Denise Keehan-Smith has had a tumultuous year. The chairwoman of Community Board 2 had to maintain order at several monthly meetings as her community raged against the city opening a third shelter for the homeless in a seven-block area of Long Island City last May while fighting a nearly yearlong battle over the Department of Transportation’s plans for bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd avenues in Sunnyside.
“That was quite a year and the bike lane issue is still ongoing and I haven’t given up on it yet,” Keehan-Smith said.
Now she is preparing to take on a more controversial role as one of 45 members who accepted a position on a community advisory panel which will play a role in planning for Amazon’s HQ2 campus around the Anable Basin in Long Island City.
Keehan-Smith will co-chair the Project Plan subcommittee with Long Island City Partnership president Elizabeth Lusskin.
“The Community Advisory Committee will bring thoughtful insight and feedback into the Amazon development process, and I look forward to helping the Long Island City community and economy succeed and thrive alongside our partners in the nonprofit sectors.”
She has already seen calls from anti-gentrification groups calling for her to step down from the panel.
“That social media stuff doesn’t bother me,” Keehan-Smith said. “It’s a kind of extremism and if we were to pay attention we would never get anything done. Amazon will start moving staff into the Citigroup tower next year and you can’t stop them. We couldn’t stop a bike lane and we’re going to stop Amazon?”
At Community Board 2’s first monthly meeting since the Amazon announcement was made last month, 75 people signed up to speak during the public comment segment which last more than two hours.
“At the CB2 meeting people were telling me privately they support Amazon coming to LIC but they don’t want to speak publicly about it,” Keehan-Smith said. “You walk around Woodside and you’ll hear a lot from people that are happy that so many job opportunities are coming to western Queens. Yes there is a small amount of people who don’t want me to serve and yes we’re worried that longtime residents will be pushed out and rents will go up. The thing is gentrification began in Long Island City years ago.”
The third-generation Woodside resident, a global account director for a travel technology company, says it is better to have a seat at the table and act as a community leader rather than walk away from the community advisory committee.
“We have a good handle on the issues like the fact they will be building the HQ2 campus in a flood zone. That DOE building still has damage from Hurricane Sandy,” Keehan-Smith said. “We need a resilience plan. We need to look at the environmental study. We need better transportation like fixing the 7 train and adding more ferry service. What about Liz Crowley’s plan for light rail? I will be advocating for what I know the community needs are and I think our needs will be considered.”