By Zach Patberg
The meeting, at Young Israel of Hillcrest on Jewel Avenue, was the first of four organized by City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) to allow his constituents to pose questions on issues ranging from zoning to sanitation directly to elected officials and representatives from some 10 city departments.Those departments invited to attend one or more of the meetings scheduled through March 15, included Buildings, Finance, Parks, Police, Sanitation and Planning. Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled his agencies' participation last week, however, after learning that Miller, a Manhattan Democrat, was speaking at all the meetings, according to Gennaro's office.”They want to turn these town meetings into a political circus,” said Bloomberg spokesman Jordan Barowitz, who accused Miller of transforming the gatherings into a campaign opportunity that would “not be a productive use of anyone's time.”Asked if the mayor was concerned that the absence of city experts might cheat community residents out of an informative forum, Barowitz said “you should thank (Gennaro) for that.”Civic leaders at Monday's meeting felt they were being sidelined by a political agenda.”It's petty politics,” said Bob Trabold, of the Hillcrest Citizens for Neighborhood Preservation. “They're not being fair to the community.”At the meeting, Gennaro also expressed disappointment to a reporter, saying Miller had been a guest at similar meetings in the past.”It's a town hall meeting,” he said. “I don't want to make more of it than that.”Although Miller chastised Bloomberg for “injecting politics” into the forum, he devoted most of his short speech at the meeting to criticizing the mayor's recent budget proposal. Gennaro's office compensated by inviting Council adjuncts Chris Collins of the Land Use Division and Nadine Felton of the Finance Division as well as Irving Poy of the borough president's Office of Planning and Development.They were able to answer several questions from the some 75 residents in the audience about overdevelopment, zoning laws, understanding tax bills and traffic problems within their neighborhoods.A big issue raised was the ongoing development on the Queens Hospital campus in Hillcrest. Although plans to build a high-rise, multiuse complex on the campus recently dissolved due to apparent business conflicts, area residents are still protesting a 800-student high school slated for the site. The school, they claim, would cause congestion and parking problems in Hillcrest's 107th Precinct. The precinct is already home to the most schools of any in the city, with 29,000 students.”Our community has given our fair share,” said neighborhood activist Kevin Forrestal.Gennaro told the audience he planned to sit down with the Health and Hospitals Corporation to review its traffic study for the Queens Hospital campus once it was finalized. “We're doing everything we can to bring some sanity to this process and get (the HHC) to work with us in a more cooperative way,” he said.The next meeting was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 8 at PS 131 on 84th Avenue.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.