While the project has earned the support of thousands through social media and public relations campaigns, several Woodhaven residents of their concerns about security, parking, property devaluation, encroachment on private backyard space, funding and sustainability at a meeting of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association (WRBA) on Monday evening at Emanuel United Church of Christ.
Construction began on the Rockaway Beach Branch rail line in 1877. In the mid-1950s, the city acquired the lower half of the line running from Ozone Park to the Rockaways and converted that section of the tracks to accomodate the A train, which still services the area today.
After a series of track fires on the trestles between Rego Park and Ozone Park and in light of decreased ridership, the LIRR discontinued service on the line indefinitely in 1962.
It has become common to compare the QueensWay plan to The High Line in Chelsea that was built on an abandoned rail line, but Dolores Rosado said that despite similarities, the two projects are by no means the same.
“Friends of the High Line raised their essential private funds for the 1.4-mile trail and 90 percent of its operating costs are covered by private donations,” Rosado said.
Rosado feels that the concerns of Woodhaven residents are going unaddressed by Friends of the QueensWay, and is especially concerned about the issue of security.
“Crime at the city parks increased 44 percent this year, and Forest Park had a very high number of serious crimes,” she said. “We don’t have enough parks patrol officers, and the 102nd Precinct covers a lot of territory. Why would we want to expand on more public space? Personally, I would like to see improvements on the many existing trails that we have in our park.”
Neil Giannelli, a spokesperson for No Way QueensWay, cited concerns about property devaluation for homeowners whose property borders the proposed greenway, citing a 2003 Reed College study by Dr. Noelwah Netusil.
Netusil’s study found that “specialty parks, trails, and cemeteries within 200 feet of property were found to have a statistically significant effect on a property’s sale price,” and that “trails and cemeteries were estimated to decrease a property’s sale by 6.81 percent and 4.86 percent respectively.”
“I waited 40 years to buy a home,” said Giannelli. “Now they’re threatening my real estate value.”
Even as the Friends of the QueensWay see Governor Andrew Cuomo’s endorsement of a feasibility study as positive progress, Christine Barbour feels that it is an underhanded move from a governor who doesn’t want to have to put money into reestablishment of LIRR service.
“Governor Cuomo was more than happy to send down $467,000 for the feasibility study because it was for the greenway, and the greenway is a city unit; it’s not a state unit,” said Barbour. “If it’s anything mechanical, the state is going to have to pay for that. He doesn’t want that on his books. We can be stuck with the greenway if that happens, and we will also be stuck with higher taxes.”
Arlene Annunziada felt that the money being spent on this feasibility study was a waste, and would be better used to bolster school budgets and local businesses, a point that Thomas Aiello agreed with wholeheartedly.
“You’re closing down schools, you’re closing down hospitals, you’re spending all of this money, for what? ” Aiello asked. “You put a park you want to walk on? You want to walk, walk on the street, walk on the sidewalk. You don’t have to walk on a walkway.”
Maria Thompson, the WRBA’s financial secretary, felt that Friends of the QueensWay should “leave Woodhaven out of the equation because it’s going to do nothing for us.”
“The people that run on the [QueensWay], they’re not going to come to Jamaica Avenue to eat something or shop,” said Thomson, who is also executive director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation. “They’re there to run, to exercise, and they’re not going to do anything for our avenue or our commerce.
When they keep on running, we’re left with the security problems if there are any,” she continued. “We’re left with debris if there’s any, and we’re left with everything to clean up after they finish running.”
WRBA president Edward Wendell said that while many residents are currently against the QueensWay project, if the Friends of QueensWay were able to develop a sustainable plan for the maintenance and security of the park that it is still possible to change many Woodhaven residents’ minds.
“Prove to us that you can solve these problems and get this thing into the model of what you plan to bring into our neighborhood, and I think you’ll find a much more receptive community,” Wendell said.
Ivan Mrakovic, vice chair of Community Board 9, urged community members with concerns to withhold judgment on the proposed project, as they have only begun the process of finding whether the QueensWay is a feasible option.
“This feasibility study, which just got started in October of 2013, is a ten-month process, so we’re two months into it,” he said. “It’s going to be a very methodical process. We’re just in the beginning of the process so I beg your patience.”
Mrakovcic maintained a positive outlook after the forum ended, even though many Woodhaven residents are opposed to the idea of a greenway cutting through their neighborhood.
“I thought this was going to be an anti-QueensWay and probably anti-rail activation, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that there’s a good debate and people are more open-minded than I was expecting,” he said.
Deborah Zombek, who lives near 98th Avenue, said after the forum she is torn between the choice of a rail line and a greenway, but she agrees that the space needs to be put to use one way or another.
“I’m still split between everything. I think the light rail would be good to get into Manhattan, I think the bike path would be good for the neighborhood, but now hearing everybody’s arguments about security and if they come into the neighborhood, where are they going to park?” asked Zombek. “But I don’t want to see the land just sit there like it’s been.”