Jackson Heights’ plans for a grassier future are moving right along
Last year a survey showed out of the 51 council districts, Councilman Danny Dromm’s (D-Jackson Heights) area placed second to last when it came to park space volume.
“And No. 51 borders Central Park, so for all intents and purposes we’re dead last,” Dromm said.
However, the councilman, along with the city Parks Department, Community Board 3 and the Department of Transportation, is making strides to move up in the ranks.
CB 3 approved the city’s purchase of the Garden School’s athletic field on 78th Street on June 21, completing one of the several steps in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure process. Next the Parks Department will bring the potential purchase to the Borough Board and then to the City Council for approval.
Once the Parks Department has it in its holdings there will be several community workshops to decide on a design for the field, to be bought for about $6 million, according to Dromm.
The Garden School’s enrollment has fallen in the last few years — although in September, Headmaster Richard Marotta expects increased numbers.
The athletic field will work hand in hand with the Play Street on 78th Street, which in the fall could become a permanently closed plaza.
“We want it to be a really green area with grass and perhaps trees,” Dromm said, “so it doesn’t look like park-street-park instead it looks more like one park.”
For the summer months 78th Street between Northern Boulevard and 34th Avenue — Travers Park flanks the road to its west — is closed to car traffic as it has been since 2008. The summer months officially began on June 23.
The DOT shared a plan with CB 3 on June 21 to keep the road closed permanently.
“We are interested in this area because Jackson Heights has so few green spaces,” Department of Transportation Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy said.
The city plaza plan closes streets permanently and fills them with trees and places to sit. A plaza plan was approved on 41st Avenue between National and 104th streets and will be implemented in July. Conversely, a plan to close a piece of Newtown Avenue in Astoria was met with staunch opposition from the businesses located on the block.
The plaza plan is a compromise between the Jackson Heights Green Alliance and the Garden School, McCarthy said. The alliance wanted the entrance to the Play Street at Northern Boulevard to be completely closed, whereas the independent school wanted more access to its entrance, according to McCarthy.
The DOT tried to accommodate both groups and nearby residents by dead-ending 78th Street at a cul-de-sac at what used to be the entrance to Northern Boulevard and adding an extra bus parking space on 79th Street. Also 78th Street leading up to the Play Street will be changed from a one-way street to two ways.
“This is the best for the community and we have been a part of this community for 90 years,” Marotta said, adding, “there will be some difficulties with arrivals and pickups.”
He added the school will work with the DOT to resolves these issues.
The play street will be closed by a gate at 9 p.m.
“When it’s 9 o’clock we should have some peace,” said Mora Rosner, a resident of an apartment building on 34th Avenue.
Another resident said “Parking is impossible on a good day.”
“I fully expect parents will have a big adjustment. It’s not perfect. It’s a compromise,” McCarthy said.
Although many of the details and the funding need to be worked out, Dromm said he believes the plaza could be installed as early as this fall. The DOT presentation to CB 3 was one step towards implementation.