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Residents protest illegally parked cars

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By Daniel Arimborgo

More than 35 residents of 175th Street contend a Fresh Meadows electrical contracting company is not a good neighbor because its employees park their vehicles in front of driveways and on surrounding sidewalks, forcing people to walk in the street.

The Unity Electronic Co., which does electrical contracting work, is located at 65-45 Fresh Meadow Lane just west of Utopia Turnpike and recently requested a zoning variance to add a second story to its building.

Scott Summers, a spokesman for Unity, said he was in the process of drafting a letter to the neighborhood, inviting them to a meeting tentatively scheduled for Feb. 28.

“I feel we have been given an unjustified black eye by the community,” Summers added, “But we certainly want to restore a relationship with the community regardless of the variance.”

Unity sits on a block with a C2 service zoning classification, which limits commercial structures to one or two floors, and has no parking requirements, said Community Board 8 District Manager Diane Cohen.

Three other commercial businesses share the block between Fresh Meadows Lane and 175th Street, and 67th and 65th avenues: an ambulance service, a chemical diagnostics laboratory and a security systems contractor.

Dozens of residents say Unity’s inconsiderate parking practices are largely the reason the variance to enlarge was opposed by the neighborhood, and almost unanimously voted down by Community Board 8 in a 37-0 at a general meeting Jan. 10. There were two abstentions.

Neighbors argued that if the parking situation is bad now, it would only get worse with the additional floor and the 10 or so additional employees the company said it planned to hire with the expansion.

In a Jan. 3 letter written to CB 8, the community asked that the board not grant the variance until Unity met certain conditions: promises that employee will halt sidewalk parking entirely and refrain from parking in driveways; submit a plan of adequate parking at some facility consistent with Department of Transportation regulations; and participate in the formation of a liaison committee between the community and the company to address issues presented to the board including graffiti, cleanliness, and solutions to submitted complaints.

More than three dozen neighborhood residents, almost all of whom live on 175th Street, signed a letter dated Feb. 1 to Borough President Claire Shulman and urged her to deny Unity’s variance application until their conditions were met.

“Of paramount concern to the community is the failure of this proposal to document community need, the threat to the safety of pedestrians and the school population of PS 173 and J.H.S. Ryan, exacerbating the already existing issue of parking congestion and safety.” the letter said.

“Our major gripe is the potential danger,” said Arnold Haber, a Fresh Meadows Lane resident who has taken an active/leading role on the issue.

“If you have cars parked on the sidewalk, you have kids walking in the street, which is dangerous, because these are heavily used streets,” he said. “We’ve been neighbors for 30 years, but I wouldn’t call them good neighbors.”

On a recent walk around the service-zoned block, Haber pointed to a garage he said appeared to be vacant across the street on the west side of Fresh Meadows Lane, next to a business with an address of 65-16. Haber said it would be perfect for Unity’s parking needs.

The community board recommended to the borough president’s Land Use Committee that the variance not be granted at a Feb. 1 public hearing.

The Land Use Committee decided to not make any recommendation to the next level of review and referred the issue back to CB 8, with the recommendation that the liaison committee be formed.

“Anyone wants to negotiate a position, we’re here,” Haber said. “We’ve been here for more than 35 years and we’re not going away. It takes at least two parties to negotiate. So far, Unity has not come to the community, whether collectively or through the community Board.”

Summers said he had been appointed the company’s liaison. He added that Unity has already secured additional parking for employee’s cars, but when asked to be more specific as to where the location is, he said “I would rather not get into specifics.”

“There are just a lot of things not in our control — it’s not just Unity,” Summers said, “but I certainly understand the community’s concerns and we certainly want to work in every way with them to improve the situation.”

Reach reporter Daniel Arimborgo by e-mail at timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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