Friday, January 29, 2010

Lack of Parking Spots Plague Austin St. Retail Stretch; Community Members Search for Solutions by Nicholas Hirshon - NY Daily News

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Driving home a point, traffic agent arrives to check for meter tickets as Frank Gulluscio exults in having found parking spot. Farriella for News

The Austin St. shopping district acts like a siren - with its enticing stores, restaurants and movie theaters luring visitors into frustrating hunts for parking spaces.

There's no municipal lot for refuge. Private parking garages charge an arm and a leg. And leaving a car in nearby Forest Hills Gardens without a permit earns a boot and a fine.

"Even to drop somebody off, I cringe," said Barbara Stuchinski, president of the Forest Hills Community and Civic Association.

Experts wince, too.

"Oh, man, I've spent 25, 30 minutes looking for a parking place there," groaned AAA New York spokesman Robert Sinclair.

Civic leaders long have tried to address the scarcity of spaces near the Austin St. retail stretch - centered at 71st-Continental Ave., a block from the subway.

But the "Queens Parking Crunch" series is renewing calls for solutions so locals can awaken from their spot-search nightmare.

In interviews with Queens News, locals suggested everything from angled parking to making Austin St. one way to erecting a municipal lot close by.

But resolving the vehicular vexation first requires an understanding of why finding a spot in Forest Hills has become so difficult.

Customers frequent the Midway Theatre on Queens Blvd., Barnes & Noble and a diverse mix of eateries and clothing stores that line Austin St. from Ascan Ave. to Yellowstone Blvd.

If motorists venture south into Forest Hills Gardens, it compounds their stress because only residents of the private enclave and visitors with passes can park there.

On the other hand, crossing Queens Blvd. leads to stretches of apartment buildings, houses and offices where the demand for parking outweighs the supply.

"It's a major concern in the district - very frustrating riding around the block looking for a spot," said Frank Gulluscio, manager of Community Board 6.

Chris Collett, who owned a collectibles business in the area from 1983 to 2002, recalled patrons constantly telling him, "I'd love to shop here, but. ..."

Their sentences invariably ended with parking gripes. "It has only gotten worse," said Collett, who serves on the community board. "There's no easy solution."

City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz vowed to consider several potential solutions, some of which she explored during her first Council stint from 1991 to 2001.

She suggested weekend bus trips between Austin St. and the Borough Hall lot on Union Turnpike. "It would be good for business," she said - before adding that funding may be hard to obtain.

She pledged to "look into" Forest Hills Gardens allowing nonresidents to park there during the most popular shopping hours, but she added she was "not optimistic."

Koslowitz also said the city should mull buying property near Austin St., should it become available, and constructing a "small," one-level municipal lot.

In the meantime, some stores that belong to the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce offer patrons reduced parking rates at the Allied Austin lot by 70th Ave.

"We're trying to eliminate, also, employees and owners taking up spaces," said chamber President Leslie Brown. "It helps."

A Transportation Department spokesman would say only that the city is "happy to work with CB6, elected officials and other civic groups to address their concerns about parking in Forest Hills."

This is the second in a Queens News series highlighting neighborhoods and shopping districts where the parking shortage has become chronic and crippling. The goal is to find solutions -- simple or innovative. To suggest trouble spots or ideas, e-mail with "Queens Parking Crunch" in the subject line.