April 26, 2023 By Michael Dorgan
The city’s Dept. of Transportation (DOT) is likely to convert one of the main commercial strips in Sunnyside into an Open Street next month, although some business owners and residents are opposed to the plan and say they have not been properly consulted or informed about the decision.
The DOT plans to close off 46th Street, between Queens Boulevard and Greenpoint Avenue, from vehicular traffic from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Sundays under a program that aims to create more public spaces across the city.
The street is instantly recognizable due to a large arch known as the “Sunnyside Arch” which marks the entrance to the one-way, southbound street.
The Open Street, known as a “limited access” plan, calls for a temporary barrier to be put in place to block non-delivery vehicles from entering the strip during these hours. Delivery trucks will be permitted to enter during these hours and volunteers and workers for Sunnyside Shines, the organization that oversees the business improvement district (BID), will move the barriers to let the trucks in and out in order to make deliveries. The Open Street will run until Oct. 31.
Community Board 2’s Transportation Committee unanimously voted to approve the initiative at a transportation committee meeting on April 4 and the board then wrote a letter to the DOT in support of the plan. The vote came four weeks after Dirk McCall De Palomá, the executive director of Sunnyside Shines, presented plans to the committee at its March 7 meeting.
McCall told the Queens/Sunnyside Post that the BID had consulted with residents and the business owners who operate along the 46th Street section before the plans were submitted to the DOT. He said residents were overwhelmingly in favor of the plan and that the vast majority of business owners along the commercial area supported the initiative.
During Community Board 2’s monthly meeting on April 13, some of the residents who testified voiced support for the plan, saying that it will create much-needed public space for residents in the heavily built-up area and will also help generate more foot traffic to the businesses on 46th St.
Others opposed the plan, arguing it would be detrimental to the businesses, as shoppers who rely on vehicles will not have access to the street. Opponents also said it would cause trucks to get backed up on Queens Boulevard, and 46th Street would still be unsafe for children given the trucks will still be permitted to enter.
Amin Siad, who owns Fresh n’ Save supermarket, which takes up the entire east side of the 46th St. stretch, said at the April 13 CB2 meeting that all the business owners along the street are opposed to the plan. Siad said he was initially in favor of the plan, but now opposes it.
“We do not want — and the small businesses in the area do not want — a pedestrian promenade there because at first, I believed it would help businesses, but it turns out it won’t,” Siad said.
Siad did not go into detail as to why he feels it would negatively impact businesses. However, he said it made little sense to create an open street where delivery trucks could still access the area.
“I was told that someone would put up a barrier and remove a barrier ongoing for 12 hours… what’s the purpose then?” he asked.
The Open Street is discussed at the CB2 April 13 meeting from 1:39:40 above. Siad speaks at 1:40:43.
However, McCall De Palomá disputed Siad’s assertions that the business owners were united against the Open Street.
McCall De Palomá said that he had extensive conversations with all the local business owners along the street about the initiative before it was agreed upon with the DOT.
McCall De Palomá said the BID wouldn’t be in favor of the plan if it harmed those businesses. He said that the owner of the UPS store was the only person with a business on the street to come out firmly against the plan initially, while Pickman Realty, the landlord that owns all of the properties on the west side of the street, favors the Open Street.
McCall De Palomá said that none of the other business owners had voiced their opposition to him.
“We look forward to bringing the Open Street to 46th Street and we’re going to make certain that it works for the merchants,” McCall De Palomá told the Queens/Sunnyside Post.
“We know we can make this work for the merchants in a way that it doesn’t impact deliveries, doesn’t cause any problems and brings more customers to the street.”
McCall De Palomá said that the plan will have little impact on deliveries at the various stores.
For instance, he said that most of Fresh n’ Save’s deliveries are carried out on Greenpoint Avenue and that the BID is working on creating a loading bay for the supermarket on Greenpoint Avenue. He said that Riko Restaurant gets its deliveries on Greenpoint Avenue, too, as does Dumplings & Things restaurant.
McCall De Palomá said that Paris Baguette typically gets its deliveries early in the morning or after 7 p.m., while Choice Farm did not oppose the plan, either.
The likes of Verizon and Dime Savings don’t get deliveries, according to McCall De Palomá, who said the BID will work closely with all the stores to make sure deliveries are conducted as smoothly as possible during the Open Street hours.
“We made certain that the plan was the least invasive to businesses,” McCall De Palomá said.
He also noted that 95% of 46th Street shoppers say they either walked, cycled or used public transportation to get to the street, according to a 2019 survey conducted by Sunnyside Shines.
Morry Galoney, CB2’s second vice chairman, said he lives in a 45-unit apartment building across from 46th Street and that tenants living in his building support Open Street.
“Our building’s tenants association wrote a letter in support of this, we have nowhere to go publicly,” Galoney said at the April 13 CB2 meeting.
“We are your customers, we support this, we are not going to leave you because there is a barrier that doesn’t let a car [in]. In fact, more people will be congregating there, and more people will be giving you business.”
That view was not shared by Patricia Dorfman, a member of Queens Streets for All (QSFA), a local group that seeks adequate public input for street changes, who said that the plan will not help the businesses and will lead to trucks getting backed up on Queens Boulevard.
“This is really not the place to have children playing in the street, you cannot have a barrier that is moved 30 times a day,” Dorfman said at the CB2 meeting.
Dorfman said that truck drivers primarily use 46th Street for deliveries and only park on Greenpoint when there isn’t enough room on 46th Street.
She also said there should have been a public vetting of the program before it was agreed upon.
There was some confusion at the CB2 meeting as to the next steps in the process.
Steve Cooper, CB2’s parliamentarian, said that there should be a hearing on the matter and Danielle Brecker, the CB2 chair, said she thought that was going to be the case.
However, Laura Shepard, who is on the board’s transportation committee, then spoke and said the process had already been finalized having gone through the transportation committee. She said that the Open Street plan did not require a vote from the Community Board.
McCall De Palomá told the Queens/Sunnyside Post that CB2 notified its mailing list in February that the issue was being brought up at the March 7 transportation meeting, which residents were allowed to attend. The proposal was then voted on at the transportation committee meeting on April 4, which residents were also permitted to attend.
After the meeting, Manny Gomez, the chair of QSFA, criticized the manner in which the plan was approved.
He also took aim at Transportation Alternatives, a non-profit bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group that supports the city’s Open Street programs. Shepard works for the organization.
“CB2 is being used as a rubber stamp for Transportation Alternatives,” Gomez said. “Why do we have a community board? Businesses so deeply affected need to be asked what they think. Why is the BID, which is supposed to promote small business, not speaking up for small business?”
QSFA members have also been distributing flyers to inform residents of their position on the matter.
Brecker, meanwhile, told the Queens/Sunnyside Post this week that the board supports the plan and that most people who spoke at the April 13 meeting said they want an open street there.
Furthermore, she said, most business owners in the neighborhood want it too based on communications she has had with the leaders of Sunnyside Shines.
“The majority of the people who spoke at the meeting said they want an open street there. And from what I understand, the majority of business owners in the area want it too. The board is going with want the community wants, and that’s where I am. And I personally think it’s going to be more pleasant.”