Because this land stretches across so many Queens community board boundaries, naturally (or in some cases unnaturally) there are opposing agendas in mind, without any compromise thus far (though of recent I have come across some ideas that are a fusion of a speedrail and a park). Can rails and trails live in harmony in this area? Is that really a possibility when the tracks are elevated in some parts and on packed dirt in others?
In a 1996 article by Beauty Mark, Yes; Landmark, No
THE call to create a park on the High Line, an elevated course of disused railroad tracks in Manhattan, has resonated in Richmond Hill, a hidden-away spot of elegant wood-frame homes and hushed streets in south-central Queens.
Richmond Hill, too, has abandoned tracks, running along its western edge, part of a line that used to run to Rockaway Beach. And a number of residents support the idea of ripping out the elevated tracks to install a bike and hike path.
Standing on Park Lane South, near 101st Street, looking up at the bridge, which used to carry trains but now supports young trees whose leaves shimmer gold and russet, it is easy to see the appeal of this proposal. If the path is eventually built, it will come almost as a grace note in Richmond Hill, which abuts woodsy Forest Park, with its horse-riding trails, carousel and golf course.
Jordan Sandke, chairman of the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee, unveiled the rails-to-trails idea to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation last March, and now must figure out a way to win over naysayers.
“This is like a small upstate town that hasn’t changed in 50 years,” said Mr. Sandke, who teaches high school music and English in Long Island City. “There’s a deep respect for protecting it. Even the new people are sensitive to the character of the neighborhood.”
Mr. Sandke considers himself one of the new people — despite having moved to the neighborhood in 1997 from Astoria, Queens — because so many Richmond Hill residents have stuck around for decades. If the old-timers move at all, he said, it is often just a few houses over.
After months of heated debate, members of Community Board 6 rejected a proposal last week to convert an abandoned railway running through their neighborhood into a greenway and bike path.
Up for debate on March 14 was whether to renovate an abandoned, graffiti-littered Long Island Rail Road right-of-way — which runs more than three miles between Rego Park and Ozone Park — into a lush greenway for pedestrians and cyclists.
At an earlier board meeting, advocates of the project asked members to support a feasibility study for the greenway. But sharp division over the plan prompted Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth Anderson to convene a special committee to review the facts before making a final decision, members said.
Even after two months of deliberation, however, the committee could only reach a split decision, Anderson said. “Despite all our work and discussion, the committee was unable to come to a resolution,” she said.
Board members opposing the study, worried the greenway — which runs adjacent to many homes in Rego Park — would bring more crime, litter and civil disturbances to the area. But members in favor of the study said a cleaner greenway would improve the quality of life for nearby residents.
With the committee split, the board wasted little time delving into deliberations at its last meeting.
Some members supported the feasibility study, arguing that it would give the board a better idea of what effect the greenway would have on its neighbors. “We’ve discussed several possibilities … but we don’t even know who really owns the property,” said board member Robert Silver. “Until we can actually find what’s being done, we’re just spinning our wheels.”
Other board members were reluctant to sign off on the study, fearing that other civic groups and community boards would misconstrue their endorsement as a stamp of approval for the greenway. “If you vote in favor of (the study), it sends the message that ‘I’m in’ (for the plan) … and no one can convince me otherwise’,” said Board Chairman Joseph Hennessy.
Anderson made an amendment that added language to the proposal clarifying that any approval of a feasibility study would not mean the board agrees with the overall plan. “I want people to focus on the word ‘study’,” she asserted. “It’s just a study. We’re trying to get info.”
Still, some members insisted that the study — which does not need the board’s approval to be implemented — was irrelevant from the start. If anything, critics said, the board should be voting to approve or reject the plan in its entirety. “We are already losing residents because of the noise in the community,” said board member Nancy Cohen, “and if we lose peace in our backyards, we’ll see our community decline.”
Board member Barbara Stuchinski agreed, adding that several entities that already use land near the old tracks — including a parking garage near the Stop & Shop on Union Turnpike and the Forest Hills Youth Little League — would be relocated or removed by portions of the greenway that are on ground level.
In the end, the board voted against the study 15 to 9.
Jordan Sandke, director of the Rockaway Beach Branch Committee, which first proposed the greenway, said he was not surprised by the outcome. He added that even though the study did not require the board’s approval, he certainly would have enjoyed its support when seeking approval from city officials.
“No matter what the outcome, it was good, because at least it was talked about with the people,” he said.