Long-discussed plans to revitalize downtown Douglaston seem to finally be moving forward and, if the stars align, residents and visitors to the area could find themselves strolling through a brand-new plaza outside the Long Island Rail Road train station at 235th Street and 41st Avenue as early as this summer.
The announcement came at the annual meeting of the Douglaston and Little Neck Historical Society on May 14 at the Douglaston Club on West Drive, with approximately 50 individuals in attendance.
Urban designer and historical preservationist Victor Dadras, the guest speaker who was commissioned by the society to help in the redevelopment of Douglaston Village, presented his strategic action plan to return the area to the vibrant place it had once been, making it a small-town center within the greater metropolis of New York City.
It is important to preserve historic commercial districts, Dadras said, suggesting that neighborhoods “form around their downtowns.” It not, he questioned, “When you have a parade, where does it happen? Where do people interact and get together?”
According to Dadras, the first step is to organize. “Working together makes a difference. We need to come together to make these things happen,” he said.
He discussed the importance of funding and indicated that state Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) has promised a $100,000 grant for the project.
On Friday, when contacted by the Chronicle, Braunstein called Douglaston “a unique community with a special quality of life” and said he is “pretty confident” the grant would come through.
In his presentation, Dadras also pointed out that “you don’t try to do things without technical assistance.” He further cautioned that zoning issues will invariably come into play, with parking requirements among the concerns. He suggested that the “best thing is to have a vision and work with current landowners and potential developers on that vision.”
He also encouraged those in attendance to pressure the state and national registries to designate the area as a historic district.
According to Dadras, the plan he set forth is based on studies conducted between 2009 and 2011 that included public meetings and surveys.
The results indicate that it would be important to many to maintain the small-scale character of the village, create more green space with a quiet atmosphere, develop more and better-quality retail stores, including a bakery, fresh produce market and shoe repair shop, and include public community space for festivals and other activities.
The designer outlined some of the possible strategies for bringing the ideas to fruition. Among those, he said, are the improvement of building facades and street lighting, as well as the creation of new sidewalks and sidewalk cafes.
He also hopes to see an overhauling of the railroad station and the waiting room, as well as an upgrade to the underground tunnel that connects the depot’s two platforms. According to Dadras, Braunstein and City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) have promised to provide security cameras in the tunnel.
One concerned audience member asked who would maintain the new plaza, prompting Dadras to reply that it would be a “community obligation.” He did not recommend relying on volunteers but suggested, instead, to contract with someone for the job.
Among those in attendance were a couple who moved into the area four months ago.
“It’s an area that could really be beautiful,” Brenda Lamb said. “I noticed stores that were not occupied. That was sad. I want to find out the plans for that particular spot.”
But she seemed totally sold on her new neighborhood. “What’s not to like?” she asked. To that, George Lamb added, “We’re seven or eight minutes from the railroad. It’s quiet ... the trees ...”
One longtime area resident, who wanted to be named only as Lisa, probably summed up the feelings of many by saying, “Any improvement to my neighborhood impacts my personal joy level.”
Anyone wishing to help support the DLNHS as it celebrates its silver anniversary is invited to attend a benefit on June 21. Individual tickets are $200 each. The society is also accepting tax-deductible donations. For further information, visit dlnhs.org.