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9 Stories to Watch in Western Queens in 2016

By Katie Honan | December 30, 2015 5:29pm
 Elected officials are sponsoring a meeting for residents to share complaints about LaGuardia Airport.
Elected officials are sponsoring a meeting for residents to share complaints about LaGuardia Airport.
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QUEENS — With battles over plane noise, school overcrowding issues and skyrocketing rents, It's hard to choose a single defining story from 2015 in Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst and East Elmhurst. 

But DNAinfo looked back at some of the stories that influenced the neighborhoods the most this year, and will likely continue to resonate througout western Queens in 2016:

LaGuardia Airport Expansion (and All That Plane Noise)

The $4 billion renovation of LaGuardia airport is expected to begin next year. Terminal B will be demolished to make way for a larger terminal that's 600 feet closer to the Grand Central Parkway.

Local officials vowed to keep the community's best interests in mind while the renovations are underway, and certain parts of the plan — like a cell phone lot to prevent cars parking on the parkway's shoulder — were created with suggestions from the neighborhoods. 

The other main concern with the airport is the persistent plane noise. Jackson Heights logged the most complaints last year, and the Port Authority vowed to keep monitoring the noise.

The Port Authority's first Noise Exposure Map for LaGuardia and JFK is expected to be released in 2016. 

School Overcrowding and Construction

The city is investing $4 billion to try and alleviate persistent overcrowding in city schools, but even that probably won't be enough to resolve the problem, the mayor said in Jackson Heights in November.

"This is not an easy subject," he said at the Nov. 12 town hall on education. "Four billion and it's not enough. I don’t have more, there may be a day when I can find more, but right now I don’t have more than $4 billion to put into that."

Of the seats being added, 1,500 of them will be located in Districts 24 and 30 — the most overcrowded in the city.

In addition, the city is turning the site of the former White Castle regional office into a school, and the School Construction Authority is also eyeing an empty lot on Astoria Boulevard between 111th and 112th streets for a 500-seat middle school.

Roosevelt Avenue Business Improvement District

Despite being a major plot point in Frederick Wiseman's documentary "In Jackson Heights" (filmed around June 2014, when the issue was huge) the proposal to extend the 82nd Street BID down Roosevelt Avenue has been quiet in 2015. 

The BID's director is still working to gain support from businesses, but there should be more updates in 2016.

Traffic Safety

Groups like Make Queens Safer have grown from its Jackson Heights base to become leaders in pedestrian safety across the city. Under the mayor's Vision Zero plan, the speed limit on many local streets has been lowered. And the new bike path on Queens Boulevard was named one of the best in the country by a local cyling group. 

However, pedestrian fatalities continue throughout the borough, taking the lives of victims including Ovidio Jaramillo, a teenager who was struck and killed by a hit-run driver earlier in December.

The push to improve street safety for bicyclists and pedestrians will continue to be a focus of advocates, elected officials and the Department of Transportation 2016. The DOT has already announced that they'd like to host a town hall in Corona to discuss safety initiatives in the new year. 

Real Estate Prices are Up and Rents Continue to Rise

A report that came out last spring showed rents were rising in Jackson Heights faster than in other Queens neighborhoods. In Elmhurst, luxury apartment buildings on Broadway and in the former St. John's Hospital are still under construction, bringing higher rents and costs to the area. 

The community board in Jackson Heights was one of the few in the city to vote in favor of the mayor's zoning changes that could bring more affordable housing to the city, citing a need for more affordable housing. 

The trend of skyrocketing rents includes a host of new developments in Corona, near Northern Boulevard, which have sprung up as the proposed convention center continues construction.

Still, real estate experts who spoke to DNAinfo said the red-hot market may cool off slightly in 2016, as sellers lose some of their recent uptick and as prices seem poised to head down throughout the city. 

Homeless Shelters 

In August, the city opened another family shelter at The Landing, a former hotel near LaGuardia Airport. prompting a host of criticisms from neighbors who say the city gave them no information before moving families inside.

The city has had a rocky path to gain support for its shelters, as at the Westway's $24 million contract was approved in December, but the Pan Am shelter still can't get City Comptroller Scott Stringer's approval, officials said. 

Meanwhile, the mayor struggles to address a growing perception that he can't properly address street homelessness.

Willets Point: What Now?

In August, the city withdrew its support of a major overhaul planned for Willets Point, despite already spending $400 million on the project. Officials said they were concerned that there weren't enough affordable housing units in the project.

Local officials who had supported the plan, including Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, showed support for the project in December by filing an amicus brief for the plan. The exact development plans and its future, though, is still uncertain. 

Park Improvements

The long-awaited Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Alliance was finally formed this fall, promising to help fund improvements to the borough's biggest park, just in time for a battle over whether to allow a series of controversial outdoor music festivals on its grounds. Word on the multiple concert proposals is expected to come out in January, officials said.

There's also a plan to renovate the popular Travers Park in Jackson Heights beginning in the spring of 2016, including the construction of a "great lawn" and performance space. 

And Borough President Melinda Katz invested $32 million in the borough's parks, with upgrades at playgrounds and greenspaces throughout Queens. (Here's a map of which parks will get a chunk of the money.)

Bruson Building

By this time next year the old Bruson Building — which was gutted by a fire in April 2014 and under construction ever since — will likely be filled. What'll be inside is still a mystery.

The only confirmed store opening at the building on 37th Avenue is the return of Habib Bank. The building's owners have said they're eyeing chain restaurants or a market inside the building.