Debate still rages over Jax Hts. plaza

Debate still rages over Jax Hts. plaza
Photo courtesy Daniel Dromm
By Rebecca Henely

Business owners on 37th Road and their allies have continued to lobby government officials to get rid of the pedestrian plaza on the road between 73rd and 74th streets, but others in the community insist the plaza brings needed open space to Jackson Heights.

At a town hall meeting held by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) April 11, opponents once again made the case that the plaza, installed by the city Department of Transportation in October, should be removed.

Merchants have complained of large losses in revenue since the plaza was built late last year, claiming much of their customer base came from Q47 and Q49 bus riders who would see their storefronts while driving down the now-closed off section of the road.

The Q47 and Q49 bus lines now travel down 75th Street from 35th Avenue instead of 73rd Street to 37th Road.

The 37th Road merchants and their supporters, now calling themselves the Jackson Heights Neighborhood Alliance, said in a statement criticizing Dromm that the plaza was created without consulting the community.

“No formal public hearing has been called, no meeting with the opposition to the plaza scheduled and now we see clearly that the proponents of the plaza have persistently ignored verifiable community arguments and concerns against the plaza,” the neighborhood alliance said.

This characterization was disputed by the open space advocacy group, the Jackson Heights Green Alliance, which pointed out that the plaza was established as the result of the years-long Jackson Heights Transportation Plan, a public process that involved multiple meetings and public workshops.

“The 37th Road Public Plaza is the product of a sound idea and perhaps less-than-perfect execution, whose success is nevertheless already visible and will become even more obvious with time,” the green alliance said in a statement.

At the town hall, Dromm also defended the plaza, saying that despite the claims and pictures of the empty plaza taken by detractors, the plaza’s potential still needs to be unlocked.

“The two top concerns I heard repeatedly during my [2009] campaign were that traffic congestion in the lower 70s section of Jackson Heights was making life unbearable for residents and that the community has a need and desire for more open space,” Dromm said in a statement. “The public plaza on 37th Road presents an opportunity to address both of these concerns.”

Crowley took heat at the town hall from the Occupy Wall Street Trade Justice Working Group. The group, which protested U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Middle Village) at his November inauguration, criticized the congressman for his votes in favor of free trade with Colombia, South Korea and Panama. Members said the votes would outsource American jobs, lead to the destruction of endangered ecosystems and support countries that had committed human rights violations.

“Congressman Crowley has consistently voted on the wrong side of U.S. trade issues,” said Adam Weissman, a member of the group who was thrown out of Turner’s inauguration.

Crowley said in a statement that he votes for free trade agreements based on their merits and that the three agreements would create American jobs and benefit the city and state.

“I want us to be selling more goods around the world that are made in America, not less,” Crowley said.

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