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Minutes of the General Membership Meeting of the Westmoreland Association
November 19, 2007
The meeting was called to order at 8:08 P.M. by President Walter Mugdan.
Secretary Charles Manna being unavailable due to a family emergency, a motion
was made, seconded and unanimously adopted to waive reading of the minutes. (Mr.
Mugdan noted that the minutes were available for review on the Westmoreland
website. Mr. Mugdan said he would take the minutes for this meeting.) Treasurer
Gary Savage being unavailable due to a business emergency, Mr. Mugdan gave the
Treasurer’s Report indicating that the balance-on-hand was $16,599.78 as of
November 19, 2007. A motion was made to accept the Treasurer’s report. The
motion was seconded and the report was unanimously approved.
While waiting for all the speakers on the main agenda subject – Long Island Railroad whistles – to arrive, Mr. Mugdan addressed one item of old business and one of new business.
Reconstruction of sewers and water mains in parts of the neighborhood has commenced. Water service to many homes in the area is being shut off from 8 am to 4 pm. Notice of such service interruptions is being given only on a day-to-day basis, with no clear indication of how long it will continue.
Mr. Mugdan reported that he had received a letter from NYC Councilman Tony Avella seeking our support of his efforts to effect reform of the City zoning rules concerning community facilities. He has reached out to the Mayor, City Council President and City Planning Commissioner to enlist their support. He recommends reducing the bulk bonus for community facilities by 75%, leaving them with 25% of the existing bulk bonus as of right. To obtain the other 75% the institution would have to apply for a special permit under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. He recommends limiting the number and type of facilities that qualify as community facilities, eliminating dormitories, faculty and student housing and others. He urges that community facilities not be exempt from current height restrictions. [The speakers having by this time arrived, further discussion of Councilman Avella’s request was tabled until later in the meeting.
LIRR Train Whistle discussion.
Mr. Mugdan introduced the topic. New federal government regulations that became effective several years ago require trains approaching grade crossings to blow their whistles in a particular pattern, at a specified volume, and for a particular length of time. The loud and long whistling at the Little Neck grade crossing is extremely irritating to nearby residents. The regulations provide that a “quiet zone” can be established” if certain safety measures are adopted. Our speakers would describe two such proposed measures. Mr. Mugdan introduced the speakers: Maura McCarthy, Queens Borough Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation, accompanied by her colleagues Sam Barkho and Naim Rasheed; and Bernie Haber, member and former Chair of Community Board 11.
Commissioner McCarthy spoke first and explained that of the two proposed measures that would permit establishment of a quiet zone, the NYCDOT favored the “quad gate” proposal. That proposal involves installation of four gates – two on either side of the grade crossing – which, when lowered, would entirely block the crossing (unlike the current gate configuration which can be bypassed). She observed that the quad gates would be safer for not only vehicular traffic but also pedestrians, preventing them from crossing illegally while a train is approaching. She complimented Mr. Haber on his design for a divided roadway alternative, but said that NYCDOT does not consider it adequately safe and does not endorse it. Commissioner McCarthy acknowledged that the quad gate proposal was estimated by the LIRR to cost $800,000, which sum of money is not currently available.
Mr. Haber described the CB-11 divided roadway proposal. He displayed a drawing of the proposal, copies of which were distributed to the attendees. He explained that the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) has a point-based system to evaluate the safety of different proposals. He said that the divided roadway proposal actually yielded more safety points than the quad gates. The proposal involves several elements, including installation of dividers on Little Neck Parkway (LNP) on the north side of the tracks (80') and the south side (50', followed by another 60' further south, leaving an opening at the 39th Road intersection); reconfiguration of the LIRR parking lot to relocate the entrance/exit from LNP to 39th Road; widening of 39th Road between LNP and Westmoreland Street by 10 feet; new signage; and a new, extended curb cut for the parking area of the multi-family dwelling located on the southwest corner of the grade crossing. He explained the traffic pattern that this plan would impose. He estimated that this design could be constructed for about $100,000. He noted that Congressman Ackerman had included $125,000 for the LNP grade crossing improvements in the House version of last year’s federal budget, but it did not pass. He has promised to include $250,000 in this year’s budget, but it has not yet been finalized. (Mr. Mugdan explained that in FY-2007 there was no federal budget, rather a series of “continuing resolutions” for the entire year which excluded all “earmarks” of the type Cong. Ackerman proposed. So far in FY-2008 there have been two continuing resolutions, the current one extending through mid-December, which also have no earmarks.) Mr. Mugdan reported that he had been told by a nearby resident, present in the audience, that Councilman Avella has also earmarked $250,000 in the City budget.
Mr. Barkho then explained NYCDOT’s safety concerns about the CB-11 proposal. These included the continuing possibility for a vehicle to bypass the dividers and drive across the tracks when the gates are down; the fact that northbound traffic in the left turn lane would essentially be “facing” southbound traffic; and the fact that pedestrians would not be prevented from crossing when the gates are down. He acknowledged other desirable elements of the CB-11 proposal, including the relocation of the LIRR parking lot entrance/exit to 39th Road. He presented a NYCDOT drawing of such a relocation plan, which differed only slightly from Mr. Haber’s proposal.
Many questions and comments then came from the audience. (The audience included not only Westmoreland area residents, but also residents from outside the Westmoreland area living near the LIRR tracks, and representatives of the Little Neck Pines Association. They had been invited by Mr. Mugdan to attend the meeting because of their strong interest in the issue.) Some attendees challenged NYCDOT’s expressed concerns about the CB-11 proposal, arguing that they were not valid and/or that, in any event, the proposal was a great improvement over the current situation and could be constructed much more quickly because of the cheaper cost and the availability of funding from Congressman Ackerman and/or Councilman Avella. Some attendees expressed concern that relocation of the LIRR parking lot entrance/exit would lead to increased traffic on Westmoreland Street and possibly other streets in the Westmoreland area. The various speakers responded to many of these questions and comments. Attendees also expressed concern about the aesthetics of the roadway dividers, and asked questions about the likely design of quad gates. There was discussion about the LIRR’s role in each of these proposals, and irritation was expressed about the LIRR’s apparent lack of interest in the matter and its unwillingness to contribute funding towards a solution. Questions were raised about the plausibility of the $800,000 estimate for the quad gates, but none of the speakers present were aware of the basis for the estimate.
After extended discussion, Mr. Mugdan thanked all the speakers for their attendance and participation. Mr. Mugdan also thanked the attendees who were not Westmoreland Association members for their participation. At Mr. Mugdan’s request, the speakers and non-members departed and the Association membership then discussed the issue. All present agreed that the loud, long train whistles are unacceptable and that establishment of a quiet zone is imperative. A number of members noted that without NYCDOT endorsement, which appeared not to be forthcoming, the divided roadway proposal was unlikely to be built. Members expressed the strong belief that traffic on Westmoreland Street and other Westmoreland area streets would increase significantly if the LIRR parking lot entrance/exit were moved to 39th Road. Nevertheless, most agreed that the current parking lot configuration is also deficient and unsafe. Concerns about the aesthetics of the dividers was expressed by some members. One member suggested that the best solution would be for all LIRR trains to be required to stop before crossing the grade crossing, which would presumably also allow for the establishment of a quiet zone.
In due course, this motion was made by Sheldon Rosenblum: “The Westmoreland Association neither supports or opposes either of the two proposals, but opposes any plan that would lead to an increase in traffic through the Westmoreland community.” The motion was seconded, and discussion ensued. As a consequence of the discussion, an alternative motion was subsequently made by Christine Hatami. With several friendly amendments the following motion evolved: “The Westmoreland Association strongly endorses the establishment of a railroad whistle quiet zone at the Little Neck grade crossing; the Association endorses the quad gate proposal; the Association opposes relocation of the LIRR parking lot entrance/exit to 39th Road; the Association strongly recommends that the existing parking lot entrance/exit from and to Little Neck Parkway be maintained but reconfigured with a properly designed curb and curb cut; and the Association will engage the LIRR and local elected and appointed officials to effectuate these recommended changes as soon as possible.” This motion was duly seconded. Mr. Rosenblum withdrew his motion in favor of this alternative. The question was called, and this alternative motion passed unanimously.
Additional New Business
Mr. Mugdan returned to the earlier discussion of Councilman Avella’s request for support of his efforts to reform the zoning rules about community facilities. After some further discussion, a motion was made that the Association should express support of the Councilman’s efforts. The motion was seconded, and passed unanimously.
A member noted that a street light on 41st Drive between Morgan and Westmoreland was out.
Additional Old Business
In response to an inquiry, Mr. Mugdan reported that the effort by the owners
of a house on Morgan Street to change one of the WA Covenants had been
abandoned, and the owners had agreed to reconfigure their house
extension/expansion so as to conform to the existing Covenants. The owners
were in attendance at the meeting and confirmed this.
The next meeting is March 19, 2008.
The meeting was adjourned at 10:20 PM.
Walter Mugdan, President
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