BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
At the Community Board 2 monthly meeting last week, Sunnyside residents expressed trepidation about an FDNY plan to house spare vehicles on the vacant lot next to Lou Lodati playground. These concerns were echoed by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) on Tuesday.
The FDNY applied to purchase this property – located at 39-34 43rd St. – to replace a Greenpoint facility that was damaged by flooding during Superstorm Sandy.
The spare vehicles stored here would be dispatched on a non-emergency basis to replace temporarily decommissioned cars and trucks. According to the FDNY, no street parking would be affected.
David Harney, chief of staff to the deputy fire commissioner, presented the application to CB2. Harney repeatedly emphasized that the facility will not be used as a firehouse, and as such, vehicles coming to and from the facility will not use lights and sirens. Harney also explained that, although some damaged vehicles would be stored on the premises, there would be no repair shop.
Despite Harney’s explanations, Van Bramer said he was not convinced.
“I believe this site is not the right location for these uses because of its close proximity to the quiet residential neighborhood of Sunnyside,” Van Bramer said.
“The community also continues to suffer from ongoing construction by the East Side Access project,” he continued. “I believe the combination of the East Side Access project in conjunction with the FDNY’s proposal stand to have a negative impact on our community.”
East Side Access is designed to connect the LIRR from Sunnyside to a new East Side station within Grand Central Terminal. It is the largest transportation infrastructure project in North America, according to the MTA.
Harney asserted that the facility would not cause disturbance or distraction.
“We will be as unobtrusive as you can believe,” he said.
Among the primary concerns of CB2 members and other Sunnyside residents was the FDNY’s reluctance to produce an estimate regarding how many vehicles they expect to enter and exit the premises.
“The question is that you have to live with something on a day-to-day basis – what is the norm? And that’s where they’ve been reluctant,” CB 2 chairman Joe Conley explained. “Their concern, I think, [is] that somebody’s going to be standing with a clicker saying ‘you said five trucks on Monday but six came through.’”
Resident John O’Reilly urged the board to vote against the application.
“Don’t buy the idea of, ‘oh, don’t worry about this … we’re the fire department, we do good things, trust us,’ Not good enough … You should vote no on this, make them come back, get them to give you the data, do what they’re supposed to,” O’Reilly said to applause.
Another major concern for board members and residents was the facility’s close proximity to Lou Lodati Playground. Resident Mike Kennye worried that vehicle exhaust and backed up traffic would create dangerous conditions for children, families and caregivers.
“The addition of large vehicles rumbling down 43rd Street, the noise created by these vehicles as well as increased emissions from those vehicles that would be introduced to the neighborhood are a serious concern for all who live in the community, including me,” Van Bramer said.
According to Harney, there is no front entrance to this unit as there would be in a firehouse, so “all activities will occur down the ramp, behind the facility … almost 40 feet below grade.”
Ultimately, despite several board members abstaining, the board voted to approve the application with conditions that include a written promise from the FDNY not to conduct repairs at this facility. However, Van Bramer’s opposition significantly weakens the application’s chance of passing in the City Council.
“I cannot support the FDNY’s proposal in its current form and am asking the administration to consider alternative locations outside of this residential area in an effort to protect the quality of life of residents who live in Sunnyside,” Van Bramer added.
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.