Before Community Board 6’s May 14 meeting ended, Sara Demartino of Rego Park stood up and described a problem she said is plaguing her community: the constant cacophony of barking dogs in Yellowstone Park, across the street from her Forest Hills home.
“It’s a quality-of-life issue that me and my neighbors are experiencing on a daily basis,” Demartino said. “It’s impossible to have a conversation, there’s so much noise.”
There are usually about 10 to 12 dogs in the park at night, she said.
When she’s tried to raise the issue with the dog owners and asked them to quiet their pets, Demartino claimed, she’s been ignored, rebuffed and treated rudely.
The park once had specific hours, but Demartino said the dogs and their owners are there both early in the morning and late into the night. She said many of the owners use the park for social rendezvous, let their dogs loose and ignore the barking while they’re hanging out with friends.
“I love animals, don’t get me wrong,” Demartino said. “The dogs aren’t the problem, it’s the owners. I’ve been out there in my pajamas before and asked them to please control your dog as much as possible, but they don’t listen, they just don’t care about the rest of the community.
“I’ve asked people, how would you like it if I come outside of your building and scream on the sidewalk in public? I’m allowed to be there just like they tell us they’re allowed to be there.”
After the meeting, Demartino said one dog owner had approached her and threatened to spit in her face.
Demartino said she’s called 311, the Parks Department and several other authorities to complain, but none ever showed any interest.
CB 6 Chairman Joseph Hennessy said he was “surprised” to learn about the noise and thought it was a quiet area. He acknowledged that it was once a “troublesome park,” but for other reasons.
He added that the dogs are a Parks Department issue, but said he would check in with the 112th Precinct to see what can be done.
One dog owner, who was interviewed at the park days after the meeting, said people bring their dogs there to socialize them, for the animals’ emotional health.
The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, acknowledged that the barking can get loud when a truck goes by or someone brings a large dog to the park, but said that the regulars are mostly mindful and considerate of the residents.
“They have to be realistic; we live in an animal culture where people have pets and dogs are going to bark,” she said.
Barking aside, residents are also sparring over a small corner of the park on Yellowstone Boulevard and 68th Road, which is fenced off from the rest of the park. The section has off-leash hours of 6 to 9 a.m., and many dog owners want it to be a permanent free-run space. They say the Underbridge Dog Run at 64th Road and the Grand Central Parkway is too far away for many of them.
However, some residents, including Harry Widoff, feel the dog owners are trying to commandeer the park. Widoff said some inconsiderate dog owners close the gates and take their dogs off leashes after 9 a.m. without asking the park users if they are comfortable with that.
Meng reports to constituents
Also during the CB 6 meeting, U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) updated the board on her work in Washington, DC as a member of the Small Business and Foreign Affairs committees and founder of a bipartisan panel focused on kids and safety issues.
“There are fewer than 20 congressmembers in the entire body that have children under the age of 12,” said Meng, who is the mother of two young boys. “Children don’t really have high-paid lobbyists to advocate for a lot of their issues. There are so many safety issues, including transportation, and we’re exploring ways to see how we can be helpful on a federal level.”
Meng thanked the community for its advocacy in helping her pass a bill to obtain federal funds for houses of worship and other nonprofit institutions damaged by Hurricane Sandy, many of which had services such as food pantries and homeless shelters. The bill has yet to pass in the Senate.
Another bill stemmed from Meng’s first Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, when then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton testified about the Benghazi, Libya terror attack. The panel put in a piece of legislation at Clinton’s request to close a loophole “to basically prevent future Benghazis from happening,” Meng said.
The congresswoman also said veterans’ issues are among the top reasons people call her office. Many in New York have longer wait times than most of the rest of the country for getting benefits, she said.
“This is totally unacceptable,” Meng said. “We passed a pretty common-sense piece of legislation that basically requires each regional office to do what they’re supposed to do: to meet their self-imposed deadline, to give us answers every year, to see if each regional office, if they’ve met their deadline — and if not, why not and who is responsible, and how can they address the situation? It’s pretty common-sense, but it’s sad that we have to legislate.”
Lastly, Meng addressed spoofing, which has affected Queens residents. Spoofing is a practice used by scammers to scramble caller ID and make it look like they are an institution, such as a bank, immigration office, the IRS, or even a police precinct. Many people have trusted their caller ID and wired thousands of dollars to the scammers. Meng is working on legislation to combat spoofers who call from outside the U.S. and target people via text message, both of which are still legal.
John Dereszewski, chairman of the board’s Transportation Committee, discussed issues at some major intersections in the area. He said the city Department of Transportation has proposed limiting the number of hours that cars going north on Yellowstone Boulevard can turn left onto Queens Boulevard, as DOT statistics indicate there are a lot of accidents there.
Dereszewski said the committee has asked the DOT for traffic agents to assist near the construction at the Rego Center II mall, which has created difficult situations for drivers.
Several months ago, the DOT implemented some changes to the corner of Metropolitan and 71st avenues in order to prevent pedestrians from getting struck by left-turning cars. A westbound lane was converted into a left-turn bay for eastbound cars, but over the winter some of the striping deteriorated. The board asked the DOT for restriping.
The board also unanimously passed a resolution requesting that the DOT conduct a comprehensive study on the feasibility of a redesign of all of Queens Boulevard, in particular in the CB 6 area, using “complete street” principles to make the boulevard safer for all road users. The members also requested that the DOT involve CB 6, residents and community groups in the study.
“Complete streets” are streets with protected areas for each road use, and the DOT uses a variety of strategies to achieve that.
The resolution notes that in 2013 alone, six Queens residents died and 92 pedestrians were injured, and that many were senior citizens. The population of Queens is increasing rapidly, as is residential and commercial development close to Queens Boulevard, which will bring even more people to the area. There is also a need for increased mass transit and alternative transportation, according to the resolution.
“Despite welcome safety improvements over the years, collisions, injuries and fatalities are still on the rise and prior safety improvements were insufficient so structural changes are necessary to improve safety on the boulevard,” the resolution states.
The board received more than 3,300 petition signatures supporting the resolution, and all five City Council members with districts that include Queens Boulevard issued a joint letter to the DOT asking it to make the thoroughfare a priority in the Vision Zero plan, which aims to eliminate pedestrian fatalities.
One board member reminded the rest of the “very unfortunate and unwanted reinforcement of how dangerous Queens Boulevard is,” when an 82-year-old woman was killed at the corner of 71st Avenue on May 3. “We really need DOT to take this seriously,” he said.
The Whitepot Awards
Also at the meeting, the board presented its annual Whitepot Award to Capt. Thomas Conforti, commander of the 112th Precinct, Lt. Brian Goldman, Officer David Sothiros from Community Affairs and Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills). The Forest Hills-Rego Park area was once called White Pot because the native Americans made white pots with clay from the area.