More than 50 borough residents showed up at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in East Elmhurst last week to tell city legislators how best to spend the money, which will come in five yearly installments of $20 million. The options offered by neighbors of La Guardia and Kennedy airports ran the gamut from the construction of a wildlife education center in Jamaica Bay and the establishment of youth programs to transportation infrastructure and stepped-up air and noise pollution monitoring in residential areas adjacent to the busy hubs.Despite the diversity of ideas expressed, most residents were united by a common belief that the airports generally damaged their quality of life by flooding the air with jet noise and exhaust fumes."These issues are critical to all of us," said Nancy DiCroce, a Howard Beach resident who has a lung ailment and uses oxygen two to three times a day. "People with healthy lungs may not be aware of this pollution because pollution, like racism, is invisible."The PA is slated to give the city $20 million annually for Queens capital projects to foster development as part of the landmark 46-year lease deal, which gives the authority control of the city-owned land at La Guardia and Kennedy airports through 2050. Under the deal, the PA also made a lump-sum payment to the city for back rent and agreed to increase annual lease payments. The community advisory board is composed of seven City Council members representing the areas most directly affected by the airports.Several of the recommendations made by community members centered around expanding educational opportunities in the borough by creating youth centers, building new secondary schools and adding to existing institutions.John Fitzpatrick, president of Vaughn College, formerly known as the College of Aeronautics, asked the board to consider contributing $2 million toward the private institution's $5.2 million plan to build a new library and conference center. Both facilities, to be located on the 23rd Avenue campus, would be open to the public free of charge, he said. The City Council has already secured $1 million for the project and the school intends to provide more than $2 million of its own money."Over the next five years we will transform this institution and continue to be a valuable asset to the students - the majority from Queens - and the residents of this community," Fitzpatrick said of the college's five-year development plan, which also calls for the creation of a 200-student campus dorm.Community Board 3 Chairman Richard Cecere, who frequently refers to his Jackson Heights-East Elmhurst area as "La Guardia 'R' US" for its close proximity to the airport, advocated the construction of a public high school on Vaughn's campus. Cecere also outlined a laundry list of other items important to his board, including rehabilitation of the pier at Flushing Bay Marina, sound attenuation in residential buildings, house washing and improvements to local infrastructure.PA Aviation Director William DeCota stressed the importance of the airports as he addressed the community and members of the advisory board chaired by City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton)."They really are a very important part of the economic fabric of the community," DeCota said. But he conceded that the airports also make for difficult neighbors, and said the Port Authority had doubled its Queens capital improvement commitment from $50 million to $100 million because of that.City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona) said the new lease represented an opportunity to break from the past. "Whatever preceded this hearing has failed, quite frankly," he said.Monserrate said the advisory group will likely hold another public hearing - perhaps closer to Kennedy Airport - before making recommendations to Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's office. The board is advisory and Doctoroff must ultimately sign off on any project."We are going to also need pressure put on the administration," City Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) reminded the audience.Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@times
©2005 Community News Group
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