to make the promise.

“This is the way it works on our sanctuary city – areas like Middle Village and Maspeth get overrun,” said Holden, referring to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to prepare for an estimated one million more city residents by 2030.

A major problem with the proposed site, said Holden, is the limited routes nearby residents have to get in and out of the neighborhood, which is surrounded by the Long Island Expressway, railroad tracks and a cemetery. “It is hard to get around if a few streets are blocked, and 74th Street is an important route,” he said. “People will give up and start moving out. There are other locations for this school. They shouldn’t be on top of each other.”

Maspeth resident Manny Caruana called the proposal a “clear-cut example of over-development” and said that school-aged children already terrorize the neighborhood each afternoon. “These kids will knock you down so fast,” he said. “This is a bad, bad move. They [the SCA] could care less about the impact it is going to have on the community and on the quality of life for people living around these schools.”

Civic Vice President Lorraine Sciulli echoed the sentiment that a lack of city planning has left the area overrun by schoolchildren. “We’re going to have wall to wall kids in this neighborhood,” she said. “We have Mayor Bloomberg to thank for this with his sanctuary city.”

The SCA’s new proposal is scheduled to be presented to Community Board 5 at its January 14 meeting.

Elected Officials Stop By

Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) opened his remarks by telling the audience, “congratulations, you all own three auto companies today,” referring to the bailout of the auto industry that was being considered at that point.

However, as Weiner was making his comments, the Senate was in the process of voting down the $14 billion legislation intended to help General Motors, Chrysler and Ford stay afloat during the economic downturn. Before that vote took place, Weiner argued that officials cannot allow those companies to fail due to the impact it would have on consumers and on the nation’s industrial sector as a whole.

“Nobody would buy a car from a bankrupt company,” he said, asking the audience members who have a warranty on an American vehicle to raise their hands. “We are left with bad choices and worse choices right now... I don’t know if it is going to work.”

Weiner noted that one third of all industrial jobs left in America are connected in some way to the auto industry. “The financial industry is somewhat stabilized” as a result of the $700 billion bailout passed to support Wall Street, said Weiner. However, “the jury is still out” regarding the auto industry’s health, he added.

On two more local topics, Weiner suggested that the SCA consider other options for the proposed Maspeth school. “Now that the market is softening... there are more options,” he said.

He also briefly discussed truck traffic, which is a major issue along Grand Avenue. He noted that one truck equals more than three cars. “The city is obsessed with everything except trucks,” he said, calling the area the “truck pass through capital of the entire city.” He suggested that portable weigh stations be used to bolster enforcement.

Councilman Tony Avella
(D-Bayside)was introduced by Holden as the area’s “adopted councilman” because of his assistance to the civic after former Councilman Dennis Gallagher resigned and the area was not represented on the City Council.

Sporting an injured hand wrapped in an Ace bandage, Avella joked that he would like to be able to say he was hurt punching out the mayor over his refusal to send out the $400 tax rebate for homeowners. “I know you are all expecting it [but] Michael Bloomberg refuses to release it,” he said.

In response, Avella and three of his colleagues have filed a complaint in Supreme Court to force the mayor to release the rebate. A hearing on that motion was postponed at the request of the city’s counsel, said Avella. “He has no legal right to hold onto the money. It’s an absolute disgrace... I’ve already said I’m not going to go for that. We pay enough property taxes,” said Avella.

Avella closed his remarks by reminding the audience that, like Weiner, he plans on challenging Bloomberg next year. He took umbrage with Weiner’s earlier claim that he led the fight against the mayor’s congestion pricing plan earlier this year, which was passed by the City Council but ultimately defeated in Albany. “A lot of us fought that fight,” said Avella. “It wasn’t just one person.”

Councilman and Senator-Elect Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach)was introduced by Holden as a “terrific guy,” despite claims made to voters about him in mailers during his successful senate race this fall against Serf Maltese. “If you believe all that stuff [stated on fliers] you would think this guy is the worst guy in the world,” said Holden.

Addabbo, who is headed to Albany after two terms representing his district on the City Council, thanked those who supported him and vowed to win over those who didn’t. “Regardless who you voted for, I’m ready to work for you,” he said, urging constituents to contact him at his district office at (718) 738-1111 with any issues.

One of the biggest issues Addabbo was asked about while campaigning was the stalled effort to downzone several hundred blocks in Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale. The effort has languished in the Department of City Planning since volunteers surveyed the area two years ago.

After being asked about it so often, Addabbo contacted DCP Commissioner Amanda Burden to inquire about the project’s status, which he called “overdue.” He reported that DCP contacted his office last week about setting up a meeting to discuss the project.

Councilwoman-Elect Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale), who defeated Como in a November rematch of this summer’s special election to replace Gallagher, was the final official to address the audience. Holden noted that it is “great to finally, after three years battling our council member, to work with our councilwoman.”

Crowley, who grew up in Maspeth and lives in Glendale, said she has a “strong bond with the community” and is “honored” to represent it in City Hall. A key initiative, she said, is “making sure every homeowner gets the $400 rebate.”

She also said she is already working with DCP to ensure that the downzoning moves forward this spring. “Everyday, we are seeing one family homes come down and three families go up,” she said. “It burdens each and every one of us... It’s going to happen and bring better results for our community,” she said of the downzoning.

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