Thursday, March 11, 2010

Poof! Parking Takes a Toll on Residents, Local Businesses as Spots Vanish in Woodhaven by Lisa L. Colangelo - NY Daily News

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Deli owner Mark Gallagher shows several tickets he’s received for parking in unmetered area near his Jamaica Ave. business. Farriella for News

Woodhaven has many qualities of a small town: People know their neighbors, have lived in their homes for decades and can tell you exactly where to shop.

When it comes to parking, however, the 1-square-mile neighborhood has some big-city problems.

Shoppers, merchants and residents jockey for spots along Jamaica Ave. and its side streets. Even residential blocks aren't immune from chronic parking shortages, worsened by outdated rules and patchwork enforcement that also plague other areas highlighted in the Queens Parking Crunch series.

More and more, homeowners are turning their front yards into parking spaces. The curb cuts they create take away even more spots on the crowded streets.

"There are too many cars in a small area," said Rose Palmeiri, 70, who has lived in Woodhaven for 50 years. "My husband rents a garage because there is just no parking. Years ago it was not like this."

Some residents say part of the problem stems from a surge in the number of illegal conversions. Homes originally built for one or two families now house even more.

Others say the neighborhood is flooded with cars that have out-of-state license plates and can clog up spots for weeks at a time.

The Woodhaven Residents Block Association recently vowed to track down owners of these cars and send them a warning. If that doesn't work, they plan to contact the state's Motor Vehicles Department.

"My house was built in 1919," said Vance Barbour, 51, who moved to Woodhaven 23 years ago. "It wasn't meant to be for people with multiple cars per family."

He rents a garage down the block, but that doesn't always help.

"If people don't find a spot by the end of the night, they park in the driveway of my rented garage," he said.

Barbour said the city should crack down on people who build curb cuts in front of their homes.

"That just takes away a street spot," he said.

Maria Thomson of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corp. said the situation worsened after the city changed parking meter fees. Instead of 30 minutes, a quarter now only pays for 20 minutes of parking.

Merchants say the parking crunch has hurt their businesses that are already suffering in a tough economy. And they are irritated that the city looks to traffic tickets as an important source of revenue.

"If shoppers can't park, they won't go to local stores," said Mark Gallagher, owner of the Manor Deli at 94-12 Jamaica Ave. "They will just go to Stop and Shop and Trader Joe's because they have parking lots."

He also noticed more homeowners removing shrubs and fences from their front yards to create a parking spot.

As Gallagher spoke about the parking situation one day last week, a traffic agent walked up and down the street in front of his shop as people rushed in for lunch orders.

Margie Schmidt, who operates the popular Schmidt's Candy store across the street, agreed that traffic agents tend to prey on customers.

"When people come in here, I always remind them about the meters," she said.

While there are no current plans to install muni-meters along Jamaica Ave., nearby Woodhaven Blvd. is part of the Transportation Department's Citywide Congested Corridors study, an agency official said.

The agency is collecting data on traffic, transit services and parking issues along Woodhaven Blvd. from Queens Blvd. to Rockaway Blvd. Lessons from the study could be applied to Jamaica Ave., officials added.

Relief can't come fast enough for some.

"My business is down 30%," Gallagher said. "Part of it is the recession but part of it is definitely the parking. It's a bad situation."