Ridgewood residents discuss the changing economy of the community with Ted Renz from the Myrtle Avenue BID.
A roomful of Ridgewood residents and tenants gathered together to begin cultivating the change they know is inevitable, but that they want a hand in shaping.
At the first-ever meeting of the newly formed Ridgewood Tenants and Neighborhood Association on Monday night, attendees broke into small groups to discuss topics related to transportation, housing, economic development and the environment.
The housing discussion was led by Paul Kerzner, a lifelong resident, Community Board 5 member and chairman of the Ridgewood Property Owners Civic Association. His suggestion was simple: renters should form tenant cooperatives.
“It is clear that we can build a mousetrap very easily,” Kerzner said. “Individual tenants cannot get to destinations by themselves.”
Kerzner’s recommendation was that tenants of four or six-unit buildings band together to buy the property outright from the owner, instead of the owner moving it to a developer that will kick them out.
One resident already expressed that he was facing problems with a landlord trying to force him out.
Jon Sferna, who lives on Cornelia Street, said that his building was just sold in the past week. The previous owner, according to Sferna and confirmed by city property tax records, was Valjan Belu. New York City’s database has not yet been updated with information about the new owner that Sferna alleges has harassed him.
According to Sferna, the man told him, “I can do anything I want.”
“He said ‘I’m going to kick you out,’” Sferna said. “I’m not going. I don’t know where to go.”
Sferna says the man followed him for four blocks and kept telling him that he was going to kick him out of his apartment. Other tenants in the same building are already moving out.
Under Kerzner’s recommendation, Sferna and others could buy their buildings theoretically and form a tenant cooperative. They would just need to band together to come up with the funds or take out mortgages.
Currents tenants and residents are about to have a major hand in shaping the Myrtle Avenue business district, thanks to a survey that should be making its way online in the near future.
Ted Renz, executive director of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District, said he sees Ridgewood as a family-oriented community and, because of the housing stock, he believes it will remain that way.
Renz pointed to all of the children’s clothing stores on Myrtle Avenue as an example of this.
The BID’s survey is aimed at figuring out what types of businesses to court. And while he said the general sentiment was more mom-and-pop shops, he admitted that sometimes you need the chain stores to draw in outsiders.
That does not mean they want Mytle Avenue to be the next Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.
“We don’t want high-rise development in our neighborhood,” Renz said.
That may be an impossible wish, however.
Renz said Ridgewood was rezoned in 2000 it allowed for higher-density development near transit hubs. He specifically pointed to a 15-story building at St. Nicholas Avenue and Myrtle Avenue that is in the works.
There’s also been an influx of new bars in Ridgewood, but tenants and residents may be looking to put a stop to that, temporarily. There’s been a preliminary discussion on putting a moratorium on approving liquor licensees for the few months.
The transportation issues that face Ridgewood and Queens as a whole are myriad. There’s a large portion of the neighborhood not within reasonable walking distance to a subway line and residents complain of long waits between buses.
John Maier, co-chair of the Public Transit Services Committee for CB5, talked to tenants about reducing the time between buses and trains, as well as a proposed subway line that would run – on existing rails – from the Bronx to Bay Ridge with a stop at Myrtle Avenue and Fresh Pond Road.
Ultimately, he pointed out, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is a broke system, and a lack of federal transportation funding is a major hurdle.
“Really our biggest problem is money,” Maier said. “Our [federal] transportation fund has run out.”
Maier asked the tenants, what they would like to see most, and the overwhelming response was to extend the M train into Manhattan 24 hours a day.
The open-ended environmental discussions covered a multitude of topics from the reservoir to composting.
“People would really like to find a way to create more green space,” Stephanie Wakefield, a Ridgewood resident and Queens College professor, said.
She said that while they aren’t against playgrounds and more of them, the residents she spoke with want to see more parks in Ridgewood.
On a smaller level, residents discussed creating a community garden or a larger community composting program.
There was also a question of why there are very little public garbage cans in Ridgewood.
One of the final topics discussed was the quality of air by the bus depots, which is both a pollution and a quality-of-life issue.