The residents of Woodhaven came together Monday night to discuss the future of the abandoned Rockaway Beach Rail Line, which runs on the neighborhood’s eastern border right alongside some backyards.
The right of way, which has been abandoned since 1962, has become a major issue of controversy, as there are such strong opinions about what should or should not be done to the line. There are two competing plans for the line: to reactivate the train, or to build a park similar to Manhattan’s High Line called the QueensWay.
Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, held his own public forum on Monday night at the Emmanuel United Church of Christ.
Both plans have pros and cons and the purpose of this forum was to bring the residents to some sort of common ground. Safety and money were the main points of discussion.
If it were to be a train going through their neighborhood — past the residences on 98th Street, which runs alongside the Rockaway LIRR right of way — there are a lot of concerns.
“I’m for ‘green,’ whether its ‘Greenway’ or ‘the green the way it is,’ that’s the way I like it,” one resident said. “I think the Greenway will be clean and I don’t want a train. I really don’t want a train in my backyard.”
Some have used the Manhattan High Line park as a reference for what this plan for the QueensWay proposal could be like.
“I see the Greenway in Manhattan and there’s nothing but positivity,” another resident said. “Trains will give you headaches. I don’t want no headaches.”
The QueensWay presents its own issues. Residents questioned the activity that might come with this park at night so close to their backyards. They also want to know more about the effect of the QueensWay on the community if that project does prevail.
The impact either project would have on Woodhaven’s economy is one of the bigger unknown details that residents want more information about before deciding which plan to support, if either.
Ivan Mrakovcic, first vice chairman of Community Board 9, said that the feasibility study being done is a 10-month process and we are only two months into it.
“All those very important safety concerns are important to me as well,” he said. “Woodhaven is a wonderful village, but it’s not a village in a vacuum. It’s surrounded by many other villages; the Queensway if it comes to fruition will bring more attention and money to the area.”
The feasibility study is what hopefully will help shed some light on the truth of those claims, he added.
Wendell asked CB 9, where there is strong support for the QueensWay plan, to look at the existing Brooklyn-Queens greenway as ‘their lab experiment,” noting that the problems there could manifest itself on the QueensWay.
“Prove to us that you can fix these sex and drug problems,” he said. “If you can do that, I think you’ll find yourself a much more receptive community.”
There are some who want nothing to do with developing the abandoned railway and they feel that is the best option.
From drug dealers to gangs to pedophiles to thieves, the fear that the authorities would not be able to control and regulate the activities that would come along with the development of the Queensway is a very serious one.
“I think security is of upmost importance regardless of what happens here and I think it’s good we can all agree on that, it’s good to have some common ground when we otherwise disagree on a lot of stuff,” said Alexander Blenkinsopp, a resident of 98th Street and member of CB 9. “I do have some concerns about the idea of expanding the amount of parkland when we haven’t already secured the parkland we have right now.”
Some who attended Monday night seemed to have the opinion that others are being too narrow-minded or stubborn. They point to how family oriented a park would be or how a train could help those victims of Hurricane Sandy in the Rockaways, who would have shorter commutes to Manhattan and easier routes off the peninsula.
Some see it as trying to pick “the lesser of two evils,” that it was a given that one of the two projects would become a reality and they had better support the one that would negatively effect the neighborhood the least.
“This railroad’s not going to happen, the MTA doesn’t want it,” said Neil Giannelli, a 98th Street resident who established the group “No Way QueensWay,” which opposes development on the line.
He said the QueensWay project would negatively affect him and his neighbors not only due to noise and security, but also their ability to sell their homes.
“Any house adjacent to a greenway loses value,” he alleged.
Giannelli said his neighbors are all opposed to the QueensWay and he has a petition saying so that he has tried to bring to the project’s supporters, who released a poll earlier this year saying there was strong support in Queens for the plan.
“I offered [the Friends of the Queensway] a petition from my neighbors on 98th Street and 98 percent of the people said they didn’t want this greenway,” he said. “They told me it was invalid! Their survey, they called 500 people, 450 of them never heard of the Greenway, but three-quarters of them “approved” of it! ‘I never heard of it, but I like it by God! Because everybody’s going to enjoy it, sin will be eradicated, crime will disappear, and it will rain beer!’”