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Businesses Hope to Put Brakes on Proposed Pedestrian Plaza

The intersection of Newtown Avenue and 33 Street has been considered dangerous for a long time, officials say
The intersection of Newtown Avenue and 33 Street has been considered dangerous for a long time, officials say
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

ASTORIA — A Department of Transportation plan to build a pedestrian plaza on busy strip of Newtown Avenue drew fierce opposition Tuesday night from local business owners who said the space would hamper their businesses by creating even more traffic congestion while eliminating sorely needed parking spaces.

Joe Vaccaro, 40, who lives in the area and owns a real estate business there, said he was particularly worried about an increase in vehicle traffic from the proposed plaza, which was designed in part to address concerns about pedestrian safety and the lack of open space in the neighborhood.

“When 30th Avenue and 33rd Street become congested, Newtown Avenue alleviates the traffic,” he said, adding that the street closure would make it difficult for fuel trucks to make delivery to the residential buildings in the area.

During the workshop, organized by the DOT, residents and business owners discussed safety solutions for the intersection — which is considered especially dangerous for pedestrians and has been on the agency's radar for a long time.

Officials said that as far back as 2001, they had received a letter from a local Community Board asking the department to close the street.

The intersection, a few blocks from P.S. 17, came under DOT review again in 2006, when the agency started looking into areas located close to schools where there are also a large number of accidents.

At that time, the DOT came up with an idea of building a curb extension to make crossing the street a shorter walk for pedestrians.

In 2008, when the DOT began the New York City Plaza Program — an initiative aimed to ensure that all New Yorkers lived within a 10-minute walk of open space — the intersection became one of the areas considered a good location for a plaza.

According to the DOT data, Astoria is one of 10 neighborhoods in the city that has the least amount of open space.

A pedestrian plaza would partially close Newtown Avenue between the popular Athens Café and a Key Food store. Seven parking spaces would be lost, said Emily Weidenhof, a DOT spokeswoman.

Some local business owners said that was too many.

“People want to be able to shop in the area and stop in front of Key Food,” said Gus Prentzas, who owns a flower shop in the area and is a member of community board.

But the plaza has its supporters, as well.

Tamara Reynolds, 44, a cookbook author, said the plaza would be a welcome addition to the street. “I think it would be a pro-community and pro-business solution,” she said. “It would sit people down and give them a chance to catch their breath, look around and say: ‘Oh, I do need something from Key Food,’ or ‘I do need flowers for tonight,’” she noted.

The DOT said creating a curb extension would cost about $400,000, since the area would have to be reconstructed, including moving a fire hydrant while the cost of a pedestrian plaza would be about $75,000.

The plaza, once built, would be maintained by the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition, a local advocacy group, supporting safety enhancement at the intersection.

DOT underlined that there is no formal proposals at this point and before making any decision, it will consider community's opinions. The agency will present the feedback from Tuesday’s meeting to the community board.