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City set for widening block of 20th Avenue

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The plan has been debated for several years, but became imminent when the city Department of Transportation and the Department of Design and Construction announced late last month that they were ready to begin construction. The $1.2 million plan will widen 20th Avenue between Parsons Boulevard and the Whitestone Expressway service road and is expected to include new trees, lighting and sewers along the small stretch of roadway. The plan originally called for more than a dozen homeowners to lose up to 10 feet of property in their front yard. The late January announcement caught homeowners and elected officials by surprise. City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he had been promised a community meeting by the DOT and DDC after homeowners decried the plan in August, saying that such an encroachment onto their property would not allow them to park their cars in their driveways. Avella said the meeting never occurred and he had heard nothing from either department before they announced the project would be proceeding late last month. Since the announcement, Avella said the DOT and DDC have agreed to push the project back to mid-March, but described the city's handling of the project as "disgraceful.""The fact that they postponed the start date is an opening in the door at least. We're still not satisfied though," Avella said. "As it stands now, there are still major revisions to this proposal that need to take place before this project goes ahead."Marylin Bitterman, district manager for Community Board 7, said the city's new plan calls for three feet of property to be taken from homeowners, and she plans to hold a pre-construction meeting in her office with city agencies Friday to be briefed on the project before it begins. Avella said if residents not pleased with what comes of Friday's meeting, he plans on organizing a protest as soon as Saturday at the site of the project. Rosemarie Veljak, a 20th Avenue resident for more than 30 years, had been leading the fight against the project. She said the city has done little to take the residents' thoughts and feelings on the project into consideration. "You're trying to say we live here, we deal with this every day and we don't know what we're talking about?" said Veljak. "Who's thinking about our life, our quality of life? This is about the rights of our community not being raped." Veljak said both she and Avella see several alternatives to the plan and are willing to have a community meeting to address the issues at hand, but she is pessimistic, given how the city has handled things so far. "Everybody's ego has gotten in the way of doing the right thing," she said. "We'll see what happens Friday." Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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