Katz calls for new zoning areas for basement apartments

By Juan Soto

Two days before she was to give her first State of the Borough address Thursday, Melinda Katz said Queens needs more schools, more affordable housing and more quality jobs, among other priorities, while calling on the city to consider creating new zoning districts for basement apartments.

“Illegal conversions lack safety,” Katz said at a news briefing in Borough Hall Tuesday. “The problem is that we have no more housing and we need to live, and we need to make these converted spaces safe.”

She said Queens has a 46 percent of foreign-born population, and in this growing borough, “we can’t build fast enough, although this is a good problem to have as long as we can catch up.”

The borough president will ask the city Department of Buildings to look at the possibility of legalizing more basement apartments, “creating new areas for conversions.”

As for public transportation, Katz said she will push to restore the ferry service from the Rockaways put into place to carry residents from Beach 108th Street to the Brooklyn Army Terminal and downtown Manhattan after Superstorm Sandy flooded the A train tracks in 2012.

Ferries were docked last fall because funding for the route to continue did not make it into this year’s city budget.

“The ferry has to come back,” she said. “I do believe nothing is temporary, but the ferry unfortunately was.”

Katz did not chose sides, however, between those in the borough who support the reactivation of the Rockaway Beach LIRR line and those who want the construction of a High Line-style park known as the Queensway on the abandoned tracks.

“Let’s see how it plays out,” she said.

The borough president also called on the Department of Education to establish bigger high schools in Queens, as well as to expand its Gifted and Talented program.

“There is no doubt we need more schools,” Katz said.

Other priorities, she noted, include getting more seats for pre-kindergarten in community-base organizations and better services for veterans, including help with job placement and healthcare.

“Full day pre-K is urgent in the borough,” she said.

Katz asked the community-based organizations to find locations in churches, synagogues, mosques, and youth centers, among others, and “remove trailers” These structures host temporary classrooms because of school overcrowding.

In addition, the borough president pointed out it was necessary to help small businesses and she called on the city “not to balance its budget by getting them fees and tickets.”

She acknowledged parking is also a big problem, specially in neighborhoods with commercial strips, like Jackson Heights. “I don’t have a magic wand for that,” she said.

And her dream, she noted, is to have a fully restored New York State Pavilion, the venue where the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair was celebrated this year.

“My dream is to redo the outside and … to make sure the theater is usable for outdoor events,” she said. “And we will make sure it remains an icon of the World’s Fair.”

Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at jsoto‌@cngl‌ocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.