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Coffeed CEO Envisions Public Park, Funded Privately, Along Montauk Cutoff

Greenspace (Beginning of Cutoff and Hogshead Ranch)

Greenspace (Beginning of Montauk Cutoff and Smiling Hogshead Ranch)

March 11, 2016 By Jackie Strawbridge

With the MTA seeking to repurpose a defunct rail line in industrial Long Island City, a local entrepreneur outlined one group’s plans for a multi-million dollar public park built with private money.

The former LIRR connection is called the Montauk Cutoff and runs between Sunnyside Yards and Newtown Creek. The MTA released a “Request for Expressions of Interest” (RFEI) to businesses, nonprofits, community groups and individuals for ideas on how to reuse the cutoff.

Coffeed CEO Frank Raffaele said he is part of a group called Elevate Queens that responded to the RFEI with a plan for a public park funded mostly by private dollars.

“The most important thing to take away from Elevate Queens’ proposal is that this is a 100 percent public accessible park,” Raffaele said.

He said Elevate Queens’ plan could incorporate a number of entertainment components or amenities, such as gardens or an urban farm, event space, food and beverage concepts or fitness programs. All the proceeds from any of these components would go towards the benefit of the park, he said.

He compared the cutoff plan to Manhattan’s High Line, also a former rail line that was transformed into a public park.

Raffaele estimated that creating a public park out of the Montauk Cutoff would ultimately cost “tens of millions of dollars.” He said that Elevate Queens would look to initially raise $10 million from private sources to cover preliminary design and feasibility studies, environmental surveys and initial construction.

Frank 'Turtle' Raffaele

Frank ‘Turtle’ Raffaele

Raffaele was confident that residential developers in particular would be interested in supporting this project.

“They have invested very large amounts of money in the Long Island City area and there’s nothing that’s going to help their investment more than activating underused areas,” he said.

Raffaele declined to say who else is involved in Elevate Queens at this stage of planning.

Elevate Queens is not the only group interested in the Montauk Cutoff.

A group of urban farmers have already been using part of the MTA property for years under the name Smiling Hogshead Ranch. They have been operating on a year-to-year lease with the MTA since 2014, but with the agency’s new efforts they now stand in danger of losing their farm.

The ranch has joined other groups such as the Newtown Creek Alliance to form a Cutoff Coalition, with its own response to the MTA’s RFEI.

Smiling Hogshead Ranch operations director Geoffrey Brock said that their plan involves expanding their current operations throughout the cutoff property, including composting, rainwater harvesting, creating a stage or amphitheater for bigger events and installing solar panels, among other ideas.

“I think it’s safe to say that everyone involved, including the local community, would hope that any other proposal would at least respect the existing use of the garden,” Brock said. “We would also hope that the MTA would want to steer it in that direction as well.”

Smiling Hogshead Ranch in season

Smiling Hogshead Ranch in season

“They obviously see what we’ve done thus far and see the benefits that we’re providing,” he added.

Based on what the MTA receives through its RFEI, it may launch a more formal “Request for Proposals” process, according to the agency.

Raffaele said that if Elevate Queens’ plan moves forward and funding is raised, “then we’re going to get the designers, the architects, the community groups to really figure [it] out.”

He also said that Elevate Queens has not reached out to Smiling Hogshead Ranch but would be interested in involving them in the future RFP response.

“We are big fans of the Hogshead Ranch and what they’ve done for the neighborhood and we certainly plan to incorporate them,” he said.

The MTA declined to comment on their RFEI process or responses the agency received.

Entire Montauk Cutoff

Entire Montauk Cutoff

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12 Comments

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In my day...blah,blah, blah!

Looks like someone want first dibs on a prime location in the envisioned public park…well played, Mr. CEO…well, played…

Reply
Frank

First, yes, different Frank.

In any case, the attached plan is for the Montauk Cutoff, not the Lower Montauk Branch (which is still occasionally used for freight). The Lower Montauk Branch runs from the cutoff in LIC to Richmond Hill along the Newtown Creek.

The community-generated plan is an interesting one, not necessarily exclusive from using the Lower Montauk Branch to better connect Maspeth, Ridgewood, Middle Village, Glendale, and Richmond Hill to the subway system. The Montauk Cutoff is indeed abandoned for now, but could be rehabilitated for use if needed to create a connection at Hunterspoint Avenue. Otherwise, a terminal station near the LIC LIRR station on Borden Ave could be another option with a transfer to Vernon-Jackson.

I would not be too optimistic about a community plan that seeks to “preserve the character of the neighborhood”. The value of the land is high enough that money will bulldoze that and I really don’t see much of a future for the area that does not involve much higher density dwellings. Sorry, but that is the reality of the situation.

Reply
Dina

Reality of the situation remains the reality unless one exhibits the imagination to change it. We do not need to accept a situation just because it has been that way for a long time. I am sorry you believe there is no chance for a community plan that preserves the character of the neighborhood, bringing together a large coalition from a wide range of community organizations, who came together quickly and in a very short time to create a vision very possible. It’s wonderful that some people are optimistic.

Reply
Dana

Disgusted envelope for developers. Frank has a sincere interest in a skinny non-profit garden when pig’s indeed fly.
Let’s give it a rest…tall building over the Yards are the developers’s dream, and Frank their point man.

Reply
Frank

Um, I was not referring to building anything over the yards other than a subway connection. I do agree that development over the yards is not feasible with the current infrastructure. I was referring to the potential to develop neighborhoods along the Lower Montauk Branch mainly because it would address concerns about ridership on such a line. The LIRR stations on this branch were shut down in the late 80s because of low ridership, although the cost of an LIRR ticket vs a subway fare likely played a role as well. I also did not say I supported the garden (or not support it).

I do generally favor the development of LIC not because I am some developer point man out of one of your paranoid fantasies, but because I own my residence in the area and want to see its value go up. It is only a fringe benefit that dipshits like you get priced out.

So, Dana, perhaps engage your brain before commenting next time. It will save you the embarrassment of revealing yourself to be a blowhard with poor reading comprehension. You know, what Mark Twain said and all.

Reply
Frank

This right of way seems like it could be more useful for the MTA to use to expand the subway system into underserved parts of Queens, perhaps with another East River crossing?

Reply
Gil

Frank, how does this site seem useful for this? It is less than 2 blocks away from the G train. Maybe if it was out in Maspeth or Ridgwood… but LIC is already connected to Greenpoint by subway. Do you think a second option so close is really useful?

Reply
Frank

It connects to the Lower Montauk Branch that is a right of way right through Maspeth, Ridgewood, and Glendale, not Greenpoint (it crosses the Dutch Kill, not Newtown Creek). Using this cutoff would allow access to a transfer with some reconfiguration in the Sunnyside Yard to the Hunterspoint Avenue 7 stop or other connections to existing subway lines more cheaply than digging new tunnels.

Of course, the best (but expensive) thing would be to abandon the cutoff and follow the Lower Montauk Branch into the LIC LIRR diesel yard and then go under the East River to build a cross-town line under 34th St, but that will happen shortly after pigs fly.

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