Coalition aims to save Kew Gardens businesses
by Michael Perlman
Feb 13, 2018 | 3896 views | 1 1 comments | 95 95 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The bridge over the Long Island Rail Road that is home to several small businesses on Lefferts Boulevard may soon undergo demolition, but the Save Kew Gardens Coalition is working to save it.

To many, the bridge is a community anchor and the only street of its kind in the heart of Kew Gardens, which largely retains its early 20th century residential architecture that continues to be under threat from the wrecking ball.

A coalition-led petition to save the bridge and businesses has so far garnered over 5,000 signatures.

The Lefferts Boulevard businesses on the 1920s-era bridge include Thyme Natural Market & Cafe, New Gardens Fish Market, Taystee Gardens Chinese Food, Pradeep Agarwal CPA PC, Regent Wines & Liquor, Baker's Dozen, Reo Chemists, Eye Lab, PK’s Farm Fresh, and Lina Lex Design Jewelry.

Community Board 9 unanimously passed a resolution on November 14 calling on the MTA and LIRR to fund the rehabilitation and upkeep of the bridge.

“The MTA/LIRR have failed to properly and safely maintain the structures, so instead of taking responsibility for the current run down and possibly unsafe conditions, the LIRR proposes to use the present situation as a development opportunity, despite the fact that this would totally change and destroy the character of Kew Gardens as we know it,” read the resolution.

Over 25 years ago, local residents successfully fought the LIRR’s plans to redevelop the property with a high-rise. The MTA conducted a study in 2016 that found the commercial buildings were in need of major repairs and code upgrades and that the bridge decks needed replacement.

“The MTA concluded that there was no feasible way to repair the bridge decks under the stores, so they proposed approaching a private-public partnership and putting the site up for development so a private entity could come in and essentially replace it,” said Alfred Brand, a coalition member and chairman of the Kew Gardens Civic Association. “That would mean a high-rise building, since it wouldn’t pay for a private developer to rebuild precisely what’s there.”

Brand, drawing from his engineering experience, examined the underside of the deck for himself.

“I felt there’s probably a feasible way to build a new structure underneath the stores to support them,” he said. “We got railroad engineers to come to the site in July 2017, and when I explained my theory, they said it sounded plausible.”

At an August meeting at MTA headquarters, elected officials were told that Brand’s idea had merit, but they would need to commission a full-scale feasibility study.

“The MTA stated that the feasibility study would cost $1 million and require nine months, and Councilwoman [Karen] Koslowitz proposed that she could find money to fund such a study,” Brand said. “Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and the leases of the current tenants expire in 2020.

“The longer that we wait for funds for the feasibility study and the time it will take to conduct it is pushing against the deadline,” he added.

The coalition believes there is no movement toward funding and implementing a feasibility study.

“Each politician we have reached out to expressed an opinion of support, but it doesn’t mean anything to the MTA,” said coalition member Murray Berger. “We think the railroad should be paying for any feasibility study. Put the whole problem back in their lap.”

“The community board sent a letter along with its resolution to every elected official and every member of the MTA’s board of directors, the chair, LIRR president, MTA president, and no response,” said Sylvia Hack, who is also co-chair of CB9's Land Use Committee. “The community board is a city agency, and we don’t even deserve a letter?

“Our pharmacy is probably the last that is headed by a human being with a personal relationship with locals, and it’s not a CVS,” Hack said while discussing the businesses on the bridge. “The fish store is wonderful, and people don’t often find fish stores in our communities nowadays.”

It's possible that businesses that are not specifically on the bridge could also be affected.

“There is no way to build a high-rise just on the footprint of the bridge without moving onto other properties, since their walls are attached to these other shops,” Hack said. “Some spaces between the properties are also owned by the railroad. We could lose our post office, Dani’s House of Pizza, and Austin’s Ale House.”

“Our Kew Gardens Cinema would be vulnerable, since a developer would want to take over this adjacent lot,” added Berger.

Renee Levine is also worried the community could lose The New Homestead, a nearby adult living facility.

“Kew Gardens is what all the politicians say that they are aiming for in communities,” she said.

The bridge was featured on the cover of historian Barry Lewis’ book, “Kew Gardens: Urban Village in the Big City,” which explains how it continues to be known as the local rendition of Italy’s Ponte Vecchio.

Over the past weekend, Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School seniors, Jonathan Oliveira, Whitley Darby and Georgy Ortiz began filming a documentary with the working title “Save The Bridge.”

“Kew Gardens has always been my home and will always be in my heart, as it is for so many people who live here,” said Oliveira. “This documentary is to not only shed some light on the issue, but to get the voices of the people in the community heard.”
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February 14, 2018
The MTA is still not going our own way towards the residents near or at their own property.