When Community Board 9 Chairman Ralph Gonzalez took an informal poll of the audience at last Thursday night’s meeting on the City Line pedestrian plaza, the results required a recount.
First he asked supporters to stand, then he asked opponents. The end result? Almost a tie, roughly a dozen on either side.
The plaza along 101st Avenue between Forbell and 76th streets was approved by CB 9 last fall and built by the city Department of Transportation last November. It is mostly in Queens, but a small piece is in Brooklyn. The plaza was the brainchild of the Bangladeshi-American Community Development and Youth Service, a group based just over the border in East New York, Brooklyn that represents the growing Bangladeshi-American community on both sides of the borough line.
The plaza was supported by Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and was given a green light by the 102nd Precinct’s commanding officer, who said it wouldn’t be a strain on police resources.
But less than a year after it was built, some are already asking for it to be removed.
A coalition of business owners, many of them members of the area’s Bangladeshi-American community, came to the special meeting of CB 9 at Borough Hall attended by Queens DOT Commissioner Dalia Hall and Darma Diaz, executive director of BACDYS.
“Take it down, we want it gone,” said Faysal Qurashi, owner of a business on 101st Avenue. “This has been the worst year for business since I’ve opened.”
Qurashi provided a petition with signatures of business owners and their business cards who wanted the plaza removed.
Iqbal Ali, another business owner, said the stores along 101st Avenue are suffering because parking had been taken away on the strip to build the plaza.
“There’s no place to park,” he said. “It’s a real problem especially for people who live and work there.”
Hall said the DOT studied parking in the area before building the plaza and judged that it wouldn’t be an issue.
“The parking spots on 101st Avenue had a 50 percent occupancy rate,” she said, adding that more spots were added one block south on Liberty Avenue.
Sohail Zaman, who owns a travel business and lives on Drew Street, said the biggest problem for businesses is the lack of two-way traffic on 101st Avenue, which was changed to one-way westbound between Forbell and 76th streets to make room for the plaza.
“We have people coming from the north, the south, the east and the west,” he said. “If they come from all directions, they will go somewhere else.”
Garbage was also brought up as an issue. Diaz said her group is out there seven days a week keeping the plaza clean, but noted that there are few public receptacles at the site and the Sanitation Department only does pickup two days a week.
Hall acknowledged the reality, saying that she wanted more frequent pickup.
“The Brooklyn side gets pickup six days a week, the Queens side only two,” she explained. “Getting more pickups is something we’re pushing for.”
Diaz defended the plaza, noting that it has been slow to gain popularity because of bad weather.
“We had the worst winter we could possibly have had,” she said. “But we have been out there, holding events, doing cleanup and making use of the plaza.”
Diaz said the site is important to the community because of the lack of green space — the only nearby park is a tiny space that makes up the wide median on Elderts Lane between Liberty and Glenmore avenues. She noted that neighborhood children use the public parking lot at the Grant Avenue subway station to play.
“That’s not a place we want our children to be playing,” she said.
She argued that the Bangladeshi-American community, in part because it straddles the borough borders, has been underserved by the city in the past.
One supporter of the plaza said business owners should take into consideration its importance to the entire community.
“Think of your children, think of what you’re taking away from them,” he said.
Gonzalez did not indicate what action the board might take. The full board has not met since June and will not again until Sept. 9.
“We can’t give you an answer right now,” he said. “Just know that your concerns are being taken seriously.”
The DOT told CB 9 last year that it would remove the plaza if detrimental problems arise, but did not specifically say what those would be.