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Koo fields questions both tough and touchy

Flushing residents got a rare opportunity to cut through the bureaucratic tape at a town-hall meeting hosted by City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) last Thursday and they held nothing back.

Representatives from city agencies had to answer to problems affecting the entire neighborhood, a block or the living room in someone’s house. The queries ranged from the tough to the bizarre, but Koo and the officials took time to answer each.

The first question brought a contentious issue to the forefront right away: an idea under discussion that would require all signs in the city to have English as the largest font.

“Of course, I support English as primary language. We are all Americans,” Koo answered. “But Flushing ... is an immigrant city. It takes time for them to assimilate to America.”

Throughout the evening, questions were translated into Chinese and Korean.

Traffic concerns were some of the most common, with city Department of Transportation Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy fielding many questions about stop signs, one-way streets and even bathrooms. She explained that the department conducts feasibility studies before installing signage or changing traffic patterns.

One resident wanted shuttle buses installed so everyone in Flushing could reach the new Sky View Parc shopping center on College Point Boulevard.

Koo said his office was already looking into commuter vans.

A Flushing doctor wanted the DOT to physically move a bus stop that his patients use as a drop-off and pick-up point. Not surprisingly, the patients constantly received tickets and passed them along to the doctor at $115 a pop.

“It’s difficult to relocate a bus stop,” McCarthy told him, adding that she would look into installing an Access-A-Ride stop.

Other complaints were more cultural in nature.

Neighborhood resident Bill Ehmer said he wanted to get the word out that certain things are just not done, like hanging laundry on fire escapes or suspending meat from door frames.

“We are an up-and-coming area. We shouldn’t have to go back to the tenement days,” he said. “It’s not the American way.”

Another woman, who said she had trouble getting served at an Asian restaurant, complained about racism in the neighborhood. “A garden is not a garden without many kinds of flowers. Life is a beautiful garden.”

Many of the concerns simply required clarification about the rules of the city.

“Most of the buildings here are ugly,” one woman said to a representative of the city Department of Buildings. He replied that his department cannot regulate the aesthetics of a structure.

Another resident wanted to know about mysterious smoke emanating from PS 20, which he thought was due to a faulty boiler, and why a large tree was chopped down near the school. He waved around a picture he had taken.

“Chopping down a tree is tens of thousands of dollars in fines,” said Mark Simmons of the city Parks Department. “We take that very seriously.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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