Oct. 4, 2016 By Christian Murray
Residents of the Court Square district were calling for more park space, better transportation, schools as well as other infrastructure improvements at the first ever Court Square Civic Association meeting held last Thursday at MoMA PS1.
The backdrop of the meeting was the blistering pace of development in the area.
About 20,000 new residential units are expected to be built in Long Island City in the next five years that will bring 75,000 people to the wider neighborhood, according to a report by the Long Island City Partnership. Furthermore, Mayor Bill de Blasio backed by City Planning is about to unveil a comprehensive plan to up zone many portions of the Court Square and Queens Plaza areas as part of his pledge for more affordable housing.
“We want to give a voice to the people who live here,” said Amadeo Plaza, the founder of the new civic group, who wants area residents to have a say in the shaping of the neighborhood.
His new organization has formed five committees that aim to improve the quality of life for area residents and advocate for essential services. They deal with advocating for green space, lobbying for schools, seeking improved transportation services, helping small businesses and promoting the arts.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who was a panelist at the discussion, said that the city had encouraged a lot of development in Long Island City over
the years but failed to show the same commitment to schools and infrastructure.
“For the longest time, I had heard and people believed that Long Island City would be where a lot of new folks came to rent for a couple of years and then they would leave…and there was this theory we did not need these things [like schools or libraries]. It was unfair to those who moved here and wanted to stay.”
The lack of greenspace in the Court Square area was a big concern for residents. They were looking for creative ways to add park space to the area.
“It is a particular challenge to create green space when you have a built environment,” Van Bramer said. “We have to think outside the box,” he said, referring to concepts such as building a highline or building on top of existing structures. He did not elaborate on these concepts.
Paul Januszewski, vice president of planning for Rockrose and a panelist, said that Rockrose has been making “the lot” available, the green space across the street from LIC LINC, for community events.
The lot has been used by companies to screen movies, put up sculptures and to host a food market. Januszewski said that the space will also be used by the LIC Flea for its holiday market this fall.
However, the lot is a development site and it will be built on at some stage in the future, Januszewski said. He said there were no plans in the works right now.
The lack of schools in Court Square was a big issue, and residents wanted to know where their neighborhood stood in getting a school. They pointed out that two new schools were recently announced and both are going to be elementary schools in Hunters Point.
Van Bramer said he is committed to bringing a school to Court Square but there is still debate as to whether it should be an elementary school or middle school.
Plaza, the group’s founder, said he was concerned about transportation and said that when the 7 train is down the E train that goes through the Court Square station becomes very difficult.
Furthermore, with the L train in Brooklyn shutting down for 18 months–beginning January 2019–many Brooklynites will catch the G train to Court Square to jump on the 7 train to get to Manhattan.
Van Bramer said that building a new subway system was out of the question and noted that greater ferry service and the advent of Citi Bike has helped. He acknowledged that these modes of transportation moved far fewer people than the subway. He said that there needs to be a select bus system.
“You can’t fill all these apartments and not have a way for them to get to work,” he said.
Penny Lee, from City Planning was expected to be one of the panelists, but did not attend.
Asked who in the community is asking for the impending upzoning of Court Square/Queens Plaza, Van Bramer said “the proposal for the rezoning is coming from the mayor, and the Department of city planning.”
Van Bramer said that it is important for everyone to listen to the administrations findings.
However, earlier in the evening, Van Bramer said: “Too often planning is done without the very people it affects,” and added that it has to be a community driven process from the ground up.
Nevertheless, he said, “no rezoning in Long Island City can happen without me approving it first.”
He said that he gave the thumbs down to Phipps Houses in Sunnyside last month, where the developer need a zoning change in order to build a 209 affordable affordable apartment complex. Van Bramer was opposed to it despite strong pressure from the mayor to approve it.
“I have fought the mayor before and have the bruises,” he said.