2018-06-13 / Front Page

CB 2 Discusses Uniform Land Use Review Procedure

By Thomas Cogan
At the Community Board 2 meeting on June 7, the public meeting and public hearing phases, (eight items total), including landmark and Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) applications and unfinished business, were there for examination, and most of them required votes. The very first of them, the Skillman-43rd Avenues safety plan proposal, took two and a half hours to decide, and when it was decided the room’s population dropped by perhaps half.  In the end, getting out at only 12:20 might have struck some of the survivors as fortunate.  

The safety plan proposal for Skillman and 43rd Avenues became better known as the protected bicycle lanes plan.  It was drawn up by the Department of Transportation, with local consultancy in Woodside, Sunnyside and Long Island City, after repeated requests from concerned residents, and traffic activists such as Transportation Alternatives, to draw up a better road plan for both bicycles and motor vehicles.  DOT produced a slideshow and hard copy versions of it that showed a plan extending from Roosevelt Avenue to the Queensboro Bridge, illustrating how current bicycle lanes on Skillman and 43rd Avenues would look when more “protected” and how the vehicle lanes would be narrowed (“right-sized,” recalling 1990s job layoffs, was another phrase for that) to produce a more disciplined, efficient path for cars and trucks to take.  Into the bargain, only a minimum of parking spaces on those two streets would be lost with the completion of this plan, DOT promised.

Even before the public meeting segment that would allow comment accepting or rejecting the protected bike lanes and narrowed vehicle lanes, strong opinions were expressed, beginning  with those of a couple of firemen from the Engine 325, Hook & Ladder 163 firehouse on 50th Street, between 43rd and Skillman.  They said these lane rearrangements would make maneuvering fire engines more difficult than before, or even impossible.  (Not that they were anti-bicycle; one of the firemen said he rode his bike from Washington Heights to Sunnyside each day.)  But soon a voice was heard in favor of protected lanes, saying that those opposed to them hadn’t looked into the issue deeply enough.  Unrelated issues were brought up, but soon the lanes issue was back, with the indefatigable Bill Kregler  insisting  that the plan be rejected, because the neighborhoods’  needs were paramount, not those of politicians.  In contrast, a protected lanes advocate pleaded that being for the DOT’s plan was to strike a blow to the status quo—a good thing, because the status quo kills people, he said.

The DOT presentation commenced as Sean Quinn, its spokesman, called protected lanes “the gold standard of safety.”  He reviewed the DOT activities that led to the plan to revise bicycle and vehicle lanes, which included consultation with the 108th Police Precinct and improvement of lanes on the sidewalks of the Queens Boulevard Bridge, over the Sunnyside Yard.  Consultation with and taking criticism from local residents sent DOT designers “back to the drawing board,” he said, and necessary adjustments were made.  Board members weren’t quite in agreement.  One woman said that the junction of Skillman Avenue and Queens Boulevard is ridiculously crowded in the morning rush and is likely only to get worse.  Quinn assured her the new plan wouldn’t make it worse.  Patrick O’Brien told Quinn that previous consultation regarding bike lanes on Queens Boulevard resulted only in DOT’s disregarding their recommendations.  “We won’t get burned again,” he said.  Quinn said that delaying implementation of the plan by quibbling about this and that would be done while street safety went begging.  Sheila Lewandowski addressed that by asking if any traffic calming measures could be carried out while the big issue was being decided.  

Dorothy Morehead defended double parking by trucks making deliveries to stores.  Quinn said double parking often invades bike lanes, but the DOT plan would allow both with no such trouble.  A woman on the board asked how much the redesigned lanes would cost.  Quinn said only that it would be low-cost, but a DOT engineer cut in to say it would cost about a half-million dollars.

It was time for speakers from the audience to queue for their two minutes, and the sign-up sheets ran pages long.  The first was a woman who said bicyclists must be licensed and have license plates on their bikes, for identification, should they do as one cyclist did when he knocked her down and got away clean.  Manny Gomez of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce came to the front to wave a heavy batch of petitions that were signed to protest bike protected lanes.  Other speakers favored them.  One said that lanes on Skillman or 43rd Avenue, in conjunction with those already on Queens Boulevard, would allow him to go by bike from Sunnyside to Rego Park to visit his mother. 

MacCartney Morris of Transportation Alternatives charged that two board members expressed support of protected lanes after a bicyclist was struck and killed on 43rd Avenue on his way home from work, but later denied it.  He said he had recorded proof and attempted to play it but couldn’t get the recorder to function properly.  When his time expired he went away disgusted that the forces opposed to protected lanes refused to consider the children left without their father when the cyclist was killed.  The next speaker was a woman who said she’s been a cyclist for 30 years and accused those speaking against protected lanes with spreading lies and misinformation.  When her time was up she tried to speak longer and a struggle for the microphone ensued before she made an emotional exit. 

Many who are opposed to the Skillman-43rd Avenues plan have recommended that protected lanes be laid out on Northern Boulevard, which comes to an end at Jackson Avenue. Cyclists could then follow the lanes already laid out for a side road approach to the bridge entrance.  One speaker called Northern Boulevard “the most dangerous street in Queens,” thus making it an excellent candidate for safety improvement.  Many of the stores there have parking lots for shoppers and delivery persons, she pointed out.

Other speakers of one or another point of view had their say.  When there were no more, Denise Keehan-Smith, CB 2 chairwoman, said the vote would not be taken later at the time of committee reports but immediately.  Dorothy Morehead made a motion to reject the plan and Carol Terrano seconded it.  The roll-call vote that followed defeated the protected lanes plan by a score of 27-8.

The time was well past 9:30 when the next item came up:  the 44th Road building project and road closing.  On 44th Road between 23rd and 24th Streets there is “an associated conversion of 24th Street between 43rd Avenue and 44th Road from two-way to one-way northbound to facilitate two construction projects.”  They would be a 66-story building on one site, a 68-story building on the other.  Sam Schwartz of DOT said the road closing would cut construction time of the mammoth buildings by six to seven months.  A local law passed in 2005 allows the shutdown, which would wipe out a current parking space, though an attempt at accommodation is being sought.  The presentation was entirely informational, with no vote taken.  A DOT review will produce a later report, which will be presented to the public.  The restaurant called Jacksons, 10-37 Jackson Ave., wants to open an unenclosed sidewalk café, with four tables and eight seats.  Its preparation being entirely in order, Jacksons got a unanimous roll-call vote of approval.

Two landmark areas, Sunnyside Gardens and a section of Hunters Point, had residential alteration applications.  In Sunnyside, at 39-51 48th St., a first floor window would be replaced with a new door to access a new deck with stairs.  The land use committee granted its approval and Patrick O’Brien made a motion for board approval, which was carried with a hands-up vote.  The Hunters Point application, from 21-46 45th Ave., called for renovation of a rear addition and a bulkhead on the roof.  The owner narrated the audio-visual show.  Land use approved the application fully and the board did the same.

The final three were uniform land use review procedure, or ULURP, applications.  The first came from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.  HPD’s stated aim was to “dispose of development rights to adjacent property owners 27-01 and 26-32 Jackson Avenue.”  The first, 27-01, is a vacant lot while 26-32, directly across the street, is a closed building where Queen Plaza Auto Parts Supply used to be.  Just north of both of them is a long ramp from the Queensboro Bridge that veers its way over to Thomson Avenue.  Therefore, as HPD spokesmen explained, these properties are under the bridge, suggesting they are considered less desirably located but are being rescued by a city agency which would, in conjunction with a private developer, Lions Group NYC, see to the construction of two residential buildings with a total of 481 apartments, 150 of which would be deemed affordable.  The board’s main concern was about the stated disposal of development rights, which was widely expressed as the air rights issue.

It is, in Patrick O’Brien’s opinion, a developmental grab, another example of city-owned land being transferred to a private real estate company.  Lions Group would put up two buildings, 10 and 15 stories high and make less than a third of the residences affordable, or non-market rate—a good use of what was public land, by HPD’s lights anyway.  The public commentary was almost totally hostile.  Jenny Dubnau called it a “theft of public assets.”  Margaret Rogers said she couldn’t believe that a public sellout to developmental barons was being discussed so calmly.  Diane Hendry repeatedly called the plan “stinky.”  Only Eric Benaim, president and CEO of Modern Spaces, the Long Island City rental company, favored it, characterizing Lions Group as model developers.  Before the vote, the land use committee said it didn’t favor the HPD plan.  O’Brien made a motion to reject the plan entirely and have HPD come back with something much better.  The roll call vote was just one short of unanimity. 

On paper, the return of the 69-02 Queens Boulevard issue looked every bit as imposing as that of protected bike lanes, but the lateness of the hour (it was 11:30 before the Madison Capital Realty officials were to go on, and the contingent that originally showed up looked considerably reduced by that time anyway) caused spokespersons only to request a vote and get the matter over with.  Questions asked of the developers implied that the big plan for two buildings and 561 units on the site might be driven by events back to an as-of-right plan for one building and a modest 289.  The few public speakers were against any plan; they included a representative for City Councilman Bob Holden and another of the many union carpenters who called for rejection of the developers’ plans.  Land use had rejected them at its latest meeting.  The roll-call vote was again near-unanimous for rejection, with one vote favoring HPD.

Alexis Wheeler of the Department of City Planning commented on the zoning text amendment that would “establish a new special permit for new hotels, motels, tourist cabins and [groan!] boatels in light manufacturing (M1) districts citywide.”  Should it go through, she said, the riot of hotel-building such as occurred a decade ago in Dutch Kills would be curtailed. 

Seeing there was to be a motion for the board to vote on, she said that at this point the text amendment is only tentative.  As a sense-of-the-board gesture, the motion was made anyway, expressing a desire to protect M1 zones.  The roll-call vote of acceptance was unanimous.

 

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