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‘It was time’: Douglaston community board member officially retires after serving for 53 years

Mar. 31, 2023 By Ethan Marshall

After serving 53 years as a member of Community Board 11, 94-year-old Bernie Haber announced he’s retiring from the board at the end of March. A new member will be appointed in his place in April.

According to Haber, he had decided a few months ago to retire two years before his final term was set to conclude. While he will be stepping down from the community board, Haber still intends to take part in some Community Board 11 committees as a community member.

“I felt that at my age, at 94, even though I’m in pretty good health, it was time for me to hang up my coat and give my spot to a younger person,” Haber said. “I want to continue [to participate] on the Landmarks Committee. I won’t chair it, but I’ll just be a member of the committee.”

Haber was the first appointee to the Community Planning Board 11 by Queens Borough President Sidney Leviss in 1969. One of his first projects there was the widening of Northern Boulevard from Douglaston Parkway to the City Line. Using his background as a civil engineer, Haber proposed removing five feet from the sidewalks and developing a 10-foot center median and turning lane in order to reduce congestion. After the project was approved and built, it proved to be so successful that the New York City Department of Transportation ended up reconstructing the entirety of Northern Boulevard from the Douglaston Parkway 12 miles to Long Island City using this design.

From 1971-2002, Haber served as the chairman of Community Board 11. Under his tenure, many areas of northeast Queens were rezoned by the board to allow new development while maintaining the character of the community. One of the main efforts during his tenure was the acquisition of of properties for additions to Alley Park and Udall’s Cove.

During and after his tenure as chairman, Haber continued to work for the community board, serving as chairman on numerous committees. Among those he chaired or co-chaired were the Queens County Traffic Safety Board (25 years) and the Queens Zoning Task Force (10 years). He also spent 30 years serving as the Queens Board of Director’s member of the New York City Industrial Development Agency. Additionally, in 1984, he served on Mayor Koch’s Commission on the Year 2000, on which he and author Robert Wagner Jr. created the book “New York Ascendant: the Commission’s Plan for New York City in 21st Century.”

In addition to serving on many other governmental boards, Haber collected many accolades over his 53 years in public service. He was cited by the U.S. Congress, New York state and New York City for his community service and technical work.

“It’s very unlikely that anybody else will ever serve as long as I did,” Haber said. “[I think people will remember me by] the length of time I put in and all the various things I was involved in.

One project Haber highlighted as being very proud of was expanding, altering and adding bus lines for students to better get to and from Queensborough Community College. This helped to decrease the amount of cars parked within the community by students, as they had more convenient public transportation routes. According to Haber, the Transportation Committee based these routes upon where many of the students lived.

“We got this information from the college and took the zip codes of where they lived,” Haber said. “Based on the ZIP codes, we figured out what routes they would take to come to school. You could tell pretty much what kind of public transportation they had available rather than use their cars.”

As this occurred before the age of computers, the data collection and drawn up routes were all done by hand. After putting together the proposal based off the data collected, the committee gave it to the Transit Authority, which was very receptive to it.

Another project that Haber discussed being involved in was adding five-foot cutouts to Bell Boulevard for buses. This allowed for buses along to pick up and drop off passengers without having to worry about backing up traffic, as the cutouts prevented them from blocking the roadway.

In addition to his work for Community Board 11, Haber has served as managing partner of the oldest and one of the largest transportation and bridge engineering firms in the United States. He also served 37 years in the United States Air Force on active and reserve duty, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Earlier in March, State Senator John Liu and Assemblyman Edward Braunstein issued a proclamation recognizing years of his years of service.

Board

Community Board 11 member Bernie Haber with State Senator John Liu and Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (photo by John Liu’s office)

Liu and Braunstein paid a surprise visit to Haber’s home during CB 11’s virtual meeting. They then presented him with a proclamation honoring the exemplary service he has provided to his community and state.

“Bernie Haber is the epitome of community service,” Liu said. “For over 50 years, his insights and institutional knowledge have been instrumental in shaping communities in northeast Queens and beyond. Over the years, I have personally sought his guidance on many issues related to everything from land use, parks, transportation and more and time and again Bernie has shown to have his finger on the pulse of our community’s concerns. His absence on CB 11 will be greatly missed, but his presence will be felt for generations to come.”

Braunstein said part of what makes northeast Queens a special place to live is “due in part to civic-minded people like Bernie Haber.”

“As the longest-serving NYC community board member and a civil engineer by trade, Bernie brought a valued perspective and expertise to Board 11 that will be sorely missed,” Braunstein said. “The community is grateful for his hard work and I thank him for his 50+ years of dedicated service. It was a pleasure to visit Bernie with Senator Liu and I wish him well ahead of his retirement.”

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