Jan. 25, 2012 By Christian Murray
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer has just completed his second year in office and his biggest strength to date has been his visibility.
Most events, whether large or small, Van Bramer always manages to be there. Whether it’s a detective getting an award for community service or a local group holding an art show, the ever-present Van Bramer appears. When a rally is being held he is often its architect and the TV cameras—and print reporters—focus in on him.
This visibility is part of the reason why Van Bramer has built a strong reputation and his constituents continue to reach out to him. In his first year in office he said he handled 1,521 constituent cases. In 2011, that number almost doubled to 2,894. (click for Van Bramer’s report)
“He is all over the place and he is backed up by a great staff,” said Don McCallian, president of the United Forties Civic Association.
Van Bramer said his constituents reach out to him because “we are very responsive and people know we will do something.” He said his office has a policy where constituents must get a response within 24 hours.
Since Van Bramer has been in office, Sunnyside/Woodside has undergone a great deal of change. There are firm plans in place for the revitalization of two parks and the construction of an elementary school in Sunnyside. Graffiti clean-up programs have been introduced and expanded; local libraries are being improved; and new parking measures have gone into effect.
Van Bramer, who secured funds for the revamp of Lou Lodati/Tornsey Park (located on Skillman Avenue at 43rd Street) in 2010, said he expects construction to begin late spring, which will include a dog run, a resurfaced softball field, basketball courts, Ecuadorian volleyball courts and additional greenery. He said the project should take about a year.
In the 2012 fiscal budget, Van Bramer was able to obtain $600,000 in city funds to improve Thomas P. Noonan Park (located on Greenpoint Ave. and 43rd St.). The primary focus will be on upgrading the section of the park that includes the iconic rainbow sprinkler. The plans have yet to be unveiled but the revamp is also likely to include new benches and playground equipment.
Meanwhile, improvements to Windmuller Park (52nd street) in Woodside were completed in 2011. The $1.7m upgrade was primarily made to the one-acre sitting plaza, which is one section of the 3-acre park. In recent years, the other sections of the park have been revamped—including the running track and children’s playground.
But Van Bramer’s funding of one park did create controversy. He allocated or sponsored $47,000 of taxpayer funds to the Friends of Sunnyside Gardens Park, a group that raises money to maintain and upgrade Sunnyside Gardens Park.
That park is a members-only park that costs hundreds of dollars to join. The $47,000 of funds for fiscal year 2012 followed his 2011 fiscal-year sponsorship of $25,000. (search under budgets below)
Van Bramer said the funds were for fixing the perimeter of Sunnyside Gardens Park. He did not rule out allocating funds to the private park in fiscal year 2013. “I would have to see their proposal.”
Van Bramer has pushed hard for the addition of new classrooms and schools given the overcrowding problem throughout Sunnyside and Woodside. He has been a strong advocate for the construction of a new elementary school between 43rd and 44th Streets (btw Queens Blvd and 47th Ave.). The plans are 80% complete, he said, and it has a scheduled opening date of September 2014.
Additionally, there have been a series of discussions that are likely to lead to the construction of new buildings at PS 11 in Woodside, which is located at 54-25 Skillman Ave. However, there is also the possibility that those plans are shelved in favor of acquiring new land nearby– to construct a new school, Van Bramer said.
Van Bramer was also able to ensure that the PS 150 after-school program (43rd Ave, btw 41st and 42nd) remained funded—by restoring funds that had initially been taken out of the budget.
Van Bramer was able to secure funding last year for the creation of a $125,000 teen reading room at the Woodside library. Meanwhile, the Sunnyside Library, which reopened in January 2010 following an extensive renovation, continues to have Saturday service—one of the few Queens branch libraries to do so.
Van Bramer attributes theses successes, in part, to his leadership role in restoring $130 million for cultural institutions and libraries, which also saved jobs throughout the borough.
He was also able to draw on his 10 years of experience as the chief external affairs officer of the Queens Public Library—prior to being a councilman.
The city council also rezoned a 130-block section of Sunnyside and Woodside in 2011, following an 18 month community consultation period. Van Bramer, who held a number of public meetings on the proposal, said he was pleased by the results since it “prevented out-of-character developments in our neighborhood, while allowing for some increases [on Queens Blvd] – but nothing that would render it unrecognizable.”
However, Van Bramer argues that developers are often able to run roughshod over prevailing city zoning code and the wishes of local community boards by obtaining a variance from the New York Board of Standards and Appeals, a city agency. He plans to introduce legislation to stifle this practice.
Quality of Life issues
Van Bramer implemented a $30,000 an anti-graffiti program in 2010, where certain streets are cleaned on a monthly basis by a city contractor. The streets and avenues include Broadway, Skillman Ave., Roosevelt Ave., Woodside Ave., and 48th Avenue. In 2010, 43rd and 47th Avenues were added. Sunnyside’s business improvement group, Sunnyside Shines, is in charge of cleaning Greenpoint Ave. and Queens Blvd.
But nagging problems such as the shortage of neighborhood parking remain. Some changes were made to the shopping district. For example, 60 of the 150 muni-meter spaces underneath the 7 train were converted from 12-hour parking zones to four-hour maximums. The idea was to reduce commuters driving to Sunnyside to take the 7 train to work each day.
The number 7 train continues to be a problem, one in which Van Bramer gets a lot of constituent calls on. Recently he held a public hearing on the 11-weekends the service will be down between Queens Borough Plaza and Times Square stations.
This week he proposed allocating $250,000 of discretionary funds for a shuttle bus from Vernon Blvd directly to Grand Central via the Midtown tunnel that would have run on those weekends.
The MTA rejected his plan arguing that it would not be any quicker, according to published reports. LIC residents currently have to take shuttle buses to, say, Queensboro Plaza and take the N train.
Van Bramer’s novel solution was cheered on by the press and met with universal applause by constituents.