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Dutch Kills citizens gather to discuss future of their community

Community Planner Gianni Longo and Dutch Kills resident Noni Pratt ask residents what they value in their community at a meeting of Dutch Kills residents hoping to improve the character of the neighborhood, which they say has been ruined by the proliferation of hotels in recent years. Photo by Rebecca Henely
By Rebecca Henely

After years of fighting for rezonings to stop the proliferation of hotels being built in their community, Dutch Kills residents are making steps to take their community’s character into their own hands.

At the Holiday Inn on 29th Street in Long Island City July 7, Dutch Kills residents hosted Gianni Longo, architect and co-founder of the Manhattan-based community-planning company ACP. After discussing the needs and wants of the community with the residents present, Longo encouraged them to make a map of specific places in the neighborhood that could be improved.

“We have a chance to actually make a difference,” said Noni Pratt, a resident of Dutch Kills who invited Longo to speak.

The residents of Dutch Kills fought for a rezoning of the community after a large number of multi-story hotels were built or in the planning stage for the area as tourism increased during the 1990s and 2000s. These residents felt the rapid growth of hotels was ruining the character of the town. While the citizens won a rezoning in 2008 that stipulated a maximum height for buildings in the area, many taller hotels have still been built or are planned to be built due to being grandfathered in or builders applying for variances.

“A lot of people are very cynical and very depressed after the city rolled over us after the rezoning,” said Megan Friedman, vice president of the Dutch Kills Advocacy League.

Longo began by asking residents to come to a general agreement on what they treasured and wanted to see improved in their community.

“If you don’t build on what’s important to you, why are you going to do it?” he asked.

Based on residents’ suggestions, Longo and Pratt then made two lists. The first included what residents liked best about the community, such as the small residential buildings that are not set back from the street, the quiet streets, the walkable streets and the neighborhood’s role as a transportation hub with the nearby 36th Avenue and 39th Avenue subway stations for the N and Q trains. Then Longo asked residents to make a list of changes and new features they would like to see in their community.

“What are the kind of things we need to make this area more consistent with what you treasure most?” Longo asked.

Suggestions included new open space, such as a dog run and a community garden, but also getting more streetlights and public trash cans in the community, public art projects and repair of the sidewalks. Another suggestion was getting a “magnet,” or a landmark, which would draw people to the community.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), who visited the meeting, suggested trying to get St. Patrick’s Church landmarked after it was suggested by the residents.

“It’s exciting to hear you talk about ideas for the community,” she told them.

Maloney also promoted the work she has done on construction for the nearby Queens Plaza Park, which drew the ire of some residents, such as Friedman, who believed she had not done enough.

Longo suggested residents draw a map of Dutch Kills and mark what areas they liked and what they could improve. He said if they did this, he would come back and they could discuss how to get some of their hoped-for projects completed and where to find funding for them.

“We’re looking at the neighborhood from a community-planning perspective and taking in the experts from modern community development,” resident Nico Sermoneta, 29, said of the plan.

Friedman called the plan “fabulous.”

“This man, in a very well-organized manner, was able to elicit our dreams again,” she said of Longo.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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