“Is It Really The Parking?”: Ozone Park Merchants Spar With Plaza Supporters

A new episode in a long-running conflict has cropped up in Ozone Park: A community group worked with the city to install a pedestrian plaza, but merchants, blaming poor sales on changes to traffic patterns, parking, and plaza upkeep, want the public space removed. A special forum hosted last Thursday by Queens Community Board 10 and DOT gave the two sides a chance to air their views in advance of potential changes. But plaza supporters say the merchants themselves are part of the problem.

A plaza in Ozone Park is nearly a year old. Many nearby merchants, saying it's killing business, want it removed. Image: DOT
A plaza in Ozone Park is nearly a year old. Many nearby merchants, saying it’s killing business, want it removed. Image: DOT

Public space is so scarce in Ozone Park that local children use a nearby municipal parking lot as a playing field. The plaza, installed last fall to carve out some more community space, is backed by the Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services Corporation (BACDYS) as a maintenance partner. Early plans called for it to be installed a couple blocks away in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, but DOT found the design would be better in Ozone Park. The agency held outreach meetings and secured support from, among others, Council Member Eric Ulrich, community boards in both boroughs, and local businesses.

But many business owners in the area are crying foul, saying the plaza has ruined business. They gathered dozens of signatures and outnumbered plaza supporters at last week’s meeting. “We need to remove this plaza,” said Ozone Park Discount Variety and Hardware co-owner Hasib Ali, who estimated that three-quarters of his customers arrive by car. “All customers come in to complain about parking.” Ali’s business partner, Ahmad Ubayda, said shop owners will be hiring an attorney to fight the plaza.

“I do not want this plaza in front of my business. It’s killing the very existence of my business,” said Khemraj Sadoo, owner of Ozone Park First Class Laundry. “We need that plaza to move from there. We need two-way traffic once again.”

The plaza design, which pedestrianized a short section of Drew Street to connect a triangle-shaped pedestrian island with a nearby block, also extends up one block of 101st Avenue, from Drew Street to 76th Street. That block was converted from two-way car traffic to one-way westbound traffic. The plaza resulted in a net loss of what DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Dalila Hall described as “maybe one or two spots” for parking.

To ensure the plan wouldn’t have an outsize negative impact on parking, Hall said the agency performed surveys of parking occupancy before and after the plaza was implemented, and added parking meters to Liberty Avenue in an effort to improve turnover and access for customers. Most of the time, those on-street parking spots are empty,” Hall said of 101st Avenue. “You could always find a spot if you drove up.”

In addition to concerns about parking and one-way traffic, merchants also complained that the plaza is not well maintained. The Neighborhood Plaza Partnership (NPP) assists BACDYS with maintaining the space, and works with the Association for Community Employment Programs for the Homeless (ACE NY) to provide jobs for the homeless and former convicts cleaning the space and maintaining planters. ACE NY has increased the cleaning schedule, and the plaza now has four additional Department of Sanitation waste baskets, up from two. But the city collects trash from the area only twice a week.

“We are working with Sanitation to have it happen more often,” DOT’s Hall said, noting that nearby Brooklyn streets receive trash pickup six days a week.

BACDYS chief operating officer Darma Diaz says the business owners themselves are part of the trash problem: They dump waste in the plaza for the city to pick up, even though they are required by law to hire a professional carting service. A food vendor in the plaza also leaves trash for the city to pick up, she said. Hall said that she had also heard complaints about businesses leaving waste in public bins.

Diaz, who noted that she is Puerto Rican while most of the business owners are Bangladeshi, said the plaza is exposing rifts within the community. “There’s two groups within the [Ozone Park] Bangladeshi community that belong to different mosques. When Group A does something, Group B will have a comment about it and become antagonistic,” she said. “It makes me wonder, is it really the parking?”

The conflict in Ozone Park is reminiscent of Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, where business owners who initially opposed the space over similar parking and maintenance concerns eventually came around and formed a group to help maintain it. Merchants and plaza supporters aren’t at that point in Ozone Park.

“I really do not want it to get to a point where it gets too ugly,” Diaz said. “I would like to see a happy medium, and to me a happy medium is the business owners getting more parking spots, but definitely not eliminating the plaza.”

Queens CB 9 chair Ralph Gonzalez said the board will discuss the issue at its general board meeting on October 14. Hall said DOT wants to hear more input before considering changes to the space.

In the meantime, plaza supporters and business owners stand on opposite sides of the issue. “It kind of is their perception of what the plaza is, and that’s hard to change. It happens over time. It doesn’t happen overnight,” said Cheryl Tse, project manager at the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership. “Obviously, it’s a long process.”

  • Reader

    “Ali’s business partner, Ahmad Ubayda, said shop owners will be hiring an attorney to fight the plaza.”

    Paging Jim Walden!

  • Eric McClure

    As long as they don’t care about winning.

  • wklis

    I guess pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users don’t count.

  • Kevin Love

    What? Do you think that those people are real human beings? Not in New York City they aren’t.

  • lop

    They don’t count if they don’t mention that they would have gone elsewhere if the plaza wasn’t right outside

  • AnoNYC

    I find it hard to believe that the loss of a couple of parking spaces is killing business. Wouldn’t those cars be mostly sitting there on the long term or were there muni-meters and loading zones? I’m not to familiar with this area.

    Also, how long has that lot of Liberty and Drew (SE corner) been vacant? Looks like a pedestrian oriented business in that location could do wonders to improve activity in the area.

  • nycbikecommuter

    Well, to be entirely honest, I only go laundromats that have convenient parking. I can’t carry my laundry on a bike, car is the only option. Carrying two large bags of laundry is not the same as carrying couple of shopping bags. These laundromats are thriving while the ones without nearby parking are usually not doing well. So that one business may have a point.

  • qrt145

    I used to haul my clothes to the laundromat (a granny cart also helps), but that was in a Manhattan neighborhood where laundromats were plentiful and this one was half a block away (I now have my own washing machine).

    I imagine around Ozone Park laundromats density is less, either because population density is lower, or a larger fraction of the people have their own washing machine (or at least washing machines in their building).

    If we want walkability and less dependence on parking, I guess we need to find ways to maximize the density of laundromats or alternatives to laundromats, but that’s not easy to retrofit. But it’s hard too to expect people to walk half a mile hauling their laundry.

  • One thing you can say in defense of single-family home ownership: it is trivial to install a washing machine on your own premises,
    .

  • Joe R.

    We had a washing machine even back in the time I was a kid in a housing project in the 1960s. There are few apartments these days where it’s not possible to install a washing machine. Indeed, you have those stackable washer/dryer combos if you’re short on space. It’s mostly that residents either don’t want to, or can’t afford a decent machine. Most apartment buildings which don’t allow tenants to have a washing machine tend to have a laundromat on premises. Frankly, I’m surprised commercial laundromats these days get enough customers to stay in business. In fact, if loss of a few parking spots drastically affects your business, then it was probably a marginal business which was going to fail eventually anyway.

    All that said, a nice size heavy duty shopping cart can easily carry a lot of laundry or anything else quite a distance. I use mine to lug up to 100 pounds of groceries from stores about 3/4 mile away.

  • qrt145

    “Most apartment buildings which don’t allow tenants to have a washing machine tend to have a laundromat on premises.”

    This doesn’t fit my experience, but I’m very interested in seeing data. My impression is that most leases are very restrictive, often unnecessarily so.

  • My lease says no washing machine. My building has laundry in basement; buildings on either side do not. There are two busy storefront laundromats within two blocks of my apartment.

    The attraction of the large laundromat (often with parking area) is that there are always enough machines to run your family’s entire wash. My family of 4 does 8-10 loads of laundry a week, which would overflow our heavy duty shopping cart. Clothes are not as dense as groceries.

  • lop

    Well that’s why you want mixed use development. Laundry, corner stores etc…work great without much parking (one-two on street spots) if it’s on the ground floor of a mid rise residential building on a block full of that sort of density.

    As an alternative what plenty of places do is offer delivery service.

  • Joe R.

    I doubt such data even exists but from purely the standpoint of attracting tenants, I tend to think a building which either allowed washing machines, or at least had a laundromat on premises, would win. Competition would force other landlords to follow suit.

    Why exactly are washing machines prohibited in some apartments anyway? Unless the wiring is still at 1950s standards, I’m not seeing why they would need to be. Then again, in that case air conditioning wouldn’t be possible, either.

  • lop

    Competition would force other landlords to follow suit.

    Unless the wiring is still at 1950s standards

    With a low vacancy rate they don’t have much competition. Why fix up the wiring or add amenities if you can rent the apartment out for a good price anyway?

  • Not true in my experience, either. For instance, my building in Woodhaven has no laundry room, and does not allow washing machines. Which is just as well, because I’d prefer going to the laundromat.

    At a laundromat you can do multiple loads of laundry at the same time; so doing four loads takes no longer than doing one load. I can hit the laundromat when it opens at 6:30am on a Saturday, do four loads, and be done by 9:00.

    By contrast, in a washing machine in your own apartment or house, you have to do the loads one by one; so doing four loads of laundry will cost you your whole day.

  • nycbikecommuter

    I tried a bike trailer and it worked out for the laundry, except in Winter 🙁 It was fun too. Now I live on 2nd floor and have no ground level storage so the trailer had to go. The nearest clean laundry is 5-6 blocks from me. I live in Maspeth by the way. A cart is not really an option, in particular in bad weather. Most laundromats that thrive in my area are the ones with own parking lots, same owners for many years. Other ones struggle. Laundromat is the only type of business I can think off that would suffer from lack of easy parking access. But in many cases it’s the owners that cause problems too. Some of these places are filthy with broken machines so we have to go further to a better one and that means driving.

  • nycbikecommuter

    I would love to do pickup and delivery for laundry, but again: the business owners make it less desirable. They never wash things the way you want. We wash a lot of our stuff cold with mild detergent and dry on low heat for long time. Lots of biking/hiking and wool clothing, etc. They will never do this right and ruin our clothes. I can’t trust them. So yeah, there are solutions to these problems but often it’s the businesses themselves that make these solutions impossible. They’re quick to complain but they’re not willing to make effort to make their services friendly and less dependent on driving.

  • Tyler

    Wiring and plumbing…. most buildings are still at 1930s standard, never mind 1950s. A co-op building I was sub-letting (renting) for 2 years was in the process of “piloting” dishwashers in the 1-bedroom units. This building was built in the late-60s. Dishwashers were verboten because of electricity and drainage loads… but the more efficient machines seem to be more palatable. Washers and dryers were definitely not allowed. Period. Another building I lived had a washer/dryer hook-up, but the dryer had to be a gas dryer — not electric (no 220-volt service and you don’t want a crappy inefficient dryer that runs on 110). Then there is the need for venting the dryer.

    All-in-all, this city is just packed with crappy buildings that are far far far from being able to accommodate anything nearing “modern conveniences.” Just having a separate circuit for a window A/C unit is pretty impressive (sadly).

  • Tyler

    Exactly. And that’s why most of us live in crapholes.

  • qrt145

    My peeve is that if the problem really is, say, the wiring, then they should say something like “no appliances over 1000 W” instead of a blanket “no dishwashers”. What if I find a dishwasher that uses a low amount of power? Conversely, what about appliance X that maybe you didn’t think to ban but actually uses more power than my dishwasher?

    Modern dishwashers use less water than most people use when washing by hand, so plumbing is not an issue.

    But of course, landlords don’t want to spend time thinking about whether your specific dishwasher is safe to use or not; simplifying their life is more important than simplifying yours. Which is understandable, but peeves me nonetheless…

    (Using dishwashers as an example, but the same goes for washing machines, ACs, etc.)

  • Joe R.

    That just kind of supports my decision to remain in our private home until I die. The house was built in 1952, and it did in fact have crap wiring when we moved in. I gradually rewired everything, put all the ACs on separate circuits, etc. It’s a sad state of affairs when many NYers live in apartments which wouldn’t have even been considered modern in WWII. It’s probably not even worthwhile bringing many of these old buildings up to today’s standards. It’s likely cheaper to just raze them and build new.

  • Joe R.

    The problem isn’t just what the individual appliance uses, but the fact that many of these old buildings have nearly everything on one circuit. Sure, you might be able to use a 1000 watt appliance if you have no lights on, no TV, no computer, etc. We had the same problem in our house when we moved in. The electrical service was 200 amps, the individual breakers for each circuit were 15 or 20 amps, but quite a few things were on the same circuit. If someone decided to use a hair dryer while you had a few things running, the breaker would trip.

    Landlords should know what outlets in each apartment are connected to which breakers. That in turn determines how many high-wattage appliances you can use at the same time. Instead, they do the lazy approach and just have a blanket ban on anything likely to use a lot of power.

  • stairbob

    Yeah, but if you have laundry in your apartment, you don’t have to wait until you have four loads; you can just do one load on the day it’s ready to wash.

  • Joe R.

    Not only that, but you can do something else while the clothes are washing/drying. I just pop them in the washer, do whatever (post on Streetsblog, watch TV, do work), put them in the dryer when I get a chance, and fold them when the dryer is done. All told maybe 5 minutes of my time actually spent to do a load, and most of that is to fold the clothes. A laundromat involves bringing the clothes there, bringing them back, and sitting there while they’re washing. Technically maybe you could shop or something while the clothes are in the machines, but I wouldn’t chance having my clothes stolen. You can also do a load whenever it suits you with your own machine. I tend to do laundry late nights. That’s probably more desirable to the power company as there is excess capacity off-peak.

    I don’t even have enough changes of clothes to make four loads. Usually by the time I have enough for one load, I’m pretty much out of clean stuff.

  • Well, it’s true that, if you have a machine in your apartment, you can do a single load every day if you want.

    But I also do whatever I want while the clothes are washing and drying. Bringing the clothes to the laundromat and back entails about the same effort as would be required to bring them to a laundry room in my building’s basement, if it had one. In Woodhaven, laundromats abound; there’s one on just about every block. So I just walk back upstairs to my apartment and go online or watch TV while the clothes are doing. Sometimes I walk around and do grocery shopping.

    (There is no fear of people stealing your clothes! What kind of talk is that? If you are late coming back to the laundromat, the owner might remove the clothes and leave them in a basket in order to free up a machine for another customer. But I have never experienced nor heard of clothes being stolen from a laundromat.)

    And I could easily have faaaaar in excess of four loads. Before I started commuting by bicycle, I typically went six weeks or more between laundries. I’d have three or four big bags stuffed full of clothes, which translated into something like eight loads.

    Now with all my riding, I go through shirts several times faster than ever before, as I wear multiple layers every day. This necessitates a trip to the laundromat every weekend, or at the most every other weekend. If you consider the amount of clothes needing washing after two weeks, and then throw in the bed stuff (three comforters, eight pillow cases) and the towels, this can easily make four loads.

  • Joe R.

    If the laundromat is on the same block, I suppose it’s nearly as good as having your own machine, maybe better in that you can do four loads at once.

    On the stealing clothes, I guess it’s not an issue nowadays. I’m thinking back in the 1960s before we had a machine most people wouldn’t leave their wash unattended. People were a bit poorer back then, so an unattended load was a potential target.

    Yeah, you generate a lot more laundry when you ride a lot, unless of course you have the luxury of choosing exactly when to ride (obviously not possible for bike commuters like you). I take my rides late night in the same clothes I wore that day, come home, jump in the shower, and put on my sleepwear.

  • qatzelok

    I find it strange that someone with a car doesn’t also own a washing machine.

  • qrt145

    Many renters own cars, and many renters can’t install washing machines under the conditions of their lease.

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    Screw the kids who don’t have space to play, I want to have space for my luxury transportation vehicle.

    Classy shop owners. Who wants to support local business like that? Buy your stuff online or find sine businesses that support the community instead of leaching off of it.

  • Daniel

    I really doubt many tenants would want to add a laundry even when possible. I had tenants who wanted a washer & dryer for their apartment. I got quotes for having the water, electric and ventilation done. Because the space had been a bathroom the estimate was just $1200. But when they got the quote they were no longer interested. That said, the laundry down the block was so terrible that they sometimes drove their laundry to another laundromat. I can see a laundry being one of the few businesses that could suffer from a Plaza. I could also see it benefitting, those walking to the laundromat would probably prefer the one where they can hang out in a plaza rather than a laundomat while waiting for the dryer.

  • tbatts666

    I bike my laundry to the laundromat.

    If you are interested I would suggest Getting a bike trailer. They are fairly cheap.

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