Friday, March 6, 2015

Post office rule change leads to mail non-delivery

From PIX11:

For almost four months, postal carriers have been passing by 97-05 103rd Ave., an apartment building in Ozone Park, Queens, without making any attempt to deliver the mail. The tenants have been forced to go to the local post office, 10 blocks away, to pick up their mail. Why?

Landlords Mike Tummolo and his son Mike Jr. say instead of the postman carrying keys to open the front doors of the apartment buildings on his route, as he used to, in November the Postal Service began requiring a box on the outside of the apartment buildings where the key to the front door could be kept. The Tummolos put the box in, but the Postal Service said it’s too far away from the door. The landlord says they were never told where the box had to be and it’s too cold to move it now.

“The cement doesn’t set well when it’s that cold”, said Mike, Jr., who sought to work out a middle ground with the post office to ensure delivery, and then move the box when the weather got better.

But the postal service said no, and has refused to deliver mail to the building ever since. The surveillance cameras show the carriers walking past the building, past the key keeper box, never stopping.

NBC discovers Indian green card scam

From NBC:

There‘s growing concern that undocumented young men are illegally crossing the US border knowing they can head to family court for help getting special immigration status. It’s a little known route they’ve learned to navigate with the help of lawyers and criminal human smugglers who sources say are profiting. I-Team reporter Melissa Russo has this exclusive story.

There are way too many hotels in M zones

From Crains:

Not everyone is happy about the hotel boom: Industrial businesses say it has hit their neighborhoods with great force, making space scarcer and more expensive. A new study backs up that narrative, finding at least 115 hotels in M1-zoned areas, which are set aside for light manufacturing, and about 75 more on the way.

The report, by the Brooklyn-based Pratt Center for Community Development, also found that at least 11 hotels have been built since 2007 in industrial building zones, or IBZs, which were established in some manufacturing districts to further protect businesses there from residential development. Another 16 hotels are in the pipeline for IBZs.

Overall, the number of hotels in the city grew by 180, or 35%, between 2004 and 2013, according to the report.

Hotels can be built without any special approval in industrial areas, such as the garment district, Long Island City in Queens and the Gowanus and Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn. Tourism was at much lower levels when the zoning was written, and there was no expectation that guests would want to stay in gritty sections of the city with noisy machinery, trucks and few amenities—or anywhere outside of Manhattan, for that matter.

Quirky artistic Rockaway bus shelters may be demolished

From DNA Info:

A historic bus shelter that survived Hurricane Sandy may face the wrecking ball to accommodate a new park and protective sand dune, according to a local civic group and the Parks Department.

The Parks Department plans to rebuild a greenspace destroyed by the 2012 storm near Beach 107th Street, called Sandpiper playground, a spokeswoman for the department said.

But they are also exploring the possibility of demolishing an adjacent bus shelter to fit the park and the dune, which is part of the push to protect the peninsula from future storms.

"The goal of the reconstruction of Sandpiper playground is to make it a more resilient facility and to include the recreational amenities that the community is looking for," spokeswoman Meghan Lalor said.

The shelter on Beach 107th Street features a group of surfers riding different waves, and is entitled "Surf's Up."

It and three others on Shore Front Parkway were designed by Robert Moses for the 1939 World's Fair, and renovated by artist Esther Grillo in 1997, according to a 2003 article published in The Wave.

Auction set for large Whitestone site

From the Queens Courier:

Winter may be coming to an end, but state Sen. Tony Avella isn’t planning a warm welcome for anyone who purchases a controversial site in Whitestone if they plan on overdeveloping the property or building something that doesn’t comply with zoning.

The large property, which comprises six acres of vacant land near the intersection of 150th Street and Fifth Avenue, will be up for sale on April 10 in an auction. The site was part of the former Cresthaven Country Club and then was owned by real estate firm Whitestone Jewels LLC, but has been in foreclosure since 2007.

Avella is planning to also contest plans for development that doesn’t meet zoning on another large vacant site near the waterfront, which comprises of about eight lots around 151-45 Sixth Rd., because he and community leaders want to preserve the look of the community. The site is also zoned for smaller–sized residential uses.

Funny, you'd think the council member for the area would give a crap, but is nowhere to be seen on this.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

10 years in the slammer for Halloran

From the NY Post:

Saying former City Councilman Dan Halloran knowingly perjured himself at trial, a federal judge threw the book at the disgraced politician on Wednesday — sentencing him to 10 years behind bars for masterminding a failed $200,000 bribery scheme to buy the 2013 Republican mayoral line for then-Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith.

“For five days, he lied on the stand,” White Plains federal Judge Kenneth Karas said of Halloran. “It was egregious.

“There was overwhelming evidence of his guilt,” added the judge as a stone-faced Halloran took a deep breath and nodded. “I saw him squirm and look uncomfortable on the stand … He lied and lied repeatedly. It was grotesque and offensive.”

The US Probation Department had recommended 6 ½ to 8 years of prison for Halloran, who tried to claim insanity as a defense at trial and is a “prince” in a pagan order that includes public floggings.

But Karas agreed with prosecutors that the Queens Republican deserved a harsher sentence because he “quarterbacked” the bribery scheme and lied under oath. The feds had asked Karas to hand Halloran a sentence of 12 ½ to 15 ½ years behind bars.

From the Daily News:

At that Halloran turned red in the face and put his quivering hand over his mouth.

From the Queens Courier:

“His life, except for this offense, has been good,” Edelstein said. “Obviously there’s a crime here that requires punishment, but all of his character should be considered.”

“He’s very sorry he made these choices. He’s very sorry he ran for City Council in the first place,” he said.

CB11 rejects parking lot application

From the Queens Courier:

Bayside’s Community Board 11 rejected a developer’s request Monday night to build a parking lot on a pristine patch of land that runs along 77th Avenue after neighborhood residents banded together to stop the destruction of open space protected under decades-old zoning.

Oakland Gardens resident John Hatzopoulos spearheaded a grassroots effort since early February to save a piece of land that residents say gives the neighborhood its charm.

“We put a lot of hard work into spreading the news that they were trying to bring the trees down,” Hatzopoulos said. “But it was worth it. So many people came out to save the trees.”

The property owner, Windsor Oaks Tenants Corp., built a complex of co-ops in the 1950s along with a city agreement that they would leave a strip of land undeveloped. The land separates the co-ops from residential homes on 77th Avenue, where Hatzopoulos and his fellow troop of tree lovers live.

But the corporation tried to renegotiate its deal with the city in an attempt to turn the land into a community building and a parking lot, according to the request they submitted to Community Board 11.

Were Astoria residents deceived by false promises?

From Crains:

In recent months, as plans for two multitower residential complexes along the East River have advanced, a growing sense of anticipation has infused the atmosphere. In the coming years, the Halletts Point and Astoria Cove projects will replace hulking brick monoliths—housing businesses such as Super Stud Building Products—with more than 4,000 apartments, stores, a school and something else: jobs.

"The main issue [for us] is basically employment opportunities," said Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses Residents Association, which has given its full-throated support to both projects. "And [the developers] have been gracious to meet with us on a regular basis and listen to what we have to say."

While hopes run high, fed by promises from developers to meet a host of demands from the community, actually putting paychecks in residents' hands may prove more difficult. Although a few employment programs have been clearly outlined, for other programs it is less certain who will get picked for jobs, and when.

The developer of the 2,500-unit Halletts Point project made a number of concessions, agreeing to include a school and a supermarket, before that project was approved in late 2013, but none regarding jobs. That is why attention is now focused squarely on the 1,700-unit Astoria Cove complex, whose developers cut a series of deals late last year with the community on affordable housing and local hiring in order to win support.

Forest Hills theater plans to succeed

From DNA Info:

A Forest Hills movie theater, which has been struggling to keep its doors open, is one step closer to avoiding closure after two major studios have licensed additional first-run films to the cinema, the owner said.

Nicolaou, 57, whose family has owned the theater since the mid-1960s, said the venue has been struggling primarily because it was not receiving first-run films since 2008, when it screened "Sex and the City."

Last year, the movie theater lost about $200,000, Nicolaou said.

But earlier this year, the theater, which originally opened in 1927, got another chance when Warner Bros. decided to license "American Sniper," a war drama directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, to the Cinemart.

Local residents launched a campaign asking their neighbors to support the theater by buying tickets and attending the screenings at the Cinemart.

Nicolaou said the campaign worked and thousands of people showed up.

Shocking news: schools are overcrowded

From the Daily News:

Nearly half of city schools are bursting at the seams, officials said Tuesday.

Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose acknowledged that 575 of 1,311 buildings — 44% — house more kids than they’re supposed to.

“We have individual buildings, and in some cases entire neighborhoods, that are overcrowded,” she said at a City Council oversight hearing. “For our school communities, overcrowding is primarily experienced as larger class sizes.”

Some 490,000 kids attend overcrowded schools, and 80% of the buildings with the problem are elementary schools.

The school system overall is only 93% full — but the available seats aren’t in places where kids live or want to go to school, leaving some schools with empty seats while others are overcrowded.

The biggest problem is in Queens, where schools are at 105% of capacity.

The budget office said the greatest needs are in District 20 in southwest Brooklyn, where 7,764 seats are required to eliminate overcrowding, followed by District 24 in western Queens, which needs 7,252 seats, and two districts in eastern Queens, which both need more than 5,000 seats.

I can't imagine why this is happening.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Juniper Valley Park playgrounds are hazardous

From the Queens Courier:

Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village has cost taxpayers at least about $300,000 over the last decade due to personal injuries claims, according to a new report.

The green space tied for second place for playground-related personal injury claims filed against the city from 2005 to 2014, which citywide cost more than $20.6 million, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said.

Stringer’s analysis also found that annual claims in the city rose 53 percent from just 45 incidents in 2005 to 69 last year.

Of the 577 park- and playground-related injury claims over the decade, 111 accidents occurred in Queens. That number is much less than city leader Brooklyn, which set the bar at 209.

Juniper Valley Park had six injury claims filed against the city over the decade for accidents related to missing matting, holes and defective swings. Five of those claims recorded a combined $297,500, according to Stringer’s analysis. The amount of one was not given in the report.

Local residents say Juniper has a numerous issues, including holes, defective equipment, cracks and other trip hazards, and that the Parks Department neglects to take action and fix the park, even though problems have been reported.

Unlicensed drivers may soon face criminal charges

From the Times Ledger:

A rash of pedestrians fatally struck by unlicensed drivers has prompted the Queens leadership to ban together to pass legislation that would make such an act a felony and result in two to four years of jail time.

An Elmhurst woman was the latest victim, run down by a white Mitsubishi box truck allegedly operated by an unlicensed driver, while she was walking in the intersection of Woodside Avenue and 76th Street, police said.

“Unfortunately, the law in New York has not caught up with the facts of these situations,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who has written the bill. “Someone who kills someone when driving without a license... the most severe charge they can get is a violation, which is like getting a parking ticket.”

Outraged by the frequency of these types of incidents and the penalties offenders receive, several officials and advocates for safer streets rallied behind Gianaris’ legislative push at a news conference Tuesday in Woodside.

“It’s time that we say give us the keys to your car,” said state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing), “If you smoke a cigarette, the chances of you getting lung cancer are increased. [It’s] the same way if you’re an unlicensed driver. You have a high risk of hitting somebody, [possibly] injuring or killing them.”

Drivers with revoked and or suspended licenses who have caused a loss of life would get more than a slap on the wrist under the proposed legislation.

Queens building inspectors sent to Brooklyn

From Brooklyn Daily:

The city is taking steps to put Brooklyn’s illegal home conversion problem on ice, but locals say the battle is just heating up.

The Department of Buildings is sending more inspectors to Brooklyn, and Borough President Adams introduced a multi-pronged bill to fight illegal home conversions, officials announced at a town hall meeting on Feb. 26. But residents who see their neighborhood being crowded and endangered by shady building practices say they’ll only rest when they see results.

The city shifted more building inspectors to Brooklyn last summer to step up enforcement in response to a rise in complaints, an official said.

“The vast majority of illegal conversions were in Queens [before 2009],” said Tim Hogan, a deputy commissioner with the buildings department. “The numbers are changing now, and as recently as July of last year, we transferred some of the Queens unit into Brooklyn. In doing so we have increased fourfold the number of access warrants that we have applied for and received in Brooklyn.”

The borough president and two Brooklyn councilmen are now pushing a law to give those additional inspectors more teeth.

Adams and councilmen Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) and Jumaane Wiliams (D–East Flatbush) have introduced legislation to create a new building code violation for illegal subdivisions and a minimum $45,000 fine for landlords who turn a single unit into three or more. It would also relax criteria for obtaining warrants to inspect suspicious properties.

Critics have long panned the city for failing to collect fines form landlords, which currently total $640 million in uncollected cash, Marrone said.

Currently, the main leverage the buildings department has to collect fines for doing work without a permit comes only if a scofflaw landlord eventually comes to the agency to ask for one.

But under the proposed bill, the city could put a lien against homes with unpaid conversion violations, allowing it collect when the property is sold.

The bill also stipulates that the revenue from the fines would be earmarked for a fund to provide three months of housing to tenants booted from subdivided homes by enforcement actions, a spokesman for Adams said.

Fresh Meadows hotel plans revealed

From Queens Courier:

A new hotel in Fresh Meadows is positioning itself to be the 21st-century Ellis Island of Queens.

The hotel will serve as a stepping stone for Chinese immigrants and students looking to stay in the country or study here, according to several people close to the planning. The 11-story Hilton hotel on 186th Street is set to open in May 2016 and the developers, Mayflower Business Group of Great Neck, are positioning their hotel to serve a mixture of Chinese businesspeople, students and immigrants who can use the hotel as a base while house hunting.

421-a...will it go away?

From Capital New York:

The 421-a program will sunset this June if the state Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo do not act to renew it. Around the same time, the state’s rent control law will also expire. For Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal who rose to power with the support of some of the people who want the program gone, the timing puts him in a real political pickle.

De Blasio’s ambitious housing agenda puts him on both sides of tenant advocates and on both sides of Big Real Estate, too. On one hand, he is calling for a strong rent control law—something tenant groups have cheered and the real estate industry bemoaned. On the other hand, his ambitious plan to build 80,000 affordable units, preserve 120,000 affordable units, and foster the development of 160,000 market-rate units depends on the cooperation of the real estate industry. His agenda is, in many ways, in developers' hands. And they aren't inclined to see 421-a go anywhere.

Meanwhile, revisions to the 421-a program that have required the building of 20 percent as affordable units have not put enough of a dent in the housing crisis to justify the program, tenant groups believe, which means there is little middle ground for the mayor to stake out.

And the conflicts do not end there for the mayor: His fellow Democrats in the state Assembly, still stinging from the arrest of long-time Speaker Sheldon Silver, are likely to use the tax credits as leverage in their effort to strengthen the rent laws. The freshly minted Republican majority in the Senate, also trying to navigate the new order of things in Albany, are likely to use rent laws as leverage to get subsidies.

To get a sense of how important this thing is for the mayor, consider how he describes his overall initiative: “The largest affordable housing program that any city, any state has attempted in a ten-year time span in the history of the republic.”