State officials held a community meeting last Thursday to hear what the community wants out of a redeveloped JFK Airport. Photo by Trone Dowd
By Trone Dowd
Southeast Queens residents were given the opportunity last Thursday to ask questions and voice their concerns regarding plans to make John F. Kennedy International Airport and its surrounding neighborhoods a bustling center for culture, economic opportunity and tourism.
State elected officials organized a two-hour session with the community and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to get a better idea of what the community would like to see during the renovation of the city’s largest airport.
“The governor has been a very staunch supporter of rebuilding for New York’s infrastructure,” said Hersh Parekh, the Queens regional representative for the governor. “And he wants it to have the most impact on our airports, both LaGuardia and JFK.”
In January, Cuomo unveiled a $10 billion plan during his State of the State address to revitalize and improve JFK Airport and make it one of the premiere facilities in the country. According to Skytax.com, JFK ranked 59th out of 100 for the nation’s top airports. JFK currently serves 50 million people every year. Projections say that by 2050, 100 million people will utilize the airport on an annual basis. Cuomo believes that bringing world class amenities and increasing security, usability and accessibility across the board, while leveraging private investment from city businesses could be the key to preparing for the increase of usage.
A number of concerns were raised at the meeting and many residents said that broken promises have long been made to Southeast Queens.
“If $10 billion comes to this community and we don’t take advantage of that, then shame on us,” state Sen. James Sanders, Jr. (D-South Ozone Park) said to applause from the audience.
Former Assemblyman William Scarborough kicked off questioning at the meeting, asking if the governor had a plan to help businesses in Southeast Queens gain a foothold in the eventual development. Parekh said that while it is a little early, he hoped that future discussions between the community and governor would forge such relationships.
James Heyliger, a member of Community Board 12, said he hoped that the plans for JFK did not yield empty results, citing the AirTrain as a previous disappointment. He told the audience that Southeast Queens should unite and create a plan to ensure that this doesn’t happen and present it to the governor.
We need to set up a JFK community benefit agreement for economic development,” he said. “We would start with the design of our 30 percent for ourselves, instead of waiting for someone to do it for us.”
He said that this sort of action has been proven to work in cities with large black communities, such as Atlanta, and in some states—for example, California. He also suggested that planning as a community would mean less struggle and in-fighting among minority- and women-owned businesses looking to gain through the opportunities coming to JFK.
“We could do the same thing and that program could be funded by the Port Authority and whoever developers might be a part of this change,” Heyliger said.
Kenny Carter, president of community organization Fathers Alive in the Hood and member of CB 12, asked what the effect of increased development and air traffic would be on carbon emissions in residential Southeast Queens.
“How does the influx of airplane traffic affect the health of the community and the environment in regards to chemtrails, carbon dioxide, along with the Van Wyck?” he said “Is there any kind of plan to safeguard the community on that level?”
Parekh said that the plan has taken into account the anticipated increase of travelers and businesses in the area.
“We believe that once we improve the drivability of the Van Wyck Expressway, we’ll have less cars and trucks idling, which will reduce the emissions that they are sending into the air and around the communities,” he said.
He also mentioned that most airlines are already using—or plan to switch out older models for—aircrafts that emit less gas.
Communities closest to the airport—Laurelton, Rosedale and Springfield Gardens—have suffered years of noise pollution due to intrusive flight paths. One concerned citizen asked if this would be an issue that could be exacerbated over time.
“There seems to be a desire to grow the airports and not worry about the people on the ground,” she said. “If this plan is implemented, the people on the ground will be subjected to more and more flights into and out of JFK. What will you do about this?”
Parekh said that the Queens Community Aviation Roundtable would be discussing such matters as work begins at JFK.
“They will hear concerns about the noise people have to deal with on a daily basis,” he said. “They are representatives from your elected officials, from your community boards and they really understand what that is.
Based on that roundtable, measures will be taken on to help the folks on the ground that are most affected by airplane noise. That process is already underway.”
Assembly members Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens), Clyde Vanel (D-Queens Village) and Michele Titus (D-South Ozone Park) and State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) were all a part of the panel and agreed that future meetings on JFK’s renovation should be held with the community.
“Clearly, this is a project that requires multiple meetings at different levels and the governor is a part of the process,” Comrie told the Press of Southeast Queens. “We do expect that the governor would want to come to Southeast Queens to help eliminate the issues around the opportunities with this project.”
Sanders said that he wanted to see this level of communication take place “as often as needed.”
“Let’s be clear,” he said. “This project is going to go on for years. If you’re doing $10 billion in five years, that’s breaking a record. We need to do this as often as the community wants. We are meeting to make sure that they are involved in the process every step of the way.”