Changes may be in store for the controversial pedestrian plaza that was constructed last fall in City Line.
Community Board 9 entertained the issue on Tuesday night in Richmond Hill after holding a town hall meeting in August at Borough Hall where supporters and opponents — mainly business owners at the site — spoke about their concerns on the plaza. The city Department of Transportation installed the plaza last November along Drew Street between Liberty and 101st avenues and 101st Avenue between Drew and 75th streets. CB 9 approved it a year ago.
The pedestrian mall is the brainchild of the Bangladesh American Community Development and Youth Services, a group representing the Bangladeshi Americans in City Line and formed because of the perceived lack of attention that population receives from the city, mainly due to the fact the community is split by the Brooklyn-Queens border.
Store owners say they have lost business because of the plaza blocking access to their stores and the loss of 11 parking spaces along 101st Avenue. Though the DOT argued that it had added spaces one block south on Liberty Avenue to make up for the lost spots on 101st, business owners were not convinced, noting that parking on Liberty Avenue is too cumbersome for shoppers who pop into and out of their stores.
The businessmen were also concerned about the conversion of 101st Avenue to a one-way westbound between 75th Street and the Brooklyn border, which they said cut a good amount of traffic that brought business.
“My business has gone down,” said store owner Hasib Ali. “I’ve lost a lot of money because of this plaza. It must go.”
But several area residents and BACDYS’ executive director, Darma Diaz, were present to defend the plaza.
“This plaza has offered a community a gathering place,” she said. “We have had events there for children, adults gather there and use it. We’re asking for the board’s support for keeping our plaza intact.”
Mohammed Ali, who also owns a business near the plaza, though not on it, said he believes it has been a positive addition to the community.
“I’ve lived in this community for 30 years,” he said. “This is the best thing to happen to the neighborhood since I’ve been here.”
Kenichi Wilson, chairman of CB 9’s Transportation Committee, asked the board to approve a letter drafted to the DOT asking to look into changes to the plaza to satisfy the concerns of the business owners, including the possibility of eliminating the 101st Avenue section and returning two-way traffic.
But the DOT was already going in that direction.
Andrew Ronin, a representative from the DOT at the meeting, said the agency is considering cutting back the plaza on 101st Avenue to focus on the Drew Street area.
“We’re looking into scaling it back along 101st Avenue,” Ronin told the board.
But he said he had not heard of any complaints about the one-way conversion of 101st Avenue and that returning to two ways was something the DOT would have to look into.
Board member Maria Thomson said she felt the board should be concerned by the complaints from the businesses and argued that the DOT made the plaza bigger than what was originally approved by CB 9 last October.
“I think the DOT should go back to the original plan,” she said.
Thomson noted the complaints that have arisen over lack of maintenance at the plaza, which falls under BACDYS’ domain, but supporters claim those complaints have been overblown and the garbage situation has not been as bad as people have suggested.
As far as the board’s letter to the DOT is concerned, there were several minutes of debate over whether or not the letter took an official position on the plaza — that the board supported removing or changing it — or if it just expressed the concerns brought to the board.
Board member Dr. Stephen Sofer noted that the DOT promised it would re-evaluate the plaza after six months to see if it had major negative effects, and the agency should be held to that.
“Why can’t we just draft a letter asking the DOT to do what it said it would,” he suggested.