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The friction mounting between two groups over a proposal to transform a piece of old railway line into a public park came to a head on Tuesday over a disagreement about who had actually been invited to a meeting to discuss the park plans.
The proposed park, known as the QueensWay, would turn 3 1/2 miles of the abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road into a linear greenway, inspired by Manhattan’s High Line.
It would extend from Rego Park to Ozone Park, crossing through Forest Park.
More than 2,000 people have signed a petition asking the city to create the park, but one group of Queens residents, many of whom live in the Rockaways, would prefer to see train service reactivated.
And the last faction, a group of Woodhaven residents, is opposed to both plans.
The park protesters from Woodhaven, some wielding “No QueensWay” signs, packed the meeting at El Viejo Yayo, at 97-12 101st Ave. in Ozone Park, Tuesday night.
Neil Giannelli, a 98th Street resident who has been vocally opposed to the QueensWay, said he had been invited to the meeting and expected a “meet and greet.” He told a few neighbors about the meeting and word spread, he said.
Andrea Crawford, the second vice chairwoman of Community Board 9, said the meeting was supposed to be for QueensWay supporters and volunteers only.
“Obviously our meeting got crashed,” she said.
Supporters of reviving the rail line were not present.
Travis Terry, who founded Friends of the QueensWay, told the 75 or so people in the audience that the meeting was an opportunity to learn about the park proposal and the group.
“This can improve the quality of life in the neighborhood,” he said. “This can lead to improved security and new economic development opportunities.”
But the community members opposed to the park concept believe it could jeopardize their safety and privacy and lower their property values.
Terry and other QueensWay supporters tried to lead a discussion about park plans and address the concerns of the community, but they were met with an angry backlash.
Some protesters, including Giannelli, interrupted the speakers.
“They want me to be polite,” Giannelli later said. “But I’m afraid that if I’m polite, they’re going to run me over.”
Joe Guzman, a 98th Street homeowner since 1985, said he feared for the future of Woodhaven residents as well as businesses along the abandoned railway line who he believes may be displaced by the park.
“You keep saying you have heart,” Guzman told QueensWay leaders. “But you can’t have more heart than the people whose property is on the front lines.”
In August, the Trust for Public Lands announced it had chosen two city design firms to conduct a feasibility study of the project. The funds for the city were provided through a $467,000 grant from the governor’s office.
Mimi Taft, a member of the QueensWay Steering Committee, told the crowd the point of the feasibility study is to determine whether constructing the QueensWay is even viable.
Tempers in the two groups escalated until Taft finally shouted at Giannelli, who was standing up, to “Shut up — shut up and sit down.”
Crawford said there will be future meetings held for community members who want to weigh in on their concerns, probably between October and December.
“When this is built, they’ll see the neighborhood is safer, more secure and their property values will have gone up,” she said.
Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4546.
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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