June 8, 2014 By Christian Murray
The New York City Fire Department’s plan to house 100 fire trucks on a site adjacent to Lou Lodati Park was approved by Community Board 2 Thursday.
The vote was contentious with many Sunnyside residents expressing their disapproval of the FDNY’s plan given its close proximity to the park and people’s houses, as well as the lack of data that would provide some indication as to how busy the site would be.
Nevertheless, the community board approved it by a vote of 22 “yes”, 9 “abstentions” and 5 “No.” Thirteen board members failed to attend the meeting or just decided to leave before the vote took place.
The FDNY wants the site, which is located at 39-34 43rd Street, so it can keep a reserve fleet of 100 trucks on hand in case any of the vehicles at its various firehouses throughout New York City break down or get into an accident.
Dave Harney, a representative of the FDNY who spoke at the meeting, said the FDNY needs the site since its current location on Paige Avenue in Brooklyn is located in a flood zone and when Hurricane Sandy hit many of the vehicles were put at risk.
“We looked at 8 sites—3 in Queens and 5 in Brooklyn—and for various reasons…the others didn’t come to muster.”
One of the benefits of the Sunnyside site, according to the FDNY, is its proximity to its repair shop at 40-67 34th Street.
The 39-34 43rd Street lot will also house another FDNY function that is currently Maspeth. That unit is responsible for keeping tabs on all the decommissioned vehicles (which are typically for sale) and those vehicles involved in accidents, which might be the subject of litigation.
In addition, the FDNY will store construction equipment on the site and various tools.
Harney said that there will be 16 workers on site at any one time, equating to as many as 60 workers over a 24 hour period
Mike Kenny, a Sunnyside resident, spoke against the proposal. “This is a residential neighborhood, not suitable for a 24 hour corridor that already suffers from increased noise, pollution and traffic.”
“The site is adjacent to a large public park and playground…and it is a significant danger for children and caregivers,” Kenny said.
Kenny noted that the Paige facility is in the heart of an industrial zone and that the Sunnyside location is surrounded by houses.
Kenny said that the FDNY should look harder for a site.
One board member asked if the FDNY was in conflict with the “fair share” rule, a rule that aims to reduce the concentration of city services in one neighborhood. The proposal for the 43rd Street facility would result in almost all of the FDNY vehicle storage and repair activity being housed within CB 2.
Harney, however, warned that if the FDNY was not able to use the Sunnyside site a commercial enterprise might. He said such a business would be free to use it as it chooses, without community input.
Some of the advocates for the plan viewed it best to work with the FDNY than to have no say over a business that moved in. Their argument was based on the premise that something worse could move in and the community could not weigh in.
Furthermore, the FDNY pledged that it would keep pollution to a minimum by way of its vehicle exhaust capturing system. Harney also said that the fleet now runs on ultra low sulfur diesel or biodiesel, which is most likely a lot cleaner than a local delivery truck.
He pledged that the trucks would use Northern Boulevard to come in and out of the area—as opposed to Queens Blvd. He said there would be no flashing lights or horns.
A big concern for residents, however, dealt with how busy the facility would get and how many vehicles would come in and out.
Harney, who had been asked that question for weeks, said he was unable to provide such a number.
Many attendees viewed this as an ominous sign.
“The FDNY has data on more things you can image…whether it is air quality emissions, noise…it is preposterous that they can’t tell us that number,” said John O’Reilly, a Sunnyside resident.
“Why? They are afraid to tell us!” O’Reilly said. “It’s going to be busy, that’s why. It’s not just spare and reserve vehicles…they are putting trucks that are decommissioned and involved in accidents.”
O’Reilly went on to say that vehicles involved in accidents need tow trucks and these will be big tow trucks.
O’Reilly urged the community board not to vote until it got the numbers. “You can’t vote on this until you get the data. You are buying a pig in the poke.”
Nevertheless, Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee, which had been discussing the plan for more than a month, had recommended that the board approve it. The land use committee made the recommendation provided the FDNY agreed to the following:
a) That the site would not be a firehouse
b) There would be no on-street parking
c) All vehicles would have to be parked indoors or behind the facility
d) An apparatus would be moved in or out on an as-needed basis
e) Access to the location would be via Northern Blvd
f) There would be a vehicle exhaust capturing system
g) All activity would be kept as far away from the playground as possible
h) Commit to meetings on a regular basis with the community board.
Other items were added during the meeting. The board wanted assurances that the facility would never become a repair shop and that it would provide a quarterly report of all vehicles going in and out of the lot.
However, toward the end of the discussion, Community Board Chair Joe Conley said that he had just heard from the Deputy Commissioner of FDNY who was committed to supplying data on the number of vehicles going in and out from its current facility for 2012. He said he would work on getting the data on Friday.
However, Conley said that it made sense for the community board to vote on the issue Thursday because it was the last full meeting before summer and that the community would not get a say if it waited until later in the year. By that time, the FDNY’s application would have been reviewed by the borough president’s office and would have gone to the planning commission as part of the ULURP process.
Conley said that the board should vote yes or no Thursday and provide reasons for its decision.
The board, with 22 votes, approved it with all the conditions.