Thursday, February 22, 2007

Astoria Overdevelopment

From the Queens Chronicle

Dear Editor:

As a third generation Astorian, I am in full agreement with Chris De Stefano’s letter to the editor about the “Relentless Development.” As residents and taxpayers, we are not benefiting at all from these changes. Many historical single family homes have been demolished to make way for these “vertical coffins,” which change the tenor of our neighborhood. It appears that the building glut has gotten out of control. There is a new structure on almost every block.

What does that say about our community services? Schools are now overutilized; trains and buses are overcrowded. Trying to park your car on a local side street is comparable to searching for a parking spot in Manhattan. Con Edison cannot keep up with the construction. Hopefully, the sewer system can.

Our local supermarkets have turned into gourmet emporiums with similar prices. But most importantly, the flow of people into Astoria has forced the price of housing skyward. How can the old timers live with all these increases? What can be done to help them maintain a quality and standard of living?

Somewhere, somehow, all the new construction has been approved. My question is: by whom? How much of a part does the community board play? Doesn’t the Department of Buildings and the City Planning Commission understand that our community is overutilized and underserved now? Where are their surveys and environmental studies? What plans have they made to accommodate a burgeoning population?

What will happen to our community in five more years? As a result of the heavy pollution (from local industry and air and ground traffic) that we have lived with for years ... the proof is that in our local schools, the rate of childhood asthma is approximately one in seven children. Everyone knows that the air quality in Astoria/Long Island City is one of the worst in the entire five boroughs. Can it possibly get worse? Does anyone care?

I am certain that De Stefano and I would like to remain “Astorians” for a long time ... but will we?

Andrea Pack,
Astoria

26 comments:

george the atheist said...

Have you ever noticed the new towering condo on your left as you sit in your car on Crescent Street waiting to get onto the lower level of the QBridge? It has all these wonderful balconies with wonderful views of the Manhattan skyline. Folks paid alot of $ for that view! Did the developers tell these new owners that right in front of their building on the former site of the Greek-language newspaper, the National Herold, new construction was forthcoming? Which will probably block that view? Check the sites out: former National Herold on Crescent Street between 4lst Ave. & Queens Plaza North and the "luxury" condo on 27th Street between the same cross streets.

Anonymous said...

Your community board has given carte blanche to overdevelopment in Astoria!

Ask George Dellis if he feels the infrastructure......... schools, power grid, hospitals etc. can cope with this monstrous overbuilding before it all implodes upon itself!

Anonymous said...

Everyone in Astoria is talking this winter about the power grid and the mad rushing to and fro by Con Ed. Lights are flickering all over the community. It seems when all the basement heaters are turned on in the illegal conversions, the grid goes out again.

Lets face it, the grid is shot to hell. Permanently.

The politicians only want to blame Con Ed, an arguement with the depth than wouldn't drown a gnat.

Since last summer, they approved thousands of more apartments.

Want to know a really 'cool' thing, last summer a certain politician stayed in doors while his community fell apart around him. It seems his block was one of the few that had 'juice' if you know what we mean.

Anonymous said...

"Junior" Vallone is the one to bear the major blame for the blackout. (His area wasn't hit h-m-m-m).

He kept on supporting overdevelopment, as did the rest of his scurvy family, and knew the price of it.

His being in the forefront at blaming Con Ed was just a smoke screen to divert attention from his criminal negligence!

La famiglia!

Anonymous said...

Open letter to Astorians:

I grew up in Astoria. I’ve been
far away from there a long time
but I still love it. I lived in a
40-family on 34th St. A building
of that size seemed large compared
to the one and two families that
made-up most of the block, but it
wasn’t out of place because it was
just five stories high (a lot of
apartments built in the ‘30s were
no more than 5 stories because at
6 or more the city required
elevators and the original owners
didn’t want to spend the money)

For a while we had a super that
liked to drink. You can’t sleep
it off and still get the boiler
started at 6 am, so some winter mornings started out pretty damn
chilly. It didn’t take long
though for the building to start
ringing like a New Year
celebration what with all the
residents banging on the pipes. Nothing like banging on the pipes to get a hang-over’s attention.

The message is – if you don’t like
things the way they’re going, you
gotta make noise. It’s good to
have organizations like the Greater Astoria Historical Society
take an interest in community
preservation but if you really
want to get things done, everyone
has to become a pipe beater.

Here’s a few suggestions. Get
some heavyweights into the fight.
How about Tony Bennett? He loves
Astoria too and who knows, maybe
he’d be more interested then you
think. You’ll never know if you
don’t ask. I think he still has a
lot of personal contacts down on
Ditmars that would know how to
contact him.

Find out who your leaders are.
Maybe he or she reading this is
one of them. Maybe your next door
neighbor is one. Talk it up. Just
don’t depend on blogs alone to get
the job done. That won’t work. A
face to face down at Borough Hall
or whatever it’s called now is
worth a hundred times more than
all the blogs put together.

Get some petitions started and
when they’re ready, don’t just
mail them in. Make sure you place
them in somebody’s hand even if
it’s just a secretary in the outer
office. Write your council men
and women, the Borough President, call them, leave a voice mail,
whatever but do it in numbers and
do it with passion.

Organize some town hall meetings
and invite the media, the
politicos and the business
leaders. And don’t worry if it
starts pretty slow, if just a
handful show-up. A good thing worth fighting for, and Astoria
is, is worth at least fifteen-rounds.

And make sure you have your facts
straight. Chapter and verse about
how much money was lost by how
many businesses and working people
during the blackout and problems
still continue. How many cars
can’t find parking spaces on any
given day. How many seats can’t
be found on the MTA during rush
hour. How high the pollution count
already is and how many people have
pulmonary problems because of it.
You can probably think of a lot
more to add to that list.

One thing I know. If you don’t
start banging on the pipes, it’s
just going to get chillier.

Good luck.

george the atheist said...

To Anonymous Astorian:...I grew up on 3lst Avenue between 34th & 33rd Streets (33-09) in the 50's...what great memories!...Does anyone out there remember Susan and Ernie's "candy" store" on 34th St?...How the 2 of them used to have marital yelling spats in front of the customers?...How the entire neighborhood on hot summer nights would gather there for the truck delivering the Daily Mirror and Daily News?...Remember reaching into their soda container in front of the store where there was a huge block of ice in inky black water and fishing out a 10-cent Mission soda? (Yeow! it was cold! The pre-AC-era.)...We used the dentist Dr. DeRosa's building's wall next door for stickball, baseball card flipping, and "johny rides a pony"...There was a bar - nah, a SALOON, on the corner of 3lst & 34th and on the other corner of 3lst and 33rd, where the Brick Cafe now stands, wuz the Kasewitz grocery store...we used to play stickball on his wall as well...yup, right where the yuppies now dine...Kasewitz would always come running out chasing us. ("Here comes Cassawoods!")...One day, a kid from far off LIC came to the sewer on Kasewitz's corner and fished out with a metal wire about 30 "spaldeens". We were amazed...When we had to go, my friend Howie and me used to have "Pissing contests" between the parked cars there...our mothers let us since they didn't want to take us up to the apartments...They told us it was ok to do this since "we weren't in grammar school yet"..Howie was 4 1/2 - 6 mos. older than me...he always won the contests; his stream had more power...He hit a passing taxi once and that literally 'pissed-off" the driver!...And then there was Pete the Butcher who had real sawdust on the floor and Lerner's Liquor store managed by the son Leon who wore the latest in stylish "continental" trousers. His store was always being held-up... Etcetera, Etcetera...Ah yes, the golden memories of Old Astoria.

george the atheist said...

Sorry for being on a roll...but 2 more gut-wrenching tales of terror:
1.For the really super-annuated Astorians:...the demolition of the building that housed the old Armbruster's Saloon (SE corner of Newtown Ave.& 29th Street)...This baby was a contemporary of the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden!...It had bentwood chairs and tables that reeked of suds and a dynamite pin-ball machine that begged for slapping and tilting...See ya! & sayonara!
2. Wha' happened to the play yard at the Variety Boys Club on 21st Street where we played touch football on August nights when the tiniest hint of Fall is in the air?...Half of it is gone and turned into - guess what?

Anonymous said...

To the 5th poster, with sincere respect.......all that you've suggested has been done.....ad infinitum and ad nauseum!

That doesn'y mean anybod's given up the fight or thrown in the towel yet!

Thanks for the memories and God bless.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the pep talk.
Astoria’s my home town and when
I came across this blog it got me
stirred-up. I’m the last one
left of a family who lived most of
their lives in Astoria. They’re
all still there in a way, at rest
in St. Michael’s. So you can
understand my attachment.

I kind of thought as much, that
everything’s been tried already.
All I can do is lift a glass to
all the old places already gone.
Even if the city puts a building
here and there on the register,
it’s the property owners who will
eventually decide the future of
the neighborhood. If it’s worth
the ambience or take the money and
run.

What Astoria seems up against is
just across the river. I don’t
know where the money comes from to
buy all those million dollar
apartments but it’s sure driving
real estate through the roof
in the rest of the city,
especially close-in like Astoria.

Anyway, keep punchin’ and thanks
for the kind words

Anonymous said...

With the US dollar at a low, a lot of money that's in speculative real estate in NYC comes from overseas.

While we're busy paying for a poorly run war in Iraq, foreigners are busy buying up America!

Anonymous said...

Stay stirred up anonymous Astorian! I didn't mean to rain on your parade. The game ain't over yet. It's just a question of coming up with effective new ways to fight the overbuilding. Thinking out of the box is key.

I believe this blog is a great begining! Truthful speaking and sharing of ideas happen here.

The powerful real estate industry can't stop this, even though they'd like to!

Anonymous said...

Look, what happened to Astoria is simply the fault of the Astorians themselves.

Look at the postings on this board. Everybody waxes poetic about some evening back it the 50s when they stopped in some ice cream parlor after the movies on Steinway Street.

Go over to Old Astoria. Everyone will tell you how much they love their homes ... until you ask them to do something besides talk talk talk and ... they can't cause its a Raccoon Lodge meeting that evening so some jive like that ...

Everyone will belly-ache about the neighborhood - the dirt, the illegal conversions, the declining shopping districts, the blackout last summer, but when a poltician shows up, even if they know they are getting a snow job, they will stand around hat off, heads bowed, looking at their feet.

Until they have some backbone and stand up for their community, they are so much background noise to the community board and developers and polticians.

Anonymous said...

The previous poster is too negative, in my opinion. People will always make the right choices if given a chance.

Here is what they can do:

1. School yourself - come back to Queens Crap and learn about community preservation and what is happening to other communities.

2. Write letters to the paper on quality of life concerns, and send a copy to Queens Crap with a picture of the problem. The public will see it.

3. Join community groups. The historical society is good for places like Old Astoria, (where we lost six 150 year old homes last year alone) but they are limited in what they can do.

Community preservation and quality of life has been taken up by a new group the Long Island City Alliance (www.licalliance.org) Come to their meetings and speak out. Become a member. Send in information for their website.

4. Post on that new blog (http://www.astorians.com) There are a lot of younger people on that site that a full of energy and sense problems that many of you are well aware of - they would welcome your input and are natural allies for people on this site.

Anonymous said...

Hold on a minute. The problem is
simply the fault of Astorians
themselves? Just which Astorians
are we talking about? Renters,
landlords, homeowners, merchants?
Each have different interests at
stake and that’s the problem
preservationists everywhere have
to deal with, not just Astoria.

On top of that, the City’s
concerns aren’t always the same as
the resident’s (a little humor)
They could care less about how
many older homes were converted
last year or how many business
locations changed hands as long as
permits, codes and taxes are in
order. And any Queens politician
who wants to run for office on a
platform of preserving community
atmosphere is going to get laughed
right out of party headquarters.

Developing some backbone is a
fine phrase but we’re talking about
problems that have nothing to do
with courage. The blackout got
national attention and they’re
still arguing down at City Hall
about responsibility. Steinway,
Broadway and Ditmars merchants
can’t compete with big box stores
so niche retailing is the only
alternative. Trash and tagging
are no worse than other parts of
the city, in fact it’s much worse
elsewhere. But the one thing that
sets Astoria and other Queens
neighborhoods apart from
mega-density living is the number
of private homes that still exist.
They’re getting older and the
shadows of the highrises are
growing longer. That’s the
central issue.

Anonymous said...

In Astoria the construction is of the poorest quality possible because, like the entire borough, it has been put up for sale by the smalltime crooks who are elected to run it. Families hand down run-down diner or restaurant dynasties to their offspring. Newspapers are bought out by the advertisers or the politicians who pay for their printing.

The old ladies, Italian or Greek or German, sit on their front porches and are very sure they know exactly the way life should be and why you are not acceptable. The men make a lot of talk about what they won't tolerate and how they're not afraid to stand up to so and so and then quietly, with harsh lined faces, let themselves be hoodwinked again and again.

It's a place of sit down and shut up and don't you dare talk back you'd better like what's coming to you.

Anonymous said...

"Just which Astorians
are we talking about? Renters,
landlords, homeowners, merchants?
Each have different interests at
stake and that’s the problem
preservationists everywhere have
to deal with, not just Astoria."

Let me tell you something about Astoria, mister, we are white and black and every color in between. Native and fourth generation. This is a tight community and we all look out for each other. No one is going to drive a wedge between us so dont even try!

And let me tell you something else. Everybody I talk to, no matter what their background is, are very unhapppy with the quality of life here.

Every day it gets more crowded, more dirty, and more noisy. And all they want to do is shoehorn more people in here. If you can't take care of the people that are already here, how can you bring more in?

Lets take care of the people that live here first.

Anonymous said...

I work for Con Ed and we are sick and tired of the politicians slamming us. There are dozens of Con Ed people who live in Queens and believe me, we are all telling everyone who talks to us about this who to blame.

The next time you hear a politician slam Con Ed, ask them if they went down into a manhole on a 100 degree day or tried to splice a cable when its freezing.

Lucio said...

YUPPIES...That is the driving force behind speculation and hyperdevelopment. When Bloomberg decided to rezone Queensboro plaza, he set the stage for the yuppie invasion into Astoria. The massive propositions such as silvercup studios and other trash advertised the first ward of queens to both developers and yuppies. Once the yuppies started flooding in, developers (a good percentage of them plain astorian property owners) began to fill the demand for rental units. This resulted in the rapid inflation of property values(~1.2 million for 50x100 lot), this forced them to build bigger in order to make a profit. They also switched to building condos in order to pay mortgages quickly. Lenders are aware of the high demand in astoria/LIC and thus lend developers the cash with little down payment since developers will rarely default due to high demand.
The reality is that yuppies have a lot of purchasing power and unfortunately are here to stay. Development will slow down as prices continue to rise past the point of profitability, we can only hope it comes soon.

Lucio said...

My friend used to live in a beautiful blue mansion from 1922 on 31st Av and 23rd Street. The house had a wrap around porch, huge lawn and back yard with a pool. In 2004, our sophomore year of high school, developers offered 1.2 million for the house, with college looming close the parents naturally took the check without a second thought. A month later I witnessed the horrific demolition: a bulldozer plowed through the front door and tore down the historic beauty in less than twenty minutes. Now in its place stands an enormous seven story piece of garbage identical to one built a year earlier just two houses away. The developers are targeting the bigger lots 100x50 these usually hold the older detached houses. The lesson is that few if any can resist the chance at becoming instant millionaires. Therefore property owners need do develop a sense of respect for their community and sell only to home buyers instead of developers. Sadly we all know this will never be the case. As my neighborhood becomes flooded with lazy, obnoxious, elitist yuppie trash who look down on hard working locals, I ask myself: how can we be so selfish selling out our community to become rich while the rest of us non property owners are left to deal with the yuppie trash on a daily basis

Anonymous said...

Your neighborhood, like the rest of Queens, is being flooded with cheaply constructed barracks for the service industry. For every place that appeals to a yuppie (which doesn't stay open very long) you have 20 'high end' places with non-English signs, 99 cent stores, obscure banks, dirty streets, increasingly crowded conditions and a power grid that is shot to hell .... Yuppies don’t move to Elmhurst, they move to Hoboken (oh yes, the properties in Hoboken are worth about twice as Elmhurst, too)

You guys selling out are getting rooked. In Astoria, the developers only buy land. The buildings are worthless.

This is in direct contrast to those communities were there are policies that encourage a good quality of life, where you find good solid blocks with owners in residence (you know, like those high end communities around the country that you move to after you leave Astoria.)

The point here is that public policy can encourage owner occupied housing, and discourage illegal conversions or the demolition of historic properties. Yup, if those programs were in Astoria, your properties would be worth twice as much.

You fools! What is happening in places like Old Astoria make you the laughing stock of NYC.

Anonymous said...

You know, looking at these anti-yuppie comments suggests to me the posters (which could be developers) do not want yuppies into the neighborhood. They spread these rumors.

Yes, an influx of yuppies can disrupt things.

You know, yuppies are into quality of life issues, yuppies by old mansions and fix them up.

After all, guys, why don't you ever comment on the wide selection of local places that you can go to with a Brazilian DJ on Tuesday, and a belly dancer on Wednesday, and loser Euro-trash sitting around every night in cheap polyester suits with shades on aftersunset smoking hookah pipes.

That doesn't elicit comment?

Whoops, sorry, those are the resident developer wannabes.

Debbie said...

A couple years ago our pal Peter Baloney(aka Vallone) sr. spoke at my school
He said "all are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" Vallone started babbling baloney about how he "abides by these principles every day" This proves what a liar he is since by doing nothing to control over development he is allowing developers to infringe on our right to the pursuit of happiness. How can we pursue happiness in our community when 1)we have to cough up three times the "real" value of a house in order to own it.
2) Merchants are raising prices through the roof in order to rip off the incoming manhattanites and we end up having to spend our savings to cope with it.
3) The character and image of our community becomes destroyed by the influence of the manhattanites and their crap such as $tarbucks, cold$tone creamery, sushi bars, and juice bars just to name a few.

Anonymous said...

These are a few historical notes about how Astoria developed. There are other
histories out there but I thought to focus on infrastructure since that seems
central to many of the problems Astorians are dealing with now.

With the exception of a few surviving 19th century structures, old Astoria is mostly a
reflection of the 1920s and 30s. Many single family homes and low-rise apartments were
built by people who came from Manhattan and Yorkville in particular, which is located
directly across the East River. Virtually all of them could trace their roots to Ellis
Island. Some came to build pianos for Mr. Steinway, some to work in the factories of
Long Island City, some to open a business and still others to commute. As population
grew, so did employment right within Astoria itself.

Construction of the Queensboro Bridge and BMT suddenly made it possible to live on
Long Island yet easily work elsewhere. The trollies which ran the length of Steinway
and Broadway were replaced by efficient bus service. Astoria literally grew overnight.
Empty lots on Steinway, Broadway and Ditmars were bought-up by merchants who saw an
opportunity to prosper.

The intersection of Broadway and Steinway St. became the focal point of commerce for the
south end while Ditmars anchored the north side. Construction of the Triborough Bridge,
Grand Central Parkway and Queens Midtown tunnel completed the interconnection of Astoria
with the rest of the city. What took Manhattan a hundred and thirty years to develop was
accomplished in Astoria in an amazingly short stretch of just twenty years, 1920-1940.

Astoria in a true sense became self-sufficient. No less than eight movie theaters were
located along Broadway and Steinway. Shoppers could buy everything they needed without
leaving Astoria. Rose's for furniture, Stevens for TVs and appliances, A&P for groceries,
Woolworth and Kresge for sundries, Merkel for meat, Sokel's for toys and the list went on.
Any number of fountain/candy stores, newsstands, deli's, restaurants and bars were found
throughout area. The phone book listed scores of doctors, dentists and lawyers.

The next transition began as WW2 ended and the City began construction of public housing in
Long Island city. Arthur Levitt made affordable homes available further out on Long Island
and the LIRR offered the commuting option. But a lot of Astorians decided to just stay put.
Why not? You didn't have to own a car, you could buy everything you needed on Steinway, kids
could walk to school, Manhattan was only minutes away and Astoria Park offered green spaces
and a swim. Public transit was inexpensive and the service was outstanding.

Up to this point, much of Astoria's growth had come from within. Some who came to live in
Astoria also invested in local real estate. Many older apartment buildings and attached
houses you still see today are part of that legacy. These investors were not only landlords
but residents as well, so they had a vested interest in the upkeep of Astoria.

I'm not sure exactly when outside money began entering into the system, but it had an
immediate and dramatic effect. Perhaps the collapse of old-line manufacturing in Long
Island City was a catalyst. Together with escalating prices in general, the price of real
estate in Astoria began to outrun the ability of most people to buy property. As another
writer noted, the value of land today encourages vertical construction. Since empty lots
are almost non-existant, that construction must take the place of existing structures.

The sharp run-up in real estate is surely a major player, but there seems to be another
less obvious trend affecting Astoria. It strikes me is that people coming into Astoria
today aren't really coming with the thought of putting down roots. That's more a comment
about the times than about attitude. People are a lot more mobile now. They can and do
move around to take advantage of education and the job opportunities that result.

They're also less likely to have all of their family and friends living in the same
neighborhood as they do. That was once almost universal about Astoria. And while the
desire to own a home may be strong as ever, it's more with an eye toward appreciation
these days than investing in a place your children and their children will live in
someday. When it comes to preservation, these social trends are hard to define and
even harder to work around.

Anonymous said...

The previous poster has a nice summery of the community.

That being said, he might be in a position to ensure the special quality of Astoria stays this way.

Clamping down on illegal conversions and putting into place policies discouraging speculation and encouraging owner occupied housing are some ideas.

Linking development to infrastructure development is another.

And BTW, by turning a blind eye to those 'few' 19th homes that are in this district insures that the local political talent will never get beyond this community. When non-Astorians (with what we shall delicately have broader perspectives) see that destruction, they naturally shy away from anyone who had a part, no matter how indirectly, with it.

Anonymous said...

I knew a couple who started out as renters in Astoria and wanted to stay here. They tried to buy a house near 32nd and broadway but were unsuccessful. Apparently the bank would not lend them the amount the seller was asking as the appraisal came in much lower. I've noticed this when looking at Property Shark for properties in Astoria. Selling price and appraisal price differ wildly. When this happens, it's not Mr. and Mrs. Potential Homeowner that will be buying, it's the corporations with lots of ready cash.

No one made the "old-timers" sell to the highest bidder and no one made them charge the newcomers a few more hundred dollars a month in rent just because they were "outsiders." Stop blaming other people for your greed.

What is a "yuppie" anyway?

Anonymous said...

Astoria, Oregon is a world away
from Astoria, NY. You wouldn't
guess there are many similarities
except maybe for a common tie with
John Jacob Astor and that it's
also a riverfront community.

But the issue of preservation is
just as strong in both localities.
Perhaps a visit to these websites
will yield an idea or two that
hasn't been thought of. At the
very least I think you'll find the
parallels fascinating.

Astoria honors historic restoration

Theaters had tough luck in early Astoria

going, going, gone

Fishing Town With A Welcome Mat

City of Astoria, Official Website