GREENWAY PUSH HEADS NORTH
Board 6 Hears Proposal
Advocates for a park in the sky stretching from Rego Park to Ozone Park made their way to Community Board 6’s Wednesday, Nov. 14 meeting at the Kew Gardens Community Center to pitch members on the idea.
Travis Terry of the Friends of the Queensway, accompanied by Marc Matsil of The Trust For Public Land, presented their case for the transformation of the abandoned Rockaway Breach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road into a 3.5-mile park.
Terry, a Forest Hills resident, spoke of the “amazing opportunity” to create new parkland.
“We are in a very early phase of this,” he warned, however, he added that the Friends group has “the technical expertise, the community excitement, and people living up and down the corridor to make something happen.”
He began by providing an overview of the line, noting its varied geography: from an elevated rail line on the northern end, to a below-grade passageway through Forest Park, to a man-made embankment in Ozone Park.
He also noted the variety of the neighborhoods through which the line passes, with a mix of residential and commercial activity.
The line was built by 1924, but service was slowly curtailed until it was shut down completely in 1962. Since then, there have been several proposals to restore service along the line—most notably to increase service to Kennedy Airport—but nothing has materialized.
Currently, the line is “beautifully wild but also dangerously abanby and garbage and drug paraphernalia can be found along the route.
The route’s northernmost point is near Whitepot Junction at 67th Avenue and Queens Boulevard, and its southernmost point is at Liberty Avenue. The line currently under control of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.
The Queensway group seeks to restore the line and create a “passive” park space that would connect to Forest Park. The creation of the Queensway would result in a cleanup of the area and possibly “act as a small business driver.”
Terry noted that one-third of the Queensway is adjacent to residents’ homes, and that safety and privacy are critical concerns.
He claimed that the Queensway can be safe and protect citizens’ privacy as long as it’s planned properly, adding that studies show parkways like the proposed greenway have “a net benefit in terms of safety.”
Later in the meeting, he added that there will be ways for officers to lock the park down at night, and that surveillance cameras can be installed.
The parkway also can catalyze arts and culture, Terry claimed, point- ing to the community use of the High Line in Manhattan.
Currently, the Friends group is trying to raise money for a study of the plan’s feasibility. Matsil later explained that the study will include an inspection of the area to see if any environmental remediation is needed along the line.
If the plan is found feasible, the group will include local civic groups and community boards in the process of creating the park, which Terry promised would be “planned, literally, foot by foot.”
Steven Goldberg, who chairs Board 6’s Planning and Zoning Committee, noted that the safety study Terry cited was 20 years old, and that a poll the Queensway claimed showed a majority of support on saw 51 percent support.
Matsil claimed that many residents did not support the line because they feared an increase in property values (and the resultant tax burden).
Several board members pointed to issues near the northern end of the line, near the Forest Hills Crescents. John Derezhewski pointed about that the Crescents use the northernmost point as a parking area.
“We think we can get around that” in the planning process, Terry stated.
Goldberg, who lives near the crescents, expressed concern that park goers could be able to look into second story windows. Terry concurred, stating that having that issue in a completed greenway “would be a failure” but that dense plantings or other impediments could solve the issue.
Christopher Collet noted that “this is not a novel idea for us,” with ideas for a parkway being bandied about for years. With that said, he asked why Board 6 should advocate giving up the possibility of light rail by building the park.
Terry countered that “I haven’t heard of a feasible way of doing that,” while getting a park is feasible, it’s doable.”
Robert Silver of Board 6 claimed that restoring rail service would need serious reconstruction of the line.
It was later noted that an advocate for the reactivation of the rail line would appear at a future Board 6 meeting.
Terry and Matsil both told Board 6 Chairperson Joseph Hennessy that the community board would be invited to participate in the planning process.
In their reports, Chairperson Joseph Hennessy and District Manager Frank Gulluscio both touched on the damage the area endured as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
Hennessy commended Board 6’s staff, including Gulluscio, for showing up to work despite having their homes damaged in the storm.
“I really have to tell you, it means so much when somebody asks how you’re doing, especially after you’ve gone through such a disastrous time in your life,” said Gulluscio, whose home was among those damaged. “What you’ve seen on TV, what you’ve read in the papers, it’s nothing, it’s really nothing.”
Hennessy also commended residents of the area for their “tremendous turnout” on Election Day.
Community Board 6 usually meets on the second Wednesday of the month at the Kew Gardens Community Center, located at 80-02 Kew Gardens Rd.