Thursday, October 23, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South

Parks Eyes Upgrades at Juniper Valley, Grover Cleveland


By Conor Greene

Parents and children can look forward to revamped playgrounds and sports fields in Middle Village and Ridgewood, the Parks Department informed members of Community Board 5 at its meeting last week.

Officials from the city’s Parks Department and a landscape architect firm unveiled plans to reconstruct a portion of the south playground at Juniper Valley Park, at 74th Street and Juniper Valley Boulevard in Middle Village and to install a turf field in Grover Cleveland Park in Ridgewood.

The presentations were part of Community Board 5’s monthly meeting in Christ the King High School last Wednesday. Board members did not express any major concerns with the proposed projects.

Turf Field at Grover Cleveland

The work at Grover Cleveland Park will include the conversion of an existing asphalt court to a synthetic turf field, according to landscape architect Thomas Atela of the Manhattan-based firm Abel Bainnson Butz, LLP. When the $1.3 million renovation is complete, the park will feature a softball field, two soccer fields and two volleyball courts.

The project’s design will be completed this fall, according to a Parks Department spokeswoman. Construction will begin shortly after and is expected to take about six months to finish. The project is part of the mayor’s PlaNYC initiative, which among other things, aims to convert asphalt courts into turf fields at 25 city parks.

Grover Cleveland is among five sites that were included in the project’s first phase, according to Atela. In addition to the fields, the project also includes new fences and perimeter tree plantings and an upgraded water drainage system. “We’re trying to be as green and environmentally-friendly as possible,” he said.

New Playground at JVP

Next, the department’s landscape architect, Lee Ann Beauchamp and the design supervisor for Queens, Nancy Prince, presented plans for the new playground at Juniper Valley Park. The reconstruction, funded by a $750,000 City Council earmark, will provide new play equipment at the eastern portion of the playground along Juniper Boulevard South at 74th Street. Separate areas will be established for toddlers and for children ages two to five and will also accommodate handicapped children.

The new design will incorporate the neighborhood’s past history as swampland. In 1915, the Juniper Swamp was filled in, becoming Juniper Valley Park and allowing for development of the surrounding area, according to the Parks Department. The new playground will feature wetland plants and animals, along with a spray shower and lily pad design in the concrete pavement area.

The existing basketball court at the western end of the playground will not be affected by the renovation project. In addition, as a result of meetings with local parents, gates will be installed at each entrance.

Turf and Sand Concerns

While board members were generally supportive of the projects, two aspects did concern some board members: the use of artificial turf at Grover Cleveland and the inclusion of a sandbox at Juniper Valley.

Responding to questions from board members, Atela explained that the “in-fill style” turf is made from a thermal plastic material, instead of rubber pellets used previously in city parks. “It is a fairly new product that performs well,” said Atela, adding that several different types and makes of turf will be used among the 25 field conversion projects planned around the city.

The turf being used at Grover Cleveland comes with an eight year warranty and can be peeled up and replaced. It will be inspected yearly by the manufacturer and will be maintained on a regular basis by Parks Department employees.

The second concern came from Lorraine Sciulli and other board members, who questioned whether the Juniper Valley Park project should include a sandbox. Sciulli argued that it could lead to hygiene issues, and others noted it could be used by stray cats.

The Parks representatives explained that the sandboxes are included at the direction of Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and said they are only installed in parks that include a field office. However, as a result of the board member’s concerns, the sandbox proposed for this project will be eliminated, according to the department.

These two parks efforts are part of the “largest expansion and improvement” of city parks since the 1930s, according to the department. “Thanks to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vision for a greater, greener New York, the Parks Department has the funding to renovate numerous parks and to provide city residents with more opportunities for enjoying the outdoors all over the five boroughs,” a spokeswoman wrote in a statement.

Photo:Landscape architect Thomas Atela shows plans for Grover Cleveland park at last week’s Community Board 5 meeting.

Board Discusses Grand Ave, Budget and Roads

Issuess discussed at this month's Community Board 5 meeting included traffic concerns on Grand Avenue, local roads projects and the board’s capital budget.

Grand Ave Traffic Concerns

Tony Nunziato, who is challenging Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) in next month’s elections, spoke out against the city’s plan to combine two traffic triangles in Maspeth into a single, larger green space.

While Nunziato said he supports the park project in general, he says it doesn’t make sense to essentially eliminate a lane of Grand Avenue without first implementing the Maspeth Truck Bypass plan, referring to the stalled effort to prevent trucks from cutting through the heart of the neighborhood’s shopping district on their way to the expressway.

According to Nunziato, DOT crews have been prepping the area where Maspeth, Grand and Flushing avenues meet, meaning the project will likely move forward in the coming weeks. “Here we are at holiday time, with the economy in the dumpster, we need all the parking we can get, and they’re doing this,” he said. “The idea of a park is wonderful, and will bring this back to a walking community, but only if you take the trucks off the avenue first.”

Under the DOT’s project, the two existing traffic islands at that intersection will be combined into one larger space. To do so, a lane of Maspeth Avenue between Grand and Flushing avenues must be eliminated.

Capital Project Budget Vote

Board members voted on the capital and expense budgets for fiscal year 2010. The proposed projects are ranked and submitted to the city to help determine which initiatives move forward and receive funding.

The following list was approved by the board, with three members voting against it:

• Redesign and reconstruct sewer system in portions of areas having worst flooding

• Study of sewer system in CB 5 and Queens considering flooding problems and anticipated future growth

• Reconstruct Cooper Avenue underpass and construct a new pedestrian crosswalk

• Provide new catch basins and reconstruct deteriorated catch basins

• Reconstruction of Grover Cleveland Park, phase two

• Renovate deteriorated schools and construct new school space where needed.

• Rehabilitate Glendale library branch

• Reconstruct ball fields, jogging path and add lights at Francis J. Principe Park

• Reconstruct south Middle Village streets

• Provide traffic improvements and rehabilitation at Fresh Pond Road

• Rehabilitate Ridgewood branch library, phase two

• Improve pedestrian and vehicle safety at Grand Avenue and 69th Street

• Reconstruct Dry Harbor playground, phase two.

• Provide new street tree plantings

• Establish a community/cultural/recreation center in Maspeth

• Flushing Avenue and Grand Avenue sewer projects

• Improve Myrtle Avenue commercial strip from Fresh Pond Road to 80th Street

• Rehabilitate Ridgewood Reservoir and portions of adjacent Highland Park

•Provide funding for historic restoration of St. Saviour’s church

•Reconstruct and widen sidewalk along the 80th Street bridge over the LIRR tracks

•Build a 104th Precinct parking facility

•Reconstruct 75th Street from Eliot Avenue to Juniper Boulevard North

•Provide lighting and restore curbing along Fred Haller’s Union Turnpike mall from Myrtle Avenue to Woodhaven Boulevard

•Improve Myrtle/Wyckoff transit hub, including painting the M Train station

•Rehabilitate interior of 104th Precinct stationhouse

• Extend roadway widening along Metropolitan Avenue from Aubrey Avenue to Woodhaven Boulevard

• Rehabilitate Evergreen Park playground

• Reconstruct streets that are along bus routes

• Reconstruct DeKalb Avenue, Halsey Street and Jefferson Street train stations

• Reconstruct Prokop Square at Fresh Pond Road and Cypress Hills Street

The board voted to approve the list with the exception of three members: Robert Holden, Lorraine Sciulli and Steve Fielder. Holden later said that he wanted the reconstruction of St. Saviour’s church to be included in the top ten.

“We [the Juniper Park Civic Association] fought so hard to save St. Saviour’s that all we ask is the board put it in the top ten so this can become a reality,” said Holden, who is also president of the JPCA. “The board did nothing to save the church and now they can’t even support the effort by putting it in the top ten.”

He also criticized the board’s practice of including items that have already been funded. “The board has a long history of including projects in their capital list that have already been funded,” said Holden. “Didn’t we listen to a design presentation for phase two reconstruction of Grover Cleveland Park that evening? In order for design to start, the project must be funded, yet the board has Grover Cleveland as number five.”

Road Projects Updates

Board District Manager Gary Giordano provided an update on local road improvement projects.

Maspeth Avenue has been completed from 61st Street to Maurice Avenue, which he called a “big get for use” since that project had been refused several times previously. Forest Avenue between Metropolitan and Myrtle avenues has been completed, but a portion needs to be redone due to a batch of bad asphalt, said Giordano. In addition, Myrtle Avenue from Fresh Pond Road to Woodhaven Boulevard is complete, as is Central Avenue.

Next year, the board will focus on roads in Middle Village, including Juniper Boulevard North and South. “They are tentatively on the list for next year,” said Giordano.

VFW Liquor License Application

Giordano reported that the Haspel Staab VFW post in Middle Village has now filed an application with the state Liquor Authority to expand the use of its liquor license to apply to the building’s side yard.

The request had received backlash from some residents, who objected to allowing the post members to drink outside, especially during parties the neighbors say are noisy. The issue was discussed at the board’s land use committee meeting earlier this month, but post Commander Michael Brown was unable to attend that session due to the death of his father.

While the application is now in the hands of the state, Giordano expressed hope that a compromise between the members and neighbors can be worked out, “more than just whether to use it or not use it,” he said. However, the board will inform the state that it received “some objections” to expansion of the license.

Crowley, Residents Push for DOT Action in Middle Village

By Conor Greene

City Council candidate Elizabeth Crowley and a group of Middle Village residents took to the street last week to call on the city to take steps to reduce the amount of drivers speeding through their neighborhood.

Crowley, a Glendale Democrat challenging incumbent Anthony Como for his spot on the City Council, gathered with about a dozen residents at the intersection of 73rd Place and 66th Drive, on Friday afternoon. According to the residents, drivers routinely speed through the intersection, which is a block north of Metropolitan Avenue, endangering the many young children who live nearby.

“It is a problem – lots of cars do speed down here,” said 71-year-old Tony Demeri, who has lived in the neighborhood for 41 years. “It is a hazard to everybody who lives here, especially children. It is not a healthy situation.”

The residents are asking that the city Department of Transportation conduct traffic studies at that location to determine whether a stop sign or other traffic calming measures, such as speed humps, can be installed. Crowley was joined at the event by the chief of staff for Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who is the chair of City Council’s Transportation Committee.

According to Crowley, officers from the 104th Precinct previously had a temporary speed trap setup on the block, with some cars clocked at more than 60 miles per hour. “We’re casting light on a situation that is very dangerous,” she said. “It is an accident wait- ing to happen and needs at least a stop sign.”

John Choe, who represented Councilman Liu at the event, vowed to push for DOT to conduct a “thorough study” of the intersection. “We will bring it to the attention of the DOT, which is a big agency that doesn’t always know what is going on in each community.”

However, neighbors have been reaching out to the DOT for help for at least two years, according to resident Jennifer Rup. She wrote to former Councilman Dennis Gallagher in 2006, who forwarded her concerns to Maura McCarthy, Queens Commissioner of the DOT. Rup said she received no response, and wrote a letter to current Councilman Anthony Como in July. He also wrote to McCarthy to alert her of the situation.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Rup, a mother of three-year-old twin girls, of the lack of response from DOT. “We’ve tried since 2006, and nobody has responded. They’re waiting for a fatality to happen.”

In addition, Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, wrote to the DOT’s Office of Signals and Intersection Control to request a stop sign at the intersection. “Seventy-third Place is too often used by speeding vehicles, who have little regard for the intersecting traffic going from Metropolitan Avenue north towards Juniper Valley Road,” he wrote in the letter, which was copied to McCarthy.

A message left with the DOT seeking a comment from McCarthy on the request was not returned as of press time.

“They know how many people are speeding,” said Crowley, referring to the DOT. “We’ve seen it ourselves in the past fifteen minutes, and this is not even the height of it.”

Update: A DOT spokesman said following press time that a previous study found a stop sign is not warranted at the location, but the department is still looking into whether speed bumps should be installed there.

Girl, 5, Recovering from Ridgewood Gang Shooting

Injured in Ridgewood While Walking Home

By Conor Greene

As a five-year-old girl shot earlier this week continues to recover in a Manhattan hospital, police continue the investigation, which has already resulted in three arrests.
hile the gunman in the incident on Himrod at about 9:30 p.m. on Monday remains at large, three reputed members of the Trinitarios gang have been arrested in connection with the shooting, and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly expects additional arrests.

The girl was shot while walking with her parents through their Ridgewood neighborhood on the way home from visiting nearby relatives, according to police sources. Her father noticed members of the Bloods gang following behind them. He then saw a man, later identified as a member of the Trinitarios, walking towards them holding a machete.

The family tried to flee along Himrod before realizing that the little girl had been struck by a bullet, said police. They took her on foot to nearby Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, where she was treated for a collapsed lung. She has since been moved to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell, where she is in critical but stable condition.

Doctors are still working to recover the bullet that pierced her lung, as family members keep a bedside vigil at the hospital. “It’s their only daughter, so they’re kind of distraught,” said a police source of the family.

Also injured in the shootout was 22-year-old Frances Dejesus of Stanhope Street. According to a police report, the victim was standing in front of 17-12 Himrod with a group of friends when five males approached from Seneca Avenue. A Hispanic male, about 22 to 25 years old and wearing a red bandana, pulled out a gun and shot Dejesus in the left leg.

Several minutes after responding to a report of a man shot, police were alerted that a child was also shot. A crime scene was established, but despite a search that included a helicopter flying overhead and officers on nearby rooftops, the shooter remains at large.

However, officers from the 104th Precinct used video footage from near the scene to identify a number of suspects who were interviewed. In addition, police identified other people of interest through summonses issued last week at a hooky party in a nearby apartment building.

So far, the only people arrested in the incident are Thomas Herro, 18, Antonio Rosario, 16, and Wilson Santana, 16, who police say are members of the Trinitarios.