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Neighborhood Spotlight: Woodhaven split irks civic

Woodhaven Residents' Block Association members Janet Chan-Smith (from l.-r.), Martin Colberg and Alex Blenkinsopp visit the TimesLedger Newspapers office last week to discuss the neighborhood's concerns. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association wants to unify the neighborhood — a difficult task when redistricting carves up the community.

Members of the WRBA visited the TimesLedger Newspapers office last week, and among the topics discussed was the association’s distaste for the way Woodhaven was divided in the congressional and state Senate redistricting.

“This process has not treated Woodhaven well,” said Alex Blenkinsopp, the association’s director of communications and second vice president. “It dilutes our voice and causes confusion. No one knows what district the library is in and which Council member to call for help. We split worse than ever.”

Blenkinsopp said the latest round of redistricting split Woodhaven into three Senate districts as well as two congressional districts and City Council districts. In the Senate, Woodhaven is divided between Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) to the west, Sen. James Sanders (D-Jamaica) to the east and Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) down the middle.

Council members Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) represent Woodhaven in the Council district, mirroring the configuration that existed before redistricting, but many residents previously represented by Crowley are now represented by Ulrich and vice-versa.

U.S. Reps. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Nydia Velazquez (D-Ridgewood) are Woodhaven’s congressional representatives, with Velazquez representing the lion’s share of the neighborhood.

It is a constantly shifting arrangement that is confusing residents as well as the block association.

“It’s hard when the residents ask for help because it’s not always easy to know who to talk to,” said Martin Colberg, director of the association. “It creates more red tape.”

Blenkinsopp said dividing Woodhaven defies logic because the entire neighborhood shares the same issues north, south, east and west.

“The issues that affect those north of Jamaica Avenue affect those south of Jamaica Avenue,” he said. “We have the same public transit complications and the same noise complaints. We send our children to the same schools and our firehouses face the same cuts. We are not different communities. We share the same services and face the same issues.”

Another important issue faced by residents, according to the WRBA, is the question of what to do with the abandoned Rockaway rail line that cuts straight through Woodhaven.

Two options for the tracks emerged last year, but neither was met with enthusiasm by the block association or the residents it represents. The first option called to reactive the rail line, giving residents in the Rockaways another commuting option. The second option was brought to the association by Friends of the Queensway, an organization that sought to repurpose the rail corridor into parkland featuring art and a bike path.

“Both sides came out and made strong arguments,” said Blenkinsopp, referring to a town hall meeting held in Woodhaven last year. “But quite frankly, I don’t think either side was prepared to answer some of the questions brought to them by our residents.”

Blenkinsopp said residents were against turning the stretch into parkland because of privacy concerns raised by those living close to the tracks. There were also concerns about parking, lack of security and overburdening an already overtaxed police precinct.

The association members said the argument against reactivating the line for train use was more obvious: Residents do not want trains running through their backyards.

“And this is not a case of nimbyism,” said Blenkinsopp. “A nimby person wants to benefit from services but doesn’t want to bear the cost. That’s not what’s going on here. We don’t want the supposed benefits of the rail line or the QueensWay. We do not want other communities dictating what should be going on in our backyard.”

Blenkinsopp said the block association would prefer that the rail line be cleaned up and not developed into a park or a revitalized rail line. The association wants to see the city clear the overgrown brush and at the very least make it presentable.

“It’s been stagnant for decades and we’re not looking for an overnight solution,” he said. “But if I kept my property the way the city keeps this property, I’d be getting tickets left, right and center.”

Blenkinsopp said Woodhaven residents take pride in their neighborhood and want it to be clean and safe. To help that cause, the WRBA is launching the Block Watcher program in conjunction with the NYPD.

The program enlists residents to be the extra eyes and ears for the 102nd Precinct by being trained to know what activity to look for and how to register a complaint.

“We’ve been asking for more police presence in the area for years,” said Janet Chan-Smith, vice president of the association. “The precinct is understaffed and this is a good way to help them out.”

It is part of a new initiative in the block association as it seeks to meet the ever-evolving needs of the neighborhood.

“We are trying to fill in whatever gaps that might exist because the 102 is so overstretched,” said Blenkinsopp, whose high school friend, Dario Paiva, was killed at the J train station at Jamaica Avenue and 85th Street in 2010.

“That is not the Woodhaven I know, and I’m in this block association to work towards preventing this neighborhood from becoming that kind of place,” he said.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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