Today’s news:

Marshall backs proposals for SJU parking garages

Borough President Helen Marshall approved St. John’s University’s plans to build a five-story 477-vehicle parking garage at the corner of the service road to the Grand Central Parkway and 168th Street last week despite the strong opposition voiced by Community Board 8.

Marshall also upset the community board by backing the university’s proposal to merge three existing university garages at the corner of Union Turnpike and 170th Street into one 227-vehicle facility.

Marshall’s approval will be sent as a recommendation to the city Board of Standards and Appeals, which will decide the fate of the plans this fall.

“We’re very disappointed in her decision,” said Kevin Forrestal, a member of Community Board 8. “The biggest objection is to the garage on the Grand Central Parkway. It really is a major safety issue. It’s just going to create major chaos and danger.”

Forrestal and other community board members have said they believe that cars leaving the Grand Central garage would not be able to reach the speed of traffic on the service road quickly enough.

They also worried that drivers hoping to travel east on the parkway would have to exit west and move to the left side of the service road extremely quickly in order to change direction. The community board members warned that a shift in direction on the service road could cause accidents at a meeting they had with the university in June.

Community Board 8 voted unanimously against the parking garage on the Grand Central Parkway and 20-to-18 against the university’s proposal for the three garages at Union Turnpike and 170th Street at that meeting.

Forrestal said the board will protest the plans to the BSA.

Jody Fisher, a spokesman for St. John’s, said the university hired a traffic expert and land use lawyer to conduct safety studies on the garages. The original plans for the garages were amended to improve safety issues and address community concerns.

“Certainly we’re pleased. Now we have to see what the BSA says,” Fisher said. “The borough president’s word holds a great deal of weight. We feel it’s important that she’s in support of our plans.”

St. John’s also agreed to several conditions Marshall placed on her approval. The university will close Gate 7 at 172nd Street and 82nd Avenue from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and staff Gate 6’s security booth at Goethals Avenue and 170th Street every night, Fisher said.

A public safety vehicle will also patrol 170th Street at least once an hour at night and a chain link fence on 170th Street will be replaced by a wrought-iron and brick fence for aesthetic reasons, he said.

In response to neighbor complaints, the university will dim the lighting in the garages, Fisher said. Large screens also will be placed on the sides of each garage to improve their appearance and block light from emanating from them, he added.

Reach reporter Brendan Browne by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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