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Border Communities Claim Long Island Identity

By Ginsberg Alex

You leave your home in Bellerose, Floral Park, Glen Oaks or New Hyde Park for a vacation. You are enjoying yourself in Disneyworld or Las Vegas or even Paris and someone asks where you are from. What do you say?

New York City? Queens? Northeast Queens?

Rich Hellenbrecht, chairman of Community Board 13 and a Bellerose resident, chooses none of the above.

“I definitely say ‘Long Island,’” Hellenbrecht explained. “Maybe I say Queens, if people are familiar with New York. If I say Bellerose, people look at me with a blank stare.”

He is not alone. Residents of the four Queens neighborhoods, which project out along a bulge in the Queens-Nassau line, often prefer to think of themselves as Long Islanders rather than city residents. The area’s quiet way of life, its historical isolation and the names it shares with Nassau county communities all conspire to confuse nonresidents and inspire delusions of suburban grandeur among those who live there.

Of course, in a strictly technical sense, all of Brooklyn and Queens are part of Long Island. But ask a resident of Astoria, Rego Park or Forest Hills if he lives on Long Island and you may get a quizzical glance in response.

In contrast, however, a brief walk through the tree-shaded blocks of Bellerose or a drive along the storefronts of Union Turnpike in Glen Oaks is enough to convince the casual visitor he has inadvertently crossed into Nassau County. There is ample parking, even off a major thoroughfare such as Jamaica Avenue, and nearly every residence is a single-family home with a modest but well-kept yard. Nassau County buses are almost as common as city buses, and there is no sign of a subway line for miles.

What is more, the huge medical facility at the northern edge of New Hyde Park is called Long Island Jewish Medical Center despite the fact that 90 percent of its campus is in New York City.

For Bernie Brandt, a resident of New Hyde Park, Queens, who lives just a two-minute walk from the city line, the “Long Island feel” stems from the area’s history as a forgotten and neglected part of New York City.

The neighborhoods are on the “wrong” — that is the eastern — side of the Cross Island Parkway, separated from the rest of New York City (except for Little Neck) by the traffic-stricken highway

But 50 years ago, the isolation was far worse.

Brandt recalled that in the late 1950s, the neighborhood had no fire hydrants and sewers and only sporadic fire and police service. It was a struggle, he said, to get the city to plow snow off the streets or collect trash.

“This was cut off here like crazy,” he said. “Then the city began to know who we were.”

Brandt is vice president of the Lost Community Civic Association, a homeowners’ group that takes its name from the area’s historic isolation.

And finally there is the strange fact that three of the neighborhoods — New Hyde Park, Floral Park and Bellerose — also exist in Nassau County as incorporated villages.

“It all adds to the mystique: Are we Queens or are we Nassau?” Hellenbrecht said.

It also adds to the confusion. The city line separating Floral Park, Queens, from Floral Park, Nassau, runs on a diagonal right through residents’ homes and yards. Those few municipally bisected New Yorkers pay two separate sets of property taxes, based on the area of property in each jurisdiction, Hellenbrecht said.

And on Jamaica Avenue, where the right lane of the eastbound side droops into Nassau County but the other three lanes belong to the city, mistakes are rampant.

“It gets the cops all screwed up when they respond to an accident,” Hellenbrecht said.

In fact, the community board chairman has been trying to get a traffic light installed at the corner of Jamaica Avenue and Remson Place, but has not been able to accurately document the number of accidents there because some were improperly reported in the wrong jurisdiction.

But if some residents of the four neighborhoods consider themselves Long Islanders, others are proud of their status as New York City citizens.

“I have never said that I’m from Long Island,” said Susan Seinfeld, a Floral Park resident. She admitted, however, that as an advisor to a New York City councilman, David Weprin (D-Hollis), it was not surprising that she should be vocal about being a city resident.

Seinfeld had few kind words for Nassau County, which restricts its parks to locals only, even though Long Islanders can use New York City parks freely.

She also disagreed that services were better on the Nassau side of the border, noting that snow removal this year was more timely in her neighborhood than it was eight blocks away on the other side of Lakeville Road.

But even if northeast Queens is divided about its identity, Nassau County residents know exactly who is who.

Asked if those residents would agree that people in northeast Queens were also Long Islanders, Hellenbrecht paused, then answered tersely.

“No comment.”

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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