By Bill Parry
One week after an anti-gentrification rally and march took place in Sunnyside to protest over-development in western Queens, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a town hall meeting at a school in the same neighborhood.
While the April 20 Queens March Against Gentrification railed against the mayor’s big-ticket items such as the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, the mega-development planned for Sunnyside Yards and the Long Island City Core rezoning, de Blasio fielded more questions about the hear-and-now instead of what might happen down the road.
For three hours, nearly 600 residents and business owners in western Queens fired questions on affordability, education, green space and transit at the mayor at the Queens Vocation & Technical High School during a forum hosted by City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside). Helen Ho, an external affairs director at LaGuardia Community College and a former member of the de Blasio administration got to go first.
“We need safe streets for the students and workers of Long Island City,” she said. “Our intersection at Van Dam Street, Thomson Avenue and Queens Boulevard is extremely dangerous for pedestrians and we need funding for the entire redesign of the intersection.”
The mayor said he understood that there was a real problem around the campus and he knew it was an important topic.
“We’re going to take the plans we have and move them up and I’m pleased to tell you we will commit $17 million in city capital funds to create those safety measures on Thomson Avenue to protect the students of LaGuardia College and the surrounding community.”
The mayor pledged another $130 million to replace the Sanitation Department garage near the Ravenswood Houses, which has drawn complaints for years, in a different location that will be determined.
“This has been an environmental injustice that the Ravenswood community has suffered for decades and decades,” Van Bramer said. One resident voiced concerns about the Sunnyside Yards proposal and the mayor reminded residents that project is years down the road.
“This is a sort of project you’re talking 10 or 20 years to ever come near achieving,” de Blasio said, emphasizing that he was aware of the “tremendous concern at a community level” about it.
When he was asked about service interruptions that plague the No. 7 subway line, he blamed the state-run MTA.
“We can’t make it with the transit options we have now,” de Blasio said, and that’s why the NYC Ferry is important. “There’s no traffic jams on the river,” he said, adding the BQX street car system was needed because the subway system is overburdened and he is working to make the connector happen.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr