With Million To Spend, Civic Provides Some Improvement Ideas
Woodhaven residents and elected officials gathered for a participatory budgeting brainstorming session at the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) Town Hall meeting held last Saturday, Nov. 15, at the American Legion Post 118.
Gregory Mitchell, City Council Member Eric Ulrich’s legislative and budget director, conducted the first of many brainstorming sessions within the district. This is the second consecutive year Ulrich is bringing the participatory budgeting process to Woodhaven.
According to Mitchell, the legislator allocated $1 million in discretionary capital funding to the district for use in capital projects of the constituents’ choosing. In order to be eligible, a suggested project must meet certain criteria. It must cost at least $35,000, last for about five years and must be a tangible endeavor.
“It has to be a physical, bricks and mortar construction project or a physical improvement,” Mitchell stated, “not a community service.”
Examples of eligible capital projects include upgrades or renovations to district schools, libraries, parks, playgrounds, roadways, firehouses and the local precinct.
Some of the projects from last year’s ballot that have since been voted on and approved include upgrades at Richmond Hill Library, pathways in Forest Park, paving along Woodhaven Boulevard, technology upgrades at local schools and the installation of real-time bus countdown clocks. Most of last year’s approved projects are still in development, and will be implemented around June 2015, at the end of the current fiscal year.
“Anything that was not approved of last year can absolutely go back on the ballot for this year,” Mitchell explained.
Ballot measures that were not approved last year included upgrades at the 102nd Precinct, new signs for Forest Park’s hiking trails and dog run, renovations to Marco Giovanelli Playground on Park Lane South and adding trees and greenery to Woodhaven Boulevard.
After Mitchell explained project criteria, attendees broke up into four groups, each with a WRBA board member acting as a moderator. Mitchell gave each group markers and large sheets of paper to generate and collect ideas.
“The only bad idea is no idea,” joked WRBA President Martin Colberg.
At the end of the brainstorming session, a representative from each group read their respective suggestions aloud.
Maria Concolino’s group advocated for upgrades to the Woodhaven Library, security cameras in business districts and on public buildings, more countdown clocks for buses and trains, as well as the installation of LED streetlights and old fashioned lampposts around Forest Park and Jamaica Avenue.
Ed Wendell, WRBA board member and president of the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society, also voiced a need for surveillance cameras for commercial strips within Community Board 9. Wendell and his group also put forth the idea of renovating and illuminating the clock tower on Atlantic Avenue, as well as enhancing and refurbishing Lt. Clinton L. Whiting Square on 84th Street in Woodhaven.
“With the 100th Anniversary of World War I coming up, that would be something that we’d like to see,” Wendell stated.
He also advocated for the creation of a mini golf course near the Forest Park Carousel, as well as a local pigeon mitigation system for overpasses and elevated train tracks.
WRBA Vice President Giedra Kregzdys would like to see the greening of Woodhaven Boulevard, with trees planted on medians spanning from Myrtle Avenue to Rockaway Boulevard. Kregzdys and her group also supported the installation of bike racks throughout the district in an effort to encourage shopping and promote visitors to the area.
They also suggested repairs to the retaining wall, fencing and faded signage at the Forest Park dog run.
Janet Forte, one of WRBA’s directors, also supported renovations to Forest Park facilities. Her group suggested park improvements such as bocce courts, lighting, chess tables, emergency call boxes, benches, new bathrooms, barbecue pits and picnic tables.
Forte also called for construction of a Forest Park gazebo.
“We want to make it really nice and create a community park,” Forte explained. “If you get a gazebo, you can have a nice band play there and bring the family back to that park instead of the drug addicts.”
Forte’s group also advocated for a 9/11 memorial in Forest Park near the George Seuffert Bandshell.
The process continues
After all of the ideas were read, Mitchell collected the large sheets of paper and placed them in a file box he nicknamed “PB” for participatory budgeting.
“We’re gathering ideas from other civic associations, senior centers, schools, libraries and so forth,” Mitchell explained. “After we accumulate all those ideas, we’re going to be meeting with budget delegates. We will then go into the review stage.”
Budget delegates are volunteers chosen to represent their respective communities during the participatory budgeting process. The delegates meet with representatives from city agencies, such as the Parks Department or the DOT, and sift through the various ideas and suggestions submitted.
The delegates and agency representatives then work to determine which project ideas are feasible based on cost, eligibility and the overall scope of the project. They then select the eligible ideas and formulate actual proposals. The proposals for each project will appear on a ballot and be put to a vote in April 2015.
Mitchell passed out budget delegate applications at the WRBA meeting for those who wished to volunteer. To expedite and streamline the process, similar project ideas may be grouped into one proposal or ballot measure.
“Instead of having multiple smaller projects, we’ll lump it all together into one larger project, making it more likely that it will pass,” Mitchell explained, “We’re going to have many projects, not just one, for the million dollars.”
Certain project suggestions, such as curb repairs, stop signs or traffic lights, would not be considered eligible for capital funding under participatory budgeting.
“Something like a traffic study or signal near Oak Ridge in Forest Park would not be eligible,” Mitchell stated. “However, I will put that traffic study in for sure and keep everybody up to date with that.” Mitchell assured residents that he would still follow up on ineligible project ideas with the appropriate city agencies.
Residents who could not attend last Saturday’s WRBA meeting will still have ample opportunity to participate in this process and have their ideas and suggestions heard.
“This box will be making its rounds around the district,” Mitchell explained. “People that don’t get a chance to come to meetings will still be able to submit ideas and have input as well.”
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The next Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association meeting is scheduled to take place on Saturday, Dec. 13, at noon at Emanuel United Church of Christ, located at the corner of Woodhaven Boulevard and 91st Avenue. For more information, call 1-718-296-3735 or visit www.woodhaven-nyc.org.