The plaza, which fills in a triangle along 101st Ave. between Drew St. and 76th St. in Ozone Park, was installed last fall. Originally planned for Cypress Hills in Brooklyn, the Department of Transportation (DOT) found that it was better suited for Ozone Park and held public outreach meetings in the summer of 2013 to discuss plans for the plaza.
Since its installation nearly a year ago, the plaza has provided a public space for community members to gather, as well as family-friendly programming, including board game nights and a mobile reading room for children.
Darma Diaz, a representative from the Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services Corporation (BACDYS), which organizes programming and operates the plaza, said that the goal of the plaza was to give the community a common area where they could meet up for events or just hang out.
“What we envisioned was giving the community the opportunity to have somewhere to go, as opposed to maybe in front of their house, which often becomes loitering […] and something that’s distasteful,” Diaz said.
“Community space is powerful,” she added.
Local business owners, however, complained at the public meeting that the plaza was hurting their bottom line.
“I do not want the plaza in front of my business,” said Khemraj Sadoo, who owns nearby Ozone Park First Class Laundry. “It’s killing the very existence of my business,”
Sadoo explained that when the plaza was put in and parking was taken away on his side of 101st Ave., changing the existing traffic patterns, he lost customers who did not feel like making a U-turn and finding parking on the other side of the street before coming into his establishment.
He gave numbers from his water bill to show the effects the plaza has had on his profit margin. In February of 2013, he said, his bill said that he used 1.7 million gallons of water. Just a year later, that number had dropped to 1.4 million gallons. From May 2013 to May 2014, his usage dropped from 1.4 million gallons to 908,000 gallons.
Sadoo was supported by a number of other business owners, who brought a signed petition to the public meeting at Borough Hall last week and expressed in numbers their deep concerns for the future of their businesses.
Some also expressed concern over the amount of trash that accumulates in the plaza, to which representatives from the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership (NPP), which works with BACDYS to maintain the space, said that they had increased the number of trash bins in the plaza from two to six and were also looking into increasing the number of times the trash gets collected each week.
Currently, the trash is collected twice throughout the week. At similar plazas in Brooklyn, trash is collected six days a week.
Diaz also said that part of the trash problem is the fault of the business owners themselves, who throw their own trash into the receptacles, even though it is illegal to do so.
One business owner spoke about the benefits of the plaza for the community and children in the neighborhood, who currently play in a nearby municipal parking lot, though he admitted the plaza also negatively affects his own business.
“It affects my business, but that’s not the point,” the man said. “The point is I care more about the community. I care about the kids. The kids have no place to play. They play in that DOT [parking] lot. Where are your kids playing? Do they have anywhere to go? This is the only place that we have in our neighborhood that the kids can be safe.
“It brings value to the community,” he added. “It brings value to the neighborhood.”
At the end of the meeting, CB9 Chairman Ralph Gonzalez said, at least at this meeting, there was “a majority of people who are not feeling good about the plaza.” He said that CB9 would work to make those concerns known to the proper agencies.
Queens DOT Commissioner Dalila Hall, who was present at the meeting, said she would take her notes back to DOT and go from there.
“I don’t have an answer for you tonight,” Hall said. “I would say that sometimes things change, and we have to listen to both sides of course, and often times the resolution is not something that is going to make everyone happy. But we’ll see what we can do to address some of the concerns that we heard here today.”