Board 13 votes to rename Jamaica Avenue to Jericho

By Michael Morton

Community Board 13 revisited an old controversy at its monthly meeting Monday when it reapproved the renaming of the Jamaica Avenue commercial street within its confines.

Currently the south side of Jamaica Avenue becomes Jericho Turnpike east of the Cross Island Parkway, while the north side retains its name of origin. That oddity occurred because the street in that area is the dividing line between Nassau and Queens counties.

Under the proposal, originally put forth back in 1998 by the Joint Bellerose Business District Development Corporation, the north side of the street on that side of the parkway would be renamed Jericho Turnpike to make the roadway names match.

Proponents back then said the change was needed to alleviate confusion and to help merchants clearly convey their addresses to customers. But those opposed to the plan said the switch had racial overtones and that merchants preferred to be associated with Nassau County and Jericho rather than Queens County and Jamaica, home to a largely black community.

The board at the time narrowly passed the proposal by a 15-14 margin with numerous abstentions, current Board Chairman Richard Hellenbrecht told this week’s meeting.

The original proposal was then passed onto the City Council for consideration, Hellenbrecht said, but a vote was never taken. With new representatives now in place, he said Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) had asked for another board vote.

The new motion passed by a 25-10 vote, but not without another spirited debate first. Board member J. Clifford Gadsden recalled the initial vote as he spoke to oppose the plan.

“That was a war that night,” he said.

But another member, Paul Rubenfeld, said he owned a towing business in the area and that many merchants wanted the switch.

“It’s an awful lot of confusion,” Rubenfeld said.

Before the vote, Hellenbrecht reported that the board had submitted its budget priorities to the borough president recently and it looked like funding for three of the top requests —-splitting the 105th Police Precinct in two, building the Cambria Heights library and constructing a second one in Glen Oaks — would be approved by the City Council.

In zoning matters, Hellenbrecht said the board’s opposition to a request by the Saratoga Interfaith Family Inn, a shelter in Jamaica, to expand bore fruit when the city turned the shelter down. But Hellenbrecht said, the community still faces a battle at 94th Road in Queens Village, where a developer wants permission to put 26 dwellings on a site zoned for nine.

Several guest speakers addressed the board, among them Al Wassler, chief operating officer of Walk the Walk, a non-profit, and Gretchen Dykstra, city commissioner of Consumer Affairs.

Walk the Walk, based in Long Island City, this spring will offer an emergency shelter for elderly people who have been abused, Wassler said. The shelter will be the first of its kind in the state and perhaps the country, he said.

Dykstra explained Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to change the cabaret laws that govern dancing at drinking establishments. She said the area did not have as many bars as other communities but still had complaints about noise infractions, which the plan hopes to curb. But it will not solve a separate problem identified by a board member.

“This will not help with illegal clubs,” Dykstra said.

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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