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Jackson Heights group seeks solutions for growth

"We just need them to come through and pick up the darn garbage twice a day," Josh Wiess, a member of the Jackson Heights Beatification Group, lamented to the half dozen other residents seated around the table. "It'd make a huge difference."Behind him at another table, Chris Heitmann, 33, placed a green sticker next to the category on a poster board marked "Parks and Open Space." The sticker represented $1 million that one could allocate to the area of his choice, whether it was shops, transportation, parks or housing. Each person was given three."There's such a latent demand for parks," Heitmann said. "But the infrastructure doesn't support it."Meanwhile, across the room, Linda Snowman agreed. "We need more green space," she said, but reserved the majority of her stickers for improving housing.Indeed, affordable living space seemed to be at the fore of most minds at the Visioning Session inside the Jackson Heights' Renaissance School.The session was held by two development-sensitive civic groups, including the Forest Hills Community House, with the intention of recommending to planners a way to incorporate resident suggestions into the future development plans of Elmhurst, Woodside, Sunnyside and Jackson Heights."We're looking for where the opportunity areas for development are, while not undermining what people are concerned about," said Rudy Bryant, associate director at the Pratt Center, a Brooklyn-based architecture institute that has agreed to write a report on how best to shape the area's growth. A 2000 census put the population in the borough's northwest region at 19 percent higher than that in 1990.It is hoped that such a report will then put pressure on City Planning and elected officials to heed its advice, Mary Abbate, of the Forest Hills Community House, said.By noon on Saturday, the walls around the school's cafeteria were strewn with comments on what residents liked and disliked about their neighborhoods. The positive comments were in blue, the negative in red.They showed a general appreciation for the diversity of shopping, the accessibility to Manhattan and the Swiss-Spanish architecture of apartment buildings. But they also complained about the vendors along 37th Avenue, the density of stores along 74th Street, the size of the library and the cost of rent.One person favored the presence of ethnic parades in blue ink. But below it the same phrase was written in red from a disapproving resident.As Wiess saw it, whether people agreed or not, the forum gave order to a litany of longtime complaints that previously had none. And the method works, he added, pointing the Renaissance School itself, which was built at the urging of residents to alleviate classroom overcrowding."It really shows the difference that can be made when people come together and push for certain things," he said. "We hope a meeting like this will bring around that same sort of thing."Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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