Nov. 17, 2016 By Domenick Rafter
Advocates for the Queensway, a 3.5-mile linear park planned for an abandoned Central Queens rail line, faced a hostile crowd Tuesday night at the Forest Hills Civic Association meeting, where the group Friends of the Queensway presented their plans for the first phase of the proposed greenspace.
However, most of the more than 100 residents who packed the American Legion Hall at 107-15 Metropolitan Ave. didn’t come to be persuaded. They came to tell the park’s advocates and designers “No thanks, we’re not interested.”
Slated for the abandoned Rockaway Beach LIRR line, which runs from Rego Park to Ozone Park parallel to Woodhaven Boulevard, the Queensway idea was birthed in 2011 when Friends of the Queensway partnered with urban parks developer Trust for Public Land to pursue a feasibility study on the plan. That study kicked off in 2013 and finished in late 2014.
Friends of the Queensway came to Forest Hills Tuesday night to present their designed for Phase One of the project – called the Metropolitan Hub – which will span the section between Metropolitan Avenue and Union Turnpike adjacent to the Metropolitan Education Complex. The first phase includes an outdoor classroom accessible from the school property and a playground, with entrances at Yellowstone Boulevard and on either side of Metropolitan Avenue. Phase One is projected to cost $12 million and the entire project would cost $122 million. The funds could come from both public and private money.
“More than 300,000 people live within a 20-minute walk of the Queensway,” explained Travis Terry, one founders of the Friends of the Queensway and a Forest Hills resident. “Especially on the southern end of the route, there is a real lack of greenspace. This project will fulfill a need.”
But residents who attended the meeting seemed uninterested in the plans, and more interested in other details – or just outright telling Friends of Queensway they’re not on board. Among the strongest opponents were a contingency of residents representing the Forest PView Crescent apartment building on Union Turnpike. The right of way of the former rail line runs right through their parking lot, according to resident Leslie Cantor.
“Our building was built after the railroad stopped running,” she said, adding that the building rents the space on the right of way for $9,000 a month for parking. “We have asked you to come and meet with us about this plan and we haven’t gotten a response. This would go right through our parking lot.”
Terry noted that Phase One of the plan does not go include the section in the parking lot and that the residents would be included in the process when planning on that phase commences. But that didn’t dissuade concerns.
“You have gotten this far without talking to us. You must have a plan for that section,” Cantor said. “You can’t take on a big undertaking like this without thinking about the next section.”
Safety seemed to be the overreaching concern of residents, especially those whose homes and properties would abut the Queensway. Heidi Harrison Chain, president of the 112th Precinct Community Council, asked about safety and security at the site. Susannah Drake, an architect at DLANDStudios, the firm working on the plans for the Queensway, said there would be gates at the entrances that would be closed at night, and there would be lighting along the pathway.
“We understand safety is a concern and we are designing this with safety in mind,” she said. “The park will be closed at night.
But Community Board 6 Chairman Joe Hennessey wondered if that was even feasible.
“The Parks Department doesn’t have enough enforcement officers, we have almost none in Queens,” he said. “If this is the Parks Department responsibility, I don’t see how they will be able to get someone who can close the gates every night, walk the path to make sure no one is there and open them in the morning.”
Maintenance was also an issue many residents brought up.
“Who will maintain the park once it’s built?” one resident asked. “We can’t keep our current parks maintained.”
Terry said maintenance will be taken care of privately by a conservatory and could cost several million dollars a year.
“I just can’t see where that money would come from,” another resident suggested.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) spoke at the end of the meeting and listed public safety and maintenance as his top concerns about the plan.
“There’s still a lot of questions that needs to be answered on this,” he said.
There’s no timeline on Phase One of the project, much will depend on getting the funds needed and approvals with the city. The right of way is currently city-owned land administered by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, except for the section in Forest Park, which belongs to the Parks Department.
While park advocates fight for their proposal, some are still holding onto hope that trains or some type of transit could be brought back to the route. The Queens Public Transit Committee, a group of rail advocates, most of whom come from the transit-starved Rockaway Peninsula, tried to make their case at Tuesday’s meeting. The rail advocates stood outside, speaking to residents as they arrived.
A separate study on the rail idea is currently underway.