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Although Parks Department officials said the tool warehouse and storage facility would occupy only the least-desirable space directly underneath the bridge, the community board, which covers Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside, voted unanimously last week to send a letter criticizing the project to the city Arts Commission, which currently is reviewing the plan."What it does is take away space that could be used for something else," said Penny Lee of the Department of City Planning, which has been working since 2003 to develop plans to restore the park. "It's not as if Queensbridge Baby Park can't be redeveloped as Queensbridge Baby Park, it just can't be as big as it otherwise would have been."Lee said the 7,500-square-foot indoor space for the Parks Department's Green Thumb community gardens program and 24,000-square-foot outdoor storage yard for heavy equipment and soil would reduce space the Planning Department's consultants had hoped might be used for amenities such as a tot lot, tennis courts or even a skateboard park."Basically, we want to have a mix of uses that are compatible with the location, which is under the bridge," Lee said. "Also for mothers with small kids that aren't eager to cross Vernon Boulevard (we want) to have recreational facilities available for them."Queensbridge Baby Park, named for its proximity to the Queensbridge Houses project and its tiny size, is located underneath the Queensborough Bridge and is bounded by Vernon Boulevard and 21st Street. It was closed in the 1980s when contractors began removing lead paint that had rained down on the handball and bocce ball courts from the bridge. In 2003, the city Planning Department began work on a federally funded study to revamp the urban streetscape around Queens Plaza, including Queensbridge Baby Park.Jack Linn, a Parks Department assistant commissioner, said his agency's plans to relocate its Green Thumb operations from another building in Long Island City would actually speed the redevelopment of the park by placing a full-time parks employee on site. At the location, the Parks Department already stores some tools in containers as well as clay for area baseball fields."The plans we have put forward involve approximately 20 percent of the total site and it's that portion of the site which is directly under the bridge, which means that is the portion that is least desirable for public use," Linn said. "I'm talking pigeon droppings, debris -- the normal stuff that one gets in an area like that." Linn added that staffing the facility would also increase security at a near-by subway tunnel.Linn said construction on the more-than-$1 million facility, which would house tools for the department's community gardens programs, could begin within the next few months.City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) said he wanted to review the agency's plans."The Parks Department has not contacted me yet about their plans, but I look forward to meeting with them immediately to help them identify an alternative site for their facility," Gioia said. "Our gorgeous waterfront should not be home to huge piles of dirt and an enormous maintenance facility, and it is unconscionable that the city thinks it's okay just to dump this in the backyard of the thousands of residents who live in Queensbridge Houses." Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.
©2005 Community Newspaper Group
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