Nov. 7, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
A developer is revisiting plans to install a small, seasonal seating area along the curb on Jackson Avenue, with Community Board 2 once again expressing safety concerns about the project.
Rockrose, the developer behind several luxury developments in the Court Square area, is proposing to bring a “Street Seat” in front of 26-01 Jackson Ave., a couple of feet away from the intersection of 44th Drive and Jackson Avenue.
The street seat is part of a Department of Transportation program, and replaces some curbside parking space with a mini box-like structure decked out in seats, plantings, and other accessories for a period of about 10 months beginning in the spring.
The request for a street seat, presented at Monday’s Community Board 2 Transportation Committee meeting, marks the second for Rockrose. The company had originally applied for a larger street seat to be installed in the parking lane front of Toby’s Estate, a couple of storefronts down its current proposed siting, in the spring of 2017.
The original request, however, was later dropped because of issues relating to the seat’s length and placement near the odd intersection of 43rd and Jackson Avenues and Purves Street. At the time, the community board said traffic flow adjustments would be required to nearby streets for the unit to safely be installed.
Rockrose now seeks to install a smaller, standard street seat, measuring 6 feet wide by about 30 feet long, in the parking lane adjacent to the Hayden, one of Rockrose’s buildings.
No changes to traffic flow are expected, although the street seat is designed to take up roughly two parking spots, given the buffers and other safety features typically installed around the unit.
The street seat, like the 16 others around the city, prohibits alcohol and smoking inside, and acts as an extension of a sidewalk. Commercial activity is also prohibited in the street seat.
Rockrose, additionally, will be responsible for the maintenance and safety of the unit. Set operating hours are also tied to the public space.
Patricia Dunphy, senior vice president of Rockrose, said the street seat would liven up the Jackson Avenue block, which is poised to see more commercial growth due to spaces like Book Culture, Xi’an Famous Foods, and more opening in the stretch.
“The idea is to have some more activity here,” she said during the committee meeting. “We think it’s going to be just great…it’s just another space to be outdoors.”
She also brought letters of support from groups like the Long Island City Partnership and other civic associations.
Shari Gold, part of the DOT’s public space unit that oversees street furniture, said the street seat activates street life and would create another public space in an area that lacks it.
“There’s a lack of open space,” she said. “There is a need, and this is what the community wants. We have a developer that is willing to try.”
Some transportation committee members, however, rejected the street seat siting, echoing concerns about the original proposal and claiming that safety is once again at risk here.
“Why would we seat people in the middle of the street on a truck route?” said Denise Keehan-Smith, chair of the transportation committee.
John O’Neil, from the Queens DOT office, told Keehan-Smith that the street seat wouldn’t be in the middle of the street, but rather in a parking lane away from traffic.
Gold, meanwhile, said street seats have been successfully installed along traffic routes in Brooklyn, which have not been the cause of any accidents.
“I think it’s very dangerous, personally,” Keehan-Smith said.
Sheila Lewandowski, another committee member, said she wants to support the street seat, but its location also made her reluctant to accept the idea. She also requested more data from the DOT on traffic impacts, pedestrian volumes, and more to help the committee come to a decision.
Gold repeated that the street seat proposed location in a parking lane means there will be no impact on traffic, and that data wouldn’t reflect any changes as a result of the unit. Parking, she said, would be the only factor affected during the months the street seat is up.
The board, however, strongly disagreed on the DOT’s responses.
“This is where we always get stuck,” Keehan-Smith said. “What you’re saying is not realistic. It’s not reality. We live in reality, and we know what can possibly happen.”
“You don’t want to talk about traffic, but we do,” Lewandowski said, adding that the agency should perhaps look at other places in the Court Square area for the seating.
The DOT said it is hoping to install the street seat for the 2019 season, or some time in March, but whether it goes through depends on community board approval.
Keehan-Smith, however, requested a town hall on the plan to make sure voices from the people in the area are heard.
If approved, the street seat would be the first for Queens.