As residents constantly shouted “leave it alone” to both changes, DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy fielded questions and comments from Woodhavenites, many of whom displayed their frustration with the community board and the DOT about the proposals.
And although she noted that the changes are not mandated because neither of the streets are high accident locations, tensions still ran high among residents, who don't want Woodhaven cut off from Ozone Park and the rest of South Queens.
“Neither one of these changes is mandated because of a high accident location, this can either be voted up or down by the community board,” McCarthy said. “DOT is not going to implement this over the objections of the community. We only do that if it's a safety problem.”
She stressed that neither of the two locations are accident-prone locations. “So it's really up to the community board.”
Regarding the less controversial change of 89th Avenue, McCarthy said the DOT recommened an east-bound direction because the entrance to the school is on the south side of the street.
“If the street is going to be converted it will not be converted westbound where buses are going to drop children on the wrong side of the street,” she said, noting that if it is east bound those who want to get back to Woodhaven Boulevard will have to go two blocks to 97th street down and over to 91st avenue.
But long-time Woodhaven resident Margaret Finnegan doesn't want the change.
“To get into our block coming from the south, have to turn on 91st Avenue go up 96th Street past the school, make left on 89th and then pass [Woodhaven] Boulevard,” she said. “When they change it, we will have to go all the way up and across or make an illegal turn up 91st street from 91st Avenue across one block and then down our street -- now the Sanitation Department does it; I don't have a big truck.”
Finnegan brought her own map, which she displayed to attendees to show how much of a hassle it would be for her and residents if the changes were made.
Another resident, suggested keeping the avenue a two-way but to not have parking between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“You're going to have all the traffic on 91st Avenue and now it is going to become an accident prone avenue,” said Diane Yodice, the resident who first alerted Woodhaven to the proposed changes.
McCarthy said the advantage to the conversion is because the avenue is a a narrow street.
Woodhaven Residents' Block Association captain, Ed Wendell, suggested another alternative.
“I've driven down here many times and there is plenty of room for two cars here and it is not accident prone street,” he said. “One area on the street that I think there is a concern is nearer to the corner and maybe preventing parking maybe 15 feet from the corner would be best.”
Residents were upset that Community Board 9 failed to let them know of the changes, especially when they would directly affect Woodhaven. But district manager of community board 9, Marianne Carey, said that the board sent out notices on the monthly agenda, but no other separate notices regarding the changes were sent out.
Residents were also particularly curious to know who proposed the changes in the first place. McCarthy said the community board requested the changes a while ago.
Carey said that a resident who has since passed away requested the change at 89th Avenue.
The more anger-inducing change of 84th Street was allegedly requested by the managers of CVS and Boston Market but Community Board 9 wouldn't confirm that, only saying that residents requested the change after it was changed a few years back form a two-way to the present one-way. Calls to CVS and Boston Market by this paper were not returned.
McCarthy said that in 2009 the DOT received a request to make 84th Street a one way because the prior two-way was too narrow. She said that after the DOT made the change, the agency received many calls asking that this particular section – from Atlantic Avenue to Liberty Avenue – be reversed. She noted that it was not acted upon for a couple of years until it was recently brought back to the community board.
If converted, the only access into Woodhaven would be 76 Street, a two-way street which is also narrow with parking on both sides.
“If you are a business on Jamaica Avenue and the only way your customers can get in currently are from the south you're not going to be very happy about this,” said Vance Barbour a board member of the WRBA. “This is a major artery to bring business on Jamaica Avenue which is currently very vibrant community district; it really does not make much sense.”
Wendell compared the 84th Street access between Ozone Park and Woodhaven to the doors of a supermarket.
“What we're proposing to do here is close one of those doors and it's not going to help either community – we use each other's churches, schools, libraries - what I see this change doing is turning Atlantic Avenue from a border into a barrier.”
Residents were also concerned about how the change would affect the fire department's response times. McCarthy said that the department was not opposed to the change. She said she received confirmation from the department's city planning and borough commander that they are not opposed to the change and that she would try to get a representative to speak at the next community board meeting.
Councilman Eric Ulrich, who called the meeting, which was held at St. Elizabeth's Church on 84th Street and Atlantic Avenue, picked the locations so that residents on both sides could see the area where the change would affect, although Woodhaven residents dominated the meeting.
“I think people are more informed about how the changes will impact them if they do go into effect,” Ulrich said after the meeting. “There are legitimate concerns on both sides of Atlantic Avenue and I would not allow the board to take a vote before people in the community heard first hand and had a right to voice their concerns about it.”
Maria Thomson, a CB 9 board member, hopes that the alternatives suggested will be taken into consideration.
“There were a lot of legitimate alternatives to that change that would accomplisht the same thing,” she said. “We need the alternatives presented to the board.”
The next Community Board 9 meeting will be held on Tuesday, February 14, at 7:45 p.m. at the Kew Gardens Community House, located at 80-02 Kew Gardens Road. The changes were already tabled twice and the board is set to vote on the changes that night.
But many residents believe that the meeting should be held in the borders of Woodhaven, including Assemblyman Mike Miller who sent a letter to community board 9 asking that the vote be postponed until March so that a meeting place in Woodhaven could be sought out.
“This process has not been fair to the residents of Woodhaven who are directly affected by these changes” Miller said. “First, they make the proposals with no public input. Now, after this meeting, they schedule a public hearing for Valentine’s Day in Kew Gardens.”
But Thomson noted that the meetings are often scheduled a year in advance.
Carey said that the board is willing to make a motion to postpone the vote until March and will work with Miller to find a meeting place in Woodhaven. The Woodhaven Ambulance Corp building on 78th Street and Jamaica Avenue , where the WRBA hosts its meetings, was suggested.