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Front Page June 13, 2013  RSS feed

Throngs Turn Out To Defend 5Pointz

Board 2 Rejects Development Proposal
by Max Jaeger


So many people showed up to the Community Board 2 meeting in June 6, that Sunnyside Community Services, which operates the building the board meets in, began turning people away due to overcrowding, according to Community Board 2 Chair Joseph Conley. 
(photo: Max Jaeger) So many people showed up to the Community Board 2 meeting in June 6, that Sunnyside Community Services, which operates the building the board meets in, began turning people away due to overcrowding, according to Community Board 2 Chair Joseph Conley. (photo: Max Jaeger) As plain as the fresh paint on their clothes, it was clear the many of the scores of residents attending Community Board 2’s meeting last Thursday, June 5, were there to talk about the destruction of the5Pointz” building in Long Island City—a dilapidated factory that has become a graffiti mecca.

The building’s owners—the Wolkoff family—have allowed individuals to draw on the building’s walls for at least the last 10 years, but now they want to erect two high-rise condos on the nearly 3-acre parcel where 5Pointz sits.

For many, the question on the docket wasn’t whether to destroy 5Pointz—the developers can do that as a matter of right, and they were simply seeking permission to exceed size constraints set by current zoning.

Developers are seeking a permit to build two 40-story towers that would have 60 percent more square feet and 40 percent more residential units than the lots are zoned for, according to Land Use Committee Chair Lisa Deller. The board’s role is purely advisory, she noted.

The proposed plan would have added approximately 1,000 market rate apartments housing 2,500 people according to Marcie Kesner who works for Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, which represents the developers.

She noted the plan included 30,000 sq. ft. of open public space and public art areas as an offering to the community.

However, the board went along with its land use committee’s recommendation and voted unanimously to reject the proposal.

Deller cited the projects “excessive size” and “unsatisfactory design” as failing to provide sufficient community benefits to offset the increase in population density and demands on city services.

Deller called public spaces, artist’s wall and market rate studio spaces included in the plans a “token gesture.”

“The open space will not be a peaceful oasis as portrayed in the renderings, but a noisy open area, most of which is located close to or under the elevated subway,” she said.

Stephen Cooper, the Land Use Committee’s co-chair, said the development was “out of context with the surrounding neighborhood,” adding the project would exacerbate crowded public transit systems further tax city services while also driving up rent in the area.

To approve the development, the board would require several concessions, including a guaranteed 20 percent affordable housing, improvements to transit and 15,000 sq. ft. of low-cost artist space, Cooper said.

During the public hearing, a slough of supporters pleaded with the community board not to tear down 5Pointz—something Chair Joseph Conley noted was out of the board’s control.

Educator Peter Burkhart said area schools could not handle the influx of children, and he noted that, due to the construction site’s proximity to the 7 train, a single mishap could shut the line down for days.

Bob Knight of AKRF, the consulting firm which looked at the plan’s environmental impact for the developers, said the city is planning new schools in the area the would absorb additional students. He also noted the number of new residents the towers would draw falls below the city’s threshold for creating a “significant impact.”

Resident Jerry Rotondi called the proposed towers “mediocre ego erections,” and Tom Paino, a resident of 20 years, said the board needs to be proactive in designating 5Pointz a landmark.

Over nearly two hours of public comment, two people spoke in favor of the development.

“I will not be intimidated,” said area business owner Gino Amoroso, who stated 5Pointz is a center for seedy activity. He said that he knows several local merchants who see the development as a potential boon, adding they would not come to the hearing for fear of retribution.

Donna Paleggi also claimed the area is dangerous and said the development was a welcomed change.

The board’s vote to block the development illicited a chorus of cheers from the public, and many members of the board could be seen clapping.

“What the artists who came here said was: ‘We don’t want this building torn down,’” Cooper said after the vote. “There is nothing the community board can do about that. As a matter of right, they will tear down that building and build something. If you want to stop that, you have to go and get it either landmarked or have it historically designated, but you’d have to go way beyond this room to do it, and I encourage you if that’s what you want.”

Greenway on Vernon Blvd.

The board also heard a presentation from Ted Wright of the Department of Transportation (DOT) regarding a proposed greenway on Vernon Boulevard.

The DOT plans to consolidate Vernon Boulevard’s bike lanes on the west side of the street and separate the patch from traffic by a few feet of marked road. There will be no dividing wall, he noted.

The plan would link paths in parks along the boulevard with existing bike lanes to create a waterfront similar to Manhattan’s East River Waterfront Esplanade.

He said the plan would have little effect on traffic patterns or driveways, but would require the elimination of 10 parking spots on the boulevard near 46th Avenue.

Board members rased concerns about the effects the project would have on several businesses in the area and tabled a vote on whether to support the greenway.

* * *

Community Board 2 typically meets at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month at Sunnyside Community Services, located at 43-31 39th St. in Sunnyside. The board does not meet in July or August, and its next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 5.