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Sounding Alarms on New Fd Plant

Sunnyside Wary Of Operations

After residents aired concerns about noise, light and traffic, a FDNY plan to acquire land in Sunnyside for the department’s Spare and Service fleet was recommended by Board 2 at its monthly meeting last Thursday, June 5, at Sunnyside Community Services.

Gertrude McDonald was honored for 40 years of service at the Community Board 2 meeting Thursday, June 5. She also received a lifetime achievement award from Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. She is pictured with Katz and Board 2 Chairperson Joseph Conley.

Though Board 2 voted to recommend the application, it must pass the City Council to go into effect. City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the area, has vowed to fight the application.

Van Bramer opposes the plan because, “I am concerned about the potential relocation of FDNY infrastructure to a largely residential neighborhood,” he said in a statement.

“The addition of large vehicles rumbling down 43rd Street, the noise created by these vehicles as well as increased emissions from those vehicles that would be introduced to the neighborhood are a serious concern for all who live in the community, including me … I cannot support the FDNY’s proposal in its current form and am asking the Administration to consider alternative locations outside of this residential area in an effort to protect the quality of life of residents who live in Sunnyside.”

Dave Harney, chief of staff to the deputy fire commissioner for support services and human resources presented the department’s plan to take over a building at 39-34 43rd St. at Thursday’s meeting and to seek the full board’s recommendation of the project to house the Fire Department’s Spare and Reserve Fleet at the site. The department also plans to consolidate the Accident and Decommissioned Apparatus, Emergency Crew and Motor Transport Units to the site, department officials said.

“The primary focus of this application is to relocate the spare service fleet,” Harney said. “When breakdowns or accidents happen and a vehicle is out of service, the Fire Department can’t turn around and say, we can’t give firehouse X its truck back.”

The facility will also be used for additional storage for Fleet Services and Facilities Management, FDNY spokesperson Frank Dwyer said.

The application was previously approved by the Board 2 Land Use Committee. For the last 20 years the Spare and Reserve Fleets have been stored at a facility on Paidge Avenue in Greenpoint. Relocation of this facility is imperative because its current location in a Level A flood zone, Harney told Board 2 last Thursday night.

The Paidge Avenue facility was damaged by flooding during Hurricane Sandy, as were vehicles and department equipment, Harney said. After the hurricane, the Greenpoint facility was flooded and “the Fire Department said we can’t let this happen again,” Harney said.

The Sunnyside site is a 53,000 sq. ft. building, with a 30,000 sq. ft. lot adjacent, according to Harney. The department looked at eight different sites, three in Queens and five in Brooklyn.

The department’s aim was “how can we improve our operations and reduce cost,” he said.

And though Board 2 voted to recommend the application, some were wary of dropping the facility into a residential neighborhood.

Peter Shore, possibly an imminent neighbor of the site was critical of the department’s decision to locate the facility in the area. He lives on 44th Street, and is concerned about noise, traffic and lights coming from the site that may wake him and his baby.

Others pressed Harney on the exact number of workers at the site, how many vehicles will be traveling to and from the facility, and why a traffic study was not done and submitted to Board 2.

In one of several attempts to clear up residents’ concerns, Harney told the meeting, “there will be 16 people working at the site at a time, not 80, 16.” He also advised the site will contain 60 workers maximum in a 24-hour shift-period, and 18 at most per shift.

“On-street parking will not be affected,” he adamantly told Board 2.

“The Fire Department is committed to no street parking will be affected. We want to be as unobtrusive as possible,” Harney stated. “There will be no impact on street parking.”

He tried to allay fears of screaming sirens and bright, flashing lights coming through the neighborhood as well.

“It is not a firehouse. Units will not be going out (with) lights and sirens,” Harney said.

The chauffers, as the engine drivers are called are “only allowed to use lights and sirens in an emergency capacity,” he advised.

“Units will not be going out with their lights and sirens on unless we are responding to an emergency,” he added.

The new land will also be used to house vehicles damaged in accidents, which are currently stored at a facility in Maspeth that as of now has “no security,” according to Harney.

The current Accident and Decommissioned Vehicle Storage site is located at 46th Street and 55th Avenue in Maspeth.

“A button starts the engine (of a fire truck), anyone can climb that fence, push a button and start it,” Harney said.

The 43rd Street site will also be used to relocate “apparatus which have been in accidents as well as apparatus which the agency is in the process of decommissioning,” that are currently stored in Maspeth, Dwyer stated.

Harney told Board 2 that vehicles and trucks coming to and from the facility will use “truck routes instead of local streets to the repair shop and to traverse Queens. We’re committed to not go through the local neighborhood to go to and from this building.”

Harney took some questions from Board 2 members that asked why the department chose to put another facility in this part of Queens and not use satellite shops in other boroughs. The other sites in Queens were either too small, with low ceilings, or located in flood zones, according to Harney.

He also said satellite shops only service smaller vehicles, and told the group that Sunnyside makes sense because the neighborhood is centrally located.

“This community board is the geographic heart of the city. It is an unfortunate situation. We will come back to the Community Board to address any issues. We want to work with the community board, like we have for 40 years. We think we have a very good proposal,” he said.

The goal of combining the facilities at the new site is to “save the city money in the long-run,” he said.

Harney was pressed on increased traffic, with trucks entering and exiting the facility, but the department was not forced to do a traffic study, because it won’t exceed the threshold of 50 trips in an hour, according to Harney. The total vehicle fleet will total 100 in size, he said.

“People just want to know how busy it’s going to be. We asked the same question, Community Board 2 Chairperson Joe Conely said. “They are reluctant to give us an answer.”

Harney did not provide any concrete numbers.

“I could say 10, but I’d probably be lying,” Harney said.

But Laura Kavanagh, FDNY director of external affairs stepped in and told Board 2 the department will provide additional information regarding the frequency of vehicles at the facility. . Responding to a resident that asked if an environmental review was done at the site, Harney said one was completed.

Should the plane approved, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services will negotiate with the landlord to acquire the site. Some interior work needs to be done and the mezzanine of the building needs to be rehabilitated as well, Harney told the group.

“There is a scope of work to repair the interior of the building. This is really the first step. I look at this as at least a 20-month process,” he said.

“We have to look at the big picture, Conley said. “The number of viable sites for that function is growing smaller and smaller.”

“The properties aren’t there for us. We’re walking the knife edge with losing more equipment to another Hurricane Sandy,” Harney stated.

Resident Mike Keely asked Harney why the department is moving an industrial facility to a residentially-zoned area.

“It’s actually zoned for mixeduses, Conley advised. “That’s the dilemma.”

“That doesn’t mean you can put a nuclear plant there,” Keely replied.

Other residents were concerned the site could be used as a repair shop.

“It’s not a repair shop, Harney said. “Again, this is not a repair shop, it’s a storage facility.”

Other concerns directed to Harney during the question session were about the elevation of the site, which is “much better than where during Sandy,” Harney said.

He was also asked if a repair shop could eventually be coming to the facility.

“We have no intention on planning a repair shop,” he said. We will not have a repair shop in the next 20 years.”

Katz stops by

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz came to the meeting last Thursday to speak on the importance of community boards, their function in Queens and honor Board 2 member Gertrude McDonald with a lifetime achievement award and a proclamation recognizing her 40 years of service.

“When I came into office, one of the first questions people asked me is how are you going to handle community boards,” Katz said.

She wants to continue working with the boards because “I value the relationship I have with community boards,” Katz said.

“There isn’t an application that comes through Borough Hall that I don’t know how the community board feels. Our community boards don’t exist in a vacuum,” she said

Her office was instrumental in pushing to hold two world’s fair anniversaries, she claimed

“We had an excellent celebration. Every day is like a world’s fair in Queens,” she said.

And she values the diversity of the borough.

“Folks come from all over the world to educate their kids in Queens. And I want to keep it that way.”

She also spoke on economic development in the borough, targeted towards helping small businesses and creating jobs.

“Small businesses are the largest growing businesses in Queens. If people want to open their own small business, we want to help folks to do that,” she said.

She also spoke on overcrowding in borough schools, telling Board 2 “her office is working with the School Construction Authority to find more seats for schools.”

The Queens public schools are the “most overcrowded (of any) borough in the city,” she said.

She also wants to get rid of school trailers.

“It’s going to be in the five-year plan to get rid of these trailers and get kids back in the schools,” she said

“We want to work together. We are excited about the direction the borough is moving. Our office really is open to you and we want to be of service,” Katz added

She then thanked the board for their dedication, and presented McDonald with the awards.

“Community board jobs are a thankless job. Sometimes it’ not an easy job. Folks usually don’t say thank you,” Katz said.

Her office found a letter from McDonald’s 20-year anniversary, and “that’s how we figured out her years.”

“It’s a lifetime achievement award and she’s only half done, so congratulations.”

Community Board 2 holds regular monthly meetings on the first Thursday of every month from September through June. All meetings are held at Sunnyside Community Services, 43-31 39th St., at 7 p.m.

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