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Community Board Halts Plans for Pedestrian Plaza in Astoria

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | September 12, 2012 4:15pm | Updated on September 12, 2012 5:16pm

QUEENS — Astoria residents won’t be getting their pedestrian plaza after all.

After months of heated discussions, a controversial plan to build a pedestrian plaza at a dangerous intersection was rejected by the local community board Tuesday night, forcing the Department of Transportation to go ahead with a plan to build a curb extension costing more than five times as much.

The plaza proposal had many supporters but it also drew fierce opposition from local business owners, who said the space would affect their businesses by generating even more traffic congestion in the area while eliminating badly needed parking spaces.

The majority of board members sided with plaza opponents, while only seven of the 32 board members present voted for it.

The intersection at Newtown Avenuea and 33rd Street has been considered dangerous for many years. Between 2006 and 2010, 49 accidents occurred there, according to the DOT’s statistics. The intersection — where the crossing is 90 feet long — is considered especially dangerous for pedestrians.

The pedestrian plaza would partially close Newtown Avenue between the popular Athens Café and a Key Food store.

Seven parking spaces would be lost, said Vaidila Satvika of the DOT, but the department identified three spots where additional parking spaces could be created. 

The argument did not convince the business owners.

“This street closure and loss of parking spaces will not only eliminate convenient access to the front of our store; it can potentially threaten our economic viability,” said one of the opponents, Thomas Anderson, Key Food executive vice president of operations during the meeting on Tuesday.  “It can also act as a magnet for undesirable elements that can be detrimental to this neighborhood.”

Plaza supporters argued that the neighborhood needs more open spaces.

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

In August, the department closed parts of Newtown Avenue for one day, so that residents could see what it would be like if the plaza was created.

“It would give us open space that the neighborhood doesn’t have,” said Steve Scofield, an Astoria resident who is also a member of a recently created neighborhood group Friends of Newtown Plaza. The group said they had collected hundreds of signatures from residents who supported the plaza. “It would be a town square where people can interact with each other,” Scofield added.

Supporters also pointed out that the plaza would cost $75,000, while the curb extension — which will shorten the crossing to 40 feet will cost $400,000.

“The reason why it’s so much more money is because when we do a curb extension, we have to move the underground utilities and the catch basins,” said DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy. “With the plaza we could just put planters or bollards in the center of the street.”

The need to improve the safety at the intersection was matched with the New York City Plaza Program started by the DOT in 2008. The initiative aims to ensure that all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of open space.

According to McCarthy, currently there are three pedestrian plazas operating in Queens — two in Jackson Heights and one in Corona. Two more plazas proposed for the neighborhood of Glendale were recently voted in favor.