Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ed Koch backed up!

MYFOXNY.COM - A truck that tried to cross the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge got stuck Tuesday afternoon and created a traffic backup.

The truck was driving on the Queens-bound outer roadway, which has limited clearance. An overhead structure sheared off the truck's roof.

Authorities have closed that roadway to traffic as well as one Queens-bound inner lane for emergency vehicles. That leaves only one lane open on the lower roadway heading to Queens.

Cracking down on a common business practice

From Urbanite:

Beginning this year, and in light of recent arrests of restaurant employees on attempted bribery charges, the city’s Department of Investigations told amNewYork it has stepped up its corruption prevention lectures to health inspectors.

While the city didn’t arrest any restaurant employees for health inspector bribes in 2009, it busted four people in 2010 and one so far in 2011.

Three of the four in 2010 came after the city implemented its new sanitary grading system in July. According to the DOI, a restaurant owner was busted in November for blatantly trying to “buy” an “A” grade.

City employees are required by mayoral executive order to report any kickback offers.

The DOI declined to say how many bribery cases it handles each year and the number of sting operations it conducts, citing confidentiality reasons.

In the November arrest, the manager of the East Manor Buffet in Elmhurst allegedly tried to give an undercover investigator posing as an inspector a $500 “gift.” This was after the restaurant was found to have insects crawling in the bakery section.

Another manager who answered the phone last week said the previous manager no longer works there.

Oh brother, more Iron Triangle confusion

From the Times Ledger:

Jukay Hsu, 26, grew up in Flushing and Bayside and graduated from the elite Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan graduating from Harvard University with a degree in economics then, in a rare move for an Ivy League graduate, joining the U.S. Army.

And now he hopes to help facilitate the inclusion of a campus of a top-tier university such as Stanford or Cornell in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $3 billion plan for the redevelopment of Willets Point.

And it appears he is convincing others to follow his lead. He has met with and received encouragement from supporters of the Willets Point redevelopment plan including City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) and former Borough President Claire Shulman.

Shulman and Koo should have explained to the eager young man that a university was not part of the scenario for the Willets Point plan that was approved by the City Council in 2008. So it ain't gonna happen unless there is another vote, which ain't gonna happen.

Also interesting is that no one seems to have any idea exactly what will actually be built there and on how much land. First we were told the entire triangle must be leveled and remediated at once, otherwise there would be underground cross-contamination. Then we were told to forget what we were told, that it can proceed in phases. The first phase would be 20 acres. But then we were told that 8 of those acres would constitute a "buffer zone". Now we are down to 12 acres, which just happen to sit across the street from CitiField. In the meantime, soccer teams are salivating over the thought of a stadium at Willets Point, the Islanders flirted with the idea of coming to no man's land and now this latest bright idea.

Get ready for New London all over again.

Co-op and condo owners get some relief

From the NY Post:

The city is going to undertake a sweeping review of how co-ops and condos are taxed following an outcry by owners in Queens who saw the assessed market value of some properties shoot up as much as 147 percent this year, The Post has learned.

The review was part of a deal hammered out between the Finance Department and the City Council, whose leaders came down hard on the administration after the tentative tax roll was released in January with assessments that would have raised taxes on some middle-class owners by 25 to 30 percent.

Councilman Dominic Recchia (D-Queens), the Finance Committee chair, said taxes on the city's 364,893 co-ops and 144,622 condos "would definitely go down" once the review was completed, probably next year.

Koo and Halloran introduce sign legislation

From the Daily News:

City Councilmen Peter Koo (R-Flushing) and Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) plan to introduce a bill next week that would force shopkeepers to change their awnings if at least 60% of the writing isn't in English. The bill is intended to quell a culture clash between homegrown residents and new immigrants.

"We have to make sure people know about these stores. We want to help these businesses expand and help them attract more tourists," Koo said.

The English signage will also help cops and firefighters, Halloran said.

"Our public safety officers need to know exactly where they need to respond to and what their surroundings will be when they enter the location," he said.

A separate bill introduced this month by Halloran and Koo would allow the city Department of Consumer Affairs to close the loopholes on a preexisting law that requires key information to be displayed in English in the store.

Shopkeepers will have up to four years to upgrade their signage under the proposal.

Crappy diner closes

"The Mark Twain Diner on Northern Blvd in Jackson Heights has closed. A new diner called Jax Inn will open in its place. I see nothing about it in any paper or article. It was a crappy diner which I almost never went to." - Steve

Monday, May 30, 2011

Is this really necessary?

Hey Chuck: This ain't cool.

Photos of College Point Memorial Day Parade

Photos taken of yesterday's College Point Memorial Day Parade by Robert W. LoScalzo

Cast iron gates getting stolen

Better food at the beach

From the NY Times:

In his annual “opening Rockaway Beach” news conference Friday morning on the boardwalk, the city parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, cautioned swimmers as he always does (“only when lifeguards are present” and “swim sober”) and lauded the city’s “14 miles of sand and water,” while announcing the opening of a mile of new boardwalk in sections between Beach 23d Street and Beach 81st Street.

And oh, yes, he said, as Brooklyn Based reported last week, there will be a robust menu of new specialty booths and carts organized by David Selig and Andrew Day Field, the owners of Rockaway Taco. But, the commissioner said, the vendors will open “subject to the successful completion of contract negotiations, and other required review and approvals.” Translation: there are still a few red-tape formalities to be dispensed with.

“We’re dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s now,” he said in a telephone interview.

The parks department has announced that it is trying to get better food vendors in the parks and the commissioner said the city “really wanted to get culinary diversity out to the beach.”

“We’ll have traditional burgers and hot dogs and fries,” he added, “but also a very exciting lineup of wider offerings.”

From the Daily News:

Residents and local officials are hoping the revamped concessions, along with other surfside events, will help lure more visitors to the area.

"This will add to the overall experience people have when they go to Rockaway and it is long overdue," said City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). "I think it's a shame that when you go to Coney Island, you have wonderful attractions and restaurants and, when you come to Rockaway, you have parts of the boardwalk that are desolate."

Ulrich pointed out that a resurgence in the surfing community has helped spark interest in the once-thriving beach resort.

Here's a movie about Rockaway Taco for you to enjoy on this holiday.

Why we wear poppies today

From the West 12th Road Block Association:

The idea for a Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy came to Miss Moina Michael of Georgia while she was working at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries' headquarters on a Saturday morning in November 1918, two days before the Armistice was declared at 11 o'clock on 11 November. The Twenty-fifth Conference of the Overseas YMCA War Secretaries was in progress. On passing her desk, a young soldier left a copy of the November Ladies Home Journal on Moina's desk.

At about 10.30am, when everyone was on duty elsewhere, Moina found a few moments to read the magazine. In it she came across a page which carried a vivid color illustration for the poem "We Shall Not Sleep" (later named "In Flanders Fields") by the Canadian Army doctor John McCrae.

Reading the poem on this occasion - she had read it many times before - Moina was transfixed by the last verse - "To you from failing hands we throw the Torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields."

She then conceived of an idea and started the practice of wearing red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States was the first veteran organization to promote a nationally organized campaign for the annual distribution of poppies assembled by American disabled and needy veterans. In 1924, the VFW patented the name "Buddy Poppy" for their version of the artificial flower.

Respectfully remembering the fallen

From CBS 2:

Today, the 478-acre expanse of greenery and statuary covering [Green-Wood] cemetery’s rolling hills is believed to be the final resting place of about 8,000 Civil War veterans.

A team of volunteers and Green-Wood staff has spent nearly a decade trying to identify all those graves. When the project began in September 2002, cemetery officials figured they had, at most, 500 veterans of the nation’s bloodiest war buried here.

Using the cemetery’s own burial records, plus government, military and privately owned documents available online, Green-Wood’s project has identified the graves of about 4,600 Civil War veterans. Green-Wood historian Jeffrey Richman estimates 3,000 to 4,000 more are scattered among the cemetery’s more than 560,000 total interments.

The Civil War dead buried at Green-Wood include unknown privates and famous officers, buglers and Medal of Honor recipients, Yankees from Maine to Iowa, fathers, sons and brothers, and even 75 Confederates, including two generals. None of the original gravestones for the Confederates gave any indication they had fought for the South, an intentional omission being rectified by the installation of new granite markers provided by Veterans Affairs.

Some of the gravestones and other markers at the previously known burial plots indicate that a person was a Civil War veteran, but most don’t bear information or an insignia that would tip off researchers, Richman said. Some of the grave markers are so worn the inscriptions can’t be read, while others are overgrown by grass or have sunken below ground level. Many of the veterans lie in unmarked graves, and it’s only by checking the cemetery’s detailed maps that individual burial plots can be located.

Part of the project includes placing new granite markers at the graves, marked and unmarked, of 2,000 of the Civil War veterans. So far, about 1,300 of the VA markers have been installed.

Welcome to the bungle

From the Daily News:

Workers took an average of 5.8 days to fix a pothole on city streets between July 2010 and February 2011, up from 4.3 days during the same period a year earlier — a 35% jump in average response time, stats show.

The response-time spike came as the city placed 555 road repairers on five-day furloughs to save $1 million this winter — only to turn around and put $2 million into its road repair budget to hire emergency crews to fix streets pockmarked after snowstorms.

City Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx), the chairman of the City Council Transportation Committee, said the longer a pothole goes unfilled, the worse it becomes. He noted potholes not only damage vehicles, but injure pedestrians and cause accidents.

Vacca said he'll introduce legislation that forces the city to tighten the 30-day period it has to fill a pothole.

Relief for road-weary drivers could be on the way. The proposed budget for next fiscal year will eliminate pothole worker furloughs, and the DOT says it has increased staffing for repair work by 10% between 2010 and 2011.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bohemian Hall - the last authentic beer garden

From the NY Times:

How many beer gardens can one city — even a fiercely pro-beer-garden city like New York — possibly have?

“Basically, this is too much,” said Larry Spacek, manager of the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden in Astoria, the 100-year-old paterfamilias of the New York beer garden world. “Everybody sees our success and is copycatting us. I don’t know if it is progress, but probably we are reaching an era of beer gardens.”

According to Mr. Spacek — he pronounces his name SPAH-check (“I am not related to Sissy”) — a successful beer garden requires both the beer and the garden, and if there also happen to be bratwurst, schnitzels and enough communal tables to, as he put it, “sit around with 600 other fellows singing karaoke,” that’s all to the good. The problem, he suggested, resides with those beer gardens lacking foliage. It is true, he acknowledged, that some of these less-than-green newcomers have cut into the Bohemian Hall’s business. “But sooner or later,” he said, “the fact that we are in a real park, with real trees, will bring people back. This is very important.”

Where the money's coming from

From the Gotham Gazette:

--Of the candidates listed on Councilpedia, Quinn led the pack in the number of intermediaries -- also known as bundlers -- who have collected donations for her campaign.

--De Blasio has collected substantial contributions from people who do business with the city, including $4,950 from Bear Stearns managing director W.P. McMullen and $2,500 from lobbyist Allison Lee.

-- In addition to substantial contributions from the real estate industry, in 2006, Vallone got a $2,000 donation from then Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and $4,950 from the Mets that he can use toward his 2013 run.

--Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley has amassed about $32,000 for a likely re-election bid. The chair of the Council Committee on Fire and Safety -- and a staunch opponent of cuts to fire houses -- Crowley has received $2,750 from the Uniformed Firefights Association, $2,507 from the emergency medical service workers, and smaller donations from unions representing fire officers and fire alarm dispatchers.

--So far, Leroy Comrie may be more notable for the money he hasn’t received than for what he has. As chair of the powerful Land Use Committee, he would be expected to get substantial donation from real estate interests. They backed him heavily in 2009 and supported the citywide campaign of his committee predecessor Melinda Katz. So far, he hasn't -- although he did get $250 from Katz's old campaign committee. Of course, Comrie, who is term-limited in 2013, may not actually be running for anything.

Hawks are everywhere

From the Daily News:

A group of amateur bird watchers was treated to a spectacular air show last Sunday, courtesy of a hawk couple that calls Astoria home.

The red-tailed hawks, named Atlas and Andromeda by their faithful fans, soared through the air, snacked on a bird and fed their hungry chicks. The pair make their home along the side of the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.

"Hawks exist all over the city, but many people just don't know they are there," said Urban Park Ranger Eric Handy, who led the program for the city Parks Department. "They are just a beautiful sight to see."

They are also a natural form of rodent control, feasting on rats and mice.

With the help of a spotting scope, participants were able to get a bird's-eye view of the feathered couple as they went about their daily business.

While many New Yorkers may only be familiar with the city's omnipresent pigeon and sparrow population, the five boroughs are full of wildlife. Red-tailed hawks and falcons make their nests among buildings, trees and other tall structures, including bridges and even the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Should these bikes be banned?

From the Times Ledger:

Officers from the 112th Precinct are serious about cracking down on two-wheeled vehicles in Forest Hills and Rego Park, but one variety remains out of their jurisdiction: There are still no laws governing the use of electric bicycles in New York City.

At a Community Board 6 meeting earlier this month, Capt. Ralph Forgione announced that officers have been vigilant in ensuring that motorcyclists and moped drivers who ride in the 112th Precinct have the proper documentation.

But one area where police cannot write tickets for lacking insurance or a valid license is with electric-assisted bicycles.

Instead, the 112th has to write tickets for infractions it would normally give to cyclists, like riding against traffic or riding on the sidewalk.

Residents have long complained that the bikes, which are powered by electric batteries, quietly zip around the neighborhood and pose hazards for pedestrians.

The law regarding the bikes is unclear in Queens, since the city and state do not regulate the vehicles.

But a bill is currently in the state Senate that would bring the electric-assisted bikes in line with federal regulations, and those regulations would treat the vehicles like normal bikes as long as they go under 20 mph and use less than 1,000 watts of power.

Unlike bicyclists, riders of the vehicles would need to be 16 years or younger and wear a helmet.

But Goldberg said the law should regulate the machines instead, many of which he said operate on less than 700 watts but can reach speeds of up to 50 mph.

Should we ban alcopop?

From the Daily News:

They banned smoking in parks and flavored tobacco. Now city officials are coming after your Mike's Hard Lemonade.

The city Health Department wants state lawmakers to make it illegal for bodegas to sell "alcopop" - premixed, carbonated, flavored malt drinks with alcohol content as high as 12%.

"We are very concerned about these," Health Commissioner Thomas Farley testified at a Council hearing yesterday.

Bronx State Sen. Jeff Klein has already introduced a bill to ban kid-friendly booze beverages like Four Loko and Tilt - but the city says it doesn't go far enough.

A new bill, which must be approved by Albany lawmakers, would outlaw Mike's Hard Lemonade and almost all other types of mixed alcoholic drinks sold in 8,700 bodegas, delis and mini-marts.

Studies have shown that two out of five adolescents who begin drinking before the age of 15 will eventually become dependent on alcohol.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tagging the bicycles

From the Daily News:

"Messengers and folks who work for restaurants tend to be the worst [traffic law] offenders," said Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn). "They have a financial incentive to be reckless drivers. ...It's the Wild West of transportation."

Greenfield is introducing legislation today that would force businesses that hire cyclists to apply for license plates for each employee's bike.

The companies would also have to show proof of insurance - to cover injuries to their rider and any pedestrians they may plow over.

Any business that fails to acquire the city-issued tags would face a $1,000 fine - and cops would get the green light to seize the scofflaw bikes.

"License plates are the great equalizer," Greenfield insisted. "If you have a license plate, you're responsible. Everyone knows who you are. They know who's in charge and we can track you down."

License plates, he said, could someday allow cops to bust bad bikers with red light cameras.

Is easing or tightening regulations the answer?

From City Hall:

Two deadly blazes in recent weeks, one in a Bronx apartment and another in Brooklyn, are raising questions about the city's ability to crack down on thousands of apartments that are illegally divided into separate, smaller units.

While much of the city's response focuses on how to bolster enforcement, an additional answer could be to adapt the zoning and building codes to pave the way for smaller—and safer—housing units as an alternative to the overcrowded, risky conditions many New Yorkers live in.

"If you want to change those problems, you have to offer other kinds of solutions," said Jerilyn Perine, executive director of the Citizens Housing & Planning Council, a housing research organization. "You can't just outlaw the world of the underground housing market. It exists because people can't find what they need in the normal housing market."

Easing the regulations would boost the supply of housing for low-income families, single adults and commuters who stay in the city part-time, according to the group.

No one disputes that illegal subdivisions are a problem. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the U.S. Census undercounted the city population by around 250,000 people in part because it missed residents in illegal subdivisions.

The CHPC estimated in 2003 that 100,000 illegal dwellings were in spaces not designed for residential use at all. And each year New York City receives about 20,000 complaints about illegally converted apartments, though it is able to inspect fewer than half of them.

From the Queens Tribune:

Though the city receives thousands of complaints about illegal conversions each year, only a handful ever end in fines. DOB officers sent to investigate the complaints are often denied entry and the complaints are often closed after two tries; homeowners, expecting visits from the DOB, have become smart on how to avoid encountering an inspector. The problem has led Public Advocate Bill de Blasio to call for reforming the way the DOB responds to complaints.

"We see illegally divided housing across Queens, both in neighborhoods dominated by big apartment buildings and those made up single-family homes," de Blasio said. "Wherever it happens, it is dangerous and the Dept. of Buildings needs to respond rapidly to reports they receive. It should not take the Dept. of Buildings weeks to dispatch inspectors, only to have many of them stymied by locked doors. The Department must accelerate its inspection process and increase its attempts to gain access to illegally subdivided units."

Among the things de Blasio would like to see the DOB change is the hours of inspection visits, so that owners are at home when inspectors come. Currently, most visits occur during the day when homeowners may be at work. He added that the DOB should have a quicker response time to complaints, which can sometimes be more than a month, and they should prioritize illegal conversions.

Toby doesn't know what she's talking about

From the Perez Notes:

I had the opportunity, to interview State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who represents the 16th SD. Here are some of State Senator's views, on the issues of the day.

Flushing Commons

"I would like to see some more parking there."

Not gonna happen.

"I would like to see more affordable housing there."

Not gonna happen.

"Congestion is something in Downtown Flushing that we need to reduce."

We won't since tweeders like you love rezoning property to allow megadevelopment.

Willets Point

"All but 9 of the businesses have been re-located."

None of the businesses have been relocated.

"The city has issued a request for a proposal."

Wow, she got something right!

"They are going to raise the road bed, so that they can overcome the flooding, the lack of sewers, and side walks. Its an embarrassment."

They are going to raise the roadbed to elevate the site above the 100-year flood plain. Of course they didn't make the Wilpons do that for CitiField, so 126th is going to be one lopsided street. And the area is an embarrassment because the city intentionally neglected it for decades so it would become blighted, which is the criteria for condemnation in NY State. This was all part of the plan, and you had a hand in it.

"Where else do you have this large a plot of vacant land, you have something in the neighborhood of 60 acres."

It's not vacant, moron.

City to give scofflaws the boot

From the Daily News:

Officials on Monday posted a notice seeking companies to provide the hated tire-locking clamps for a pilot program to test the possibility of using them citywide.

Currently, the city tows cars but doesn't use the boot.

Slapping a boot on someone's car may not seem like a customer-friendly move, but scofflaws who owe more than $350 now face the shock of discovering that their car has suddenly vanished - then must make an expensive trip to the tow pound.

Starting later this summer or early fall, the city plans to test a kind of boot that lets drivers pay by credit card over the phone to get an unlock code for the boot.

They would then return the boot to a dropoff location or face another big charge on their credit card.

Consultant arrested; Bloomberg thinks it's not all bad

From the NY Times:

A former consulting company executive was charged on Friday with receiving at least $5 million in illegal kickbacks in connection with his work as a project manager on the CityTime automated payroll project, people briefed on the matter said.

The consultant, Gerard Denault, a former executive of Science Applications International Corporation, was also charged with wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering in an indictment unsealed in United States District Court in Manhattan.

Mr. Denault was arrested in Danbury, Conn., on Thursday, and he is expected to be presented in federal court in Manhattan on Friday.

He was charged as a result of an ongoing investigation by the city’s Department of Investigation and the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan.

From the NY Post:

It might be the most-scandal plagued project of his administration, but Mayor Bloomberg today pronounced the $722 million CityTime timekeeping project a great success.

"We actually did a pretty good job here, in retrospect," the mayor said on his weekly WOR radio show.

Bloomberg argued that mega-software projects are fraught with technical peril and noted that some never get done.

"The FAA hasn't been able to get their new traffic control system and the IRS -- at the federal level some of these programs go on for decades, cost billions and billions of dollars and never come up with anything," he said.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Skinny freshman threatens student body with fake gun

From the Daily News:

A 15-year-old freshman has been charged with criminal possession of a weapon after he flashed the fake gun in English class at Flushing High School and promised to take revenge on classmates who teased him.

The troubled teen who showed off the fake weapon was a frequent target of other students who teased him and called him "scarecrow" for being too skinny, the classmate said.

During third period, the teen pulled the gun from his book bag and displayed it for the frightened students. A witness said the teacher never noticed.

One of the students called his mother on his cell phone, who called the school's principal, according to a police source.

The principal alerted the cops, who canvassed the school and arrested the boy. He is being charged as a juvenile.

Police said the boy painted the toy gun's red barrel black so it looked real. Cops also found a box cutter in his backpack.

Now that's living!

From the NY Times:

This is life in what some refer to as the McKibbin “dorms,” a landing pad for hundreds of postcollegiate creative types yearning to make it as artists, and live like them too, in today’s New York.

Newcomers marvel that such a place exists: two sprawling, almost identical five-story former factories filled with mostly white hip young things, smack in the middle of a neighborhood that has little in common with Williamsburg proper, its cocktail-mixing neighbor to the west.

Perhaps 300 people live in each building, which face each other and sit, respectively, at 248 and 255 McKibbin Street. Between one and eight people live in each loft. Few were born before the mid-1980s. Rents can range from $375 for one person to roughly $800 for a space. Perhaps not surprisingly, there have been citations for more than a few housing violations at one of the buildings.

After the honeymoon stage comes denial when, say, one gets woken up by someone’s band at 3 a.m. or mugged on one of the tough surrounding streets. Next comes anger, usually after someone hurls a 40-ounce beer bottle from the roof and then urinates outside your door. Then comes acceptance and, finally, departure.

Warrenlike as the loft spaces may be, they are, for the most part, legal. No. 248 is zoned for residential use. No. 255’s owners were given a permit to convert the space into artist lofts, though according to the Buildings Department, the required work was never done. Repeated violations have been issued. One came after a vacant second-floor apartment in 255 exploded three years ago, possibly because wood sealant combusted.

They are also a hotbed for crime...

LiMandri expects sabotage

From City Hall:

The city Buildings Department is bracing for turmoil at construction sites when dozens of collective bargaining agreements expire at the end of next month, Commissioner Robert LiMandri told a City Hall breakfast yesterday.

He said his department will be on high alert as the June 30 deadline nears, and is planning how to navigate picket lines and deal with deliberate destruction by disgruntled workers.

“That’s certainly planning for the worst, and if that happens we’ll have to do that,” said LiMandri, who noted his department has a strong relationship with the city’s district attorneys. “Sabotage is certainly, I’m sure, at the top of every construction manager’s mind, but make no mistake about it: this city is not going to tolerate that kind of behavior.”

The commissioner’s candid assessment came at a discussion hosted by Baruch College’s Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute and sponsored by the law firm Greenberg Traurig, during which he talked about the department’s challenges and successes since he took over in 2008.

Tensions between the city’s builders, contractors and unions have grown since last year. Developers say they need to cut costs 20 percent to restart the industry, and are asking for wage and benefit concessions as well as work-rule changes.

Construction workers say they have already sacrificed with temporary givebacks through project labor agreements, but have balked at making them permanent in new contracts.

Several industry workers grilled LiMandri about what they called widespread problems with unqualified and bureaucratic plan examiners, who are responsible for reviewing and approving construction plans.

Commuter parking bait-and-switch at Queens Plaza

From the Queens Chronicle:

Despite outcry at a Community Board 2 meeting, Borough President Helen Marshall on Friday approved a proposal which would allow for a significant reduction in the number of parking spots at 28-10 Queens Plaza South, the Gotham Center office tower.

The land, which is owned by the city, is now home to the city’s Health Department. An old parking facility at the location was put out of service in 2008.

Developer Tishman Speyer had initially agreed to create 1,150 parking spaces, but is proposing to instead maintain 550 spots. The garage would incorporate 162 existing spaces and add 388 during the construction of the second office tower.

Members of CB 2 were outraged that the city would consider reducing spaces when the already-congested area is expected to swell with an influx of new employees and residents. On April 7, they voted 24 to 12 to prevent the reduction.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) represents the area and said he is not yet sure how he will vote regarding the parking, which must still be approved by the City Council. “I am concerned about the loss of parking spaces and possible reduction here, but it is far from a done deal,” Van Bramer said. “I look forward to meeting with the city’s Economic Development Corp. and other members of the community to discuss it.”

Case dismissed, garden stays?

From the Queens Courier:

At a dead end in Whitestone, a colorful garden encircled by stone extends from the fence of a mustard-colored stucco home and into the middle of a city street.

The property owner of the house, located at 148-12 on 2nd Avenue, was issued a summons by the Department of Transportation (DOT) on April 1, 2010, that found the projections, including the garden and the fence, impinge on city property.

The department ordered homeowner Rocco Sacco to remove the structures. After failing to comply, he was issued three more summonses over a period of several months. But, the matter dates back much further.

At the Environmental Control Board (ECB) hearing held on May 4, 2011, a DOT representative affirmed the charges against Sacco comprised of four violations for “encroaching on city property” by building a fence on the sidewalk and a garden in the street.

However, Sacco’s representative, Carl Sulfaro, contested the violations, saying that Sacco did not plant the garden, does not have jurisdiction over it and does not own it, according to the ECB hearing document.

After the DOT representative presented photos and a property information sheet of the site, Administrative Law Judge Loriann Hellmann found that the DOT did not meet its burden to show that the encroachments were either on city property or out of the bounds of Sacco’s property. She also found that the DOT failed to show that Sacco actually planted the garden on the street.

Hellmann dismissed all four violations. The DOT now has 30 days to appeal this ruling.

Times has explanation for census undercount

From the NY Times:

...an informal house-to-house New York Times survey of three representative square blocks where the Census Bureau said vacancies had increased and the population had declined since 2000 suggests that the city’s outrage is somewhat justified. In those blocks alone, census takers appear to have missed dozens of New Yorkers and to have overestimated the number of vacant apartments.

Often, though, owners of illegally divided houses are reluctant to disclose the number of tenants, who tend to include people who are in the country illegally and are leery of providing any information to the government. A visit from Times reporters may have proved less intimidating to landlords and residents.

City officials say as many as 80,000 residents appear to have been systematically overlooked in crowded immigrant neighborhoods like East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights in Queens and Sunset Park, Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst in Brooklyn.

One census taker who not only lives in East Elmhurst, but was also assigned to make follow-up visits to neighborhood addresses to determine if they were occupied, acknowledged the challenges of trying to find people who do not necessarily want to be found.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Have you seen this dog?

From WPIX:

A costume-wearing dog that panhandles for its owner outside New York Mets and Yankees games has animal-loving baseball fans furious and the ASPCA investigating.

The dog, named Coffee, appears in front of the two stadiums for hours -- dressed up in team gear, wearing sunglasses and holding a pipe in her mouth. She also wears a bandana around her neck, conveniently covering a remote shock collar used by the owner to keep her from lying down, say concerned baseball fans that have seen her. In a photograph taken while her mouth was open, she also appears to have no teeth.

She sometimes wears a cardboard sign around her neck that reads "I don't like cheap people," and sits next to a plastic jug with a reminder for people to leave a tip if they take a photo.

While Coffee’s owner may be avoiding MLB games for the time being, the ASPCA urges anyone who sees the dog to call their Humane Law Enforcement department at 212-876-7700 ext. 4450 or email enforcement@aspca.org.

Saving pets from death row

From the Daily News:

Homeless animals on Death Row at shelters across the state could get a better chance of survival with new legislation under review in Albany.

The bill, unveiled by Assemblyman Micah Kellner last week, would make it tougher for shelter officials to bar rescue groups from taking these unwanted cats and dogs.

"Rescue groups want to get ahold of these animals and find them a forever home," said Kellner (D-Manhattan). "Right now it is up to the discretion of the shelter which groups they allow in."

Some advocates fear the bill would allow hoarders and irresponsible rescuers to pull the homeless pets without oversight.

The bill is especially important in New York City, Kellner said, where thousands of stray cats and dogs are killed every year because there is not enough shelter space to hold them or people to adopt them.

Rescue groups step in and pull unwanted animals out of shelters to prevent them from being euthanized. Some groups have their own facilities or use foster homes to house these dogs and cats until they can be adopted.

Long-promised full-time shelters in Queens and the Bronx have never been built, meaning all stray animals are brought to facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Neighbors fear 110th Ave explosion

From Queens Courier:

Outraged Jamaica residents say a development company whose executives include a former Department of Buildings (DOB) inspector may be putting the community in danger with plans to pave a driveway too close to a gas vent.

Officials at Melody Development Inc. contend the work, set for the side of a small commercial building on the corner of Sutphin Boulevard and 110th Avenue is perfectly safe and notes the project has the DOB’s approval.

But gas company officials say such work shouldn’t be done within 200 feet of a gas vent. The vent is about 13 feet from the driveway site, which is to be paved over gas lines.

National Grid marked the ground with yellow flags to specify the location of the lines, said Karen Young, a spokeswoman for the gas company. But residents said the flags were recently moved, an observation made during a visit to the site. Young said the utility was unaware the markings had been removed.

“We mark the area for a specific reason,” she said. “As long as the work is done away from the flags, it’s completely safe. But if the flags have been moved, we will have to remark them.”

The driveway plan was approved by the DOB on March 31, much to the surprise of residents. Ogunkya and others neighbors note that the development company’s second highest official, Bernard Lake, is a former DOB employee. The owner, David Manesh, was convicted of rigging a public real estate auction in 1998, according to Federal Court records. He also was convicted of tax fraud that same year.

When the building was constructed in 2008, Melody removed Ogunkya’s fence from the side of his home without his permission or any explanation, he said. Manesh said his workers needed the space to lay the framework for the building. The back of the building comes within inches of the property line.

After Ogunkya complained to the DOB, a stop work order was issued to the company for building without an adequate fence between the site and the adjacent property, records show. Within days, the order was rescinded and work was allowed to continue, even though the fence was never replaced.

As work on the building continued through 2009, Ogunkya’s car and driveway were damaged by falling mortar and cinder blocks, according to him and a DOB inspection report. Ogunkya showed a reporter video footage in which wood and mortar could be seen falling from the construction site.

Another stop work order was issued, only to be rescinded a few days later after a second inspection found no damage, according to “pictures and other evidence” collected by another DOB inspector. Ogunkya said he asked DOB for those pictures, but his request was refused. Representatives from the DOB declined to comment on the situation.

The driveway plan was approved by the DOB on March 31, much to the surprise of residents. Ogunkya and others neighbors note that the development company’s second highest official, Bernard Lake, is a former DOB employee. The owner, David Manesh, was convicted of rigging a public real estate auction in 1998, according to Federal Court records. He also was convicted of tax fraud that same year.

Radioactive rocks in Astoria

From Eyewitness News:

ASTORIA, Queens (WABC) -- A hazardous material teams investigated a possible radiation scare at a house in Queens.

A box with a radiation symbol was found inside an apartment on 45th Street in Astoria Tuesday.

Newscopter 7 flew over the building while Hazmat and the bomb squad sorted through boxes.

The owner died, and donated everything to charity.

While his belongings were being packed up, a suspicious box was discovered.

It tested positive for trace amounts of radiation.

It turns out the box was full of rocks that emit low levels of radiation.

Note how the video from WPIX and the ABC story differ quite a bit. Which one is the truth?

$84M budget surplus for upcoming year

From the Daily News:

"Based on the Independent Budget Office’s latest economic forecast and revenue and expenditure reestimates under the Mayor’s most recent budget plan, the city will end the current fiscal year with a surplus of $3.15 billion, $64 million less than the Mayor’s estimate. We expect 2012 to end with a small surplus of $84 million. But our projections show the city still faces a shortfall of $4.1 billion in 2013, the fiscal year that starts a little over a year from now, despite IBO’s revenue estimate for 2013 being substantially higher than the Mayor’s."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Old Jackson Heights mansion to be torn down

Hey Crappy,

I’m a huge fan and been following the blog since its inception. I wanted to tip you of on a beautiful old house in Jackson Heights that looks like it’ll be demolished any day now. It’s on the corner of 34th avenue and 74th street. It sits across the street from what once was its sister house (now a vacant lot), owned by the same family. No telling what either lot is going to be, but the area cannot handle another residential building in the area. Some speculated that they may be building offices. The house is a true beauty and should have been a shoo-in for landmarking but will end up another example of destroying history when something beautiful has outlived its initial use.

Keep up the good fight,


Not to worry, Joe. I looked up the owner info for both sites and guess who's tearing these mansions down?

The Bloomberg Administration!

Owner's Information
Relationship to Owner: DIR. OF STUDIO1
Business Address: 30-30 THOMSON AVENUE L.I.C. NY 11101

And there's already a school across the street...

They even got a mechanical demo permit!

Michael Meyer's kneeslapper

From the Queens Chronicle:

Start-up on Flushing Commons is more problematic. Although the city gave TDC the go-ahead last July to redevelop the parking lot site, Meyer said the firm is looking to have all the necessary financing in place first. “The market is weak now,” he said. “We are focusing on bringing capital from China.”

He hopes work can begin in a year. About six months to a year after that, TDC will raze its Flushing Mall on 39th Avenue to make way for interim parking during construction of Flushing Commons. The developer said it’s too early to know how the mall site will be used following completion of Flushing Commons.

TDC was also one of two finalists in the city’s plan to redevelop the 60-acre Willets Point area several years ago, but now the city is dividing the project into three phases and is again seeking requests for proposals from developers, which are due in August.

“It’s not fair,” Meyer said. “We spent $500,000 on the first proposal, but we have to start again.”

However, since his firm is so familiar with the site, Meyer believes TDC is ready for the challenge. “There may be a lot of interest and submissions, but I question whether there’ll be many teams capable of pulling off such a challenging large-scale project with a plan that can be truly feasible in the marketplace,” he said.

So you're having trouble getting Flushing Commons off the ground but you think you can handle Willets Point? Sad thing is I bet the City gives it to them...

Case of the disappearing owners

Spoof hits the nail on the head

From The Final Edition:

Malik Segu remembers when he couldn’t walk down his block in South Corona, Queens, without hearing someone shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” or “Hey, pizza-face, is this your foot?” But now, he says with a wide, toothless grin, such anti-leper slurs are seldom if ever uttered in this quiet, working-class neighborhood known for its large, rectangular apartment buildings and concrete-covered streets with vehicles often parked on them.

Leper restaurants, bars, bodegas and cockfighting pits line the main commercial artery of Tweed Boulevard and partially dressed old men with few remaining body parts sun themselves in their motorized wheelchairs, trading local gossip and innuendo. The city’s largest concentration of used-prosthetics stores is also found here.

Recently, trendy young people from Manhattan have begun journeying to the neighborhood to sample its exotic cuisine and vibrant nightlife.

“I love the clubs,” said Tara McFetlock, a 22-year-old bankruptcy trader from Tribeca. “There is a haunting, tragic feeling of despair and horror there unlike anything you find in Manhattan.”

Her date for the evening, Caleb Ostrowsky, 27, said he was a smug, self-satisfied foodie excited by the adventure of dining in restaurants “where on any given evening you might just find the chef’s finger in your ragout.”

This sure ain't Suffolk County!

"I thought the Crapper's readers might want to see the deplorable conditions at the Main Street Flushing LIRR Manhattan bound entrance. You are met with black hefty bags filled with lord knows what, mud, piled up cardboard boxes from the market on the corner, and discarded clothes. The site is actually cleaner that it's been. Since Smellovision hasn't been invented yet, you are spared the Chinese food stench.
Since Flushing is the hotspur of the mayor's 9 million by 2030 or bust program, the LIRR to Manhattan gateway should be a flagship type station. I imagine the MTA has been reluctant to rebuild it because a month after any improvements are made, the station would revert to its old condition. The people have what they want there." - Kevin

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This is one of Queens' "business experts"...

Jack Friedman, executive VP of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, tells GlobeSt.com that the [living wage] measure would all but kill development, which has already been hit hard in the region. “I can’t imagine Willets Point going forward if the living wage mandate goes forward,” Friedman says. “Because what retailer in their right mind is going to agree to sign leases in a place where they’re going to have to pay their employees 50% more than the people down the block?”

This business genius apparently has forgotten that "living wages" were mandated for the Willets Point project, which he relentlessly cheered for. So with this incredible statement, he's basically admitting that "NYC's next great neighborhood" will never happen.

Photo from the Daily News

Taxi of Tomorrow may be illegal

From the NY Times:

The United States attorney’s office in Manhattan has opened an investigation into whether the lack of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs in New York City amounts to a violation of parts of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The investigation, revealed on Monday in letters mailed to city lawyers and owners of taxi medallions, could result in the federal government’s bringing a civil case against the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which regulates which vehicles can be used as taxicabs.

Taxicab owners are not required by the city to operate vehicles that are accessible to the disabled. The Nissan NV200, the minivan chosen by the city as its exclusive yellow cab for the next decade, will not provide access either.

Federal lawyers are conducting “a thorough evaluation” of whether this complies with the disabilities act, which prohibits local governments, or private groups that provide public transportation services, from discriminating against the disabled, according to the letter sent to medallion owners.

Avella vs. Bloomberg's firehouse closings

From the Daily News:

A state lawmaker is trying to hose down Mayor Bloomberg's plan to shutter 20 FDNY companies.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) on Sunday vowed to introduce legislation that would force the city to first get approval from community boards, borough presidents and two-thirds of the City Council.

"It concerns me greatly how the mayor treats public safety, especially fire safety, in a very cavalier manner," the Democrat said.

He announced his long-shot plan at a rally Sunday in front of one of the companies on the chopping block, Engine Co. 306 in Bayside, Queens.

Bloomberg insults parents

From the NY Times:

Responding to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday seeking to prevent the city from closing 22 poor-performing schools, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg made a comment that has sparked outrage among some community leaders.

Mr. Bloomberg, appearing on his weekly radio show, began by criticizing two plaintiffs in the suit — the teachers’ union and the N.A.A.C.P. — saying the groups “should know better” and that allowing the schools to remain open would be “unconscionable.”

But it was the way he referred to the parents who have continued to support these schools — which overwhelmingly serve poor, minority and immigrant students, including many who live in homeless shelters — that caused the anger.

“Unfortunately there are some parents who just come from — they never had a formal education, and they don’t understand the value of education,” Mr. Bloomberg said on the program, which is broadcast on WOR-AM (710).

He went on to observe: “The old Norman Rockwell family is gone.”

Queens Plaza "art" is garbage collector

From CBS:

It’s called the “Gateway To Queens,” but some say it looks more like a graveyard.
The landscaping project at Queens Plaza is winning less-than-rave reviews from residents. Many think the design is ugly and some say it could even be dangerous.

Then again, to others it’s environmentally friendly, edgy and even cool.

“Anything that’s an attempt at art is a good thing,” one resident told CBS 2′s Tony Aiello.

Still, some believe the new landscape design at Queens Plaza has very little merit — artistic or otherwise.

“It’s a garbage catcher. Look at it — catching garbage,” another man said.

There is garbage everywhere, which is collected between the jagged chunks of concrete lined up like tombstones.

“I thought somebody robbed a graveyard and just stuck grave markers there,” another resident joked.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation is behind the redesign. EDC has bragged about the project as being good for the earth because the concrete is being recycled.

The EDC said it was also enhancing the landscape with the careful use of drought-resistant plants. But after a week of rain, many of them look to be in bad shape — especially those choked by garbage.

What happened to this:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Maspeth turns out for St. Saviour's rally

Young Community Voices Heard. Jakub - 2 ½ and his sister Emilia, 4 ½, in front of the St. Saviour's Park site at 57th Road and 58th St. A rendering of proposed park hangs above them. (Photos: © Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)

From A Walk in the Park:

More than one hundred people rallied in front of the once lush St. Saviour's historic church site in Maspeth, Queens, on Saturday, May 21, 2011, to advocate for a new park. Maspeth residents, led by the Newtown Historical Society and civic groups C.O.M.E.T. and Juniper Park Civic Association, called on the City to begin the ULURP process and acquire the land through condemnation (eminent domain) if the City and the property's owner, Maspeth Development, LLC, cannot come to terms.

The two sides are reportedly $ 2 million dollars apart according to City sources. Park supporters accused the property owner of holding the park hostage in order to get a higher price.

Elected officials including Council Members Elizabeth Crowley and Karen Koslowitz, Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi and long time park supporter State Senator Tony Avella joined local residents and community groups to push for the green space. Supporters held signs in multiple languages including Polish and Spanish.

For more than five years the community has been fighting to convert the 1.5 acre property into a public park.

$ 3.5 million dollars has been secured by Council Member Crowley and Borough President Helen Marshall, enough for the City to start the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) required to take possession of the property, according to Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, who has been leading the charge.

The City, meanwhile, is now saying it does not have enough money to begin the process.

Critics assert that the City has been dragging its feet on starting the ULURP process, which in itself could take years to complete. ULURP is required before the City may take title to the property. The community fears the developer will not wait that long and may either sell or develop the property in the meantime. This scenario is unacceptable to area residents.

"If the City and the property owner can't come to a purchase agreement, then the City needs to consider condemnation," said Wilkinson. "They need to take possession of this site by any means necessary. More open space is something the community needs, not just something we would like to have."

"We don't need more warehouses in Maspeth and we don't need a garbage dump," Wilkinson said. "What we need, and what future generations will need, is more parkland."

The property was once a verdant oasis according to residents.

"It was like an ocean breeze with all the trees," said 72-year-old Gerry Olechna who has lived in the area her entire life. "During the Winter it was a scene right out of a Currier & Ives painting. And look at what they've done."

"They made it a garbage dump," added 81-year-old Rosemarie Pittelli, who also grew up in the neighborhood, 61 of those years living across the street from the church site. "It's really sickening. It used to be so beautiful."

"We've already been at this for 5 years," said Wilkinson. "It shouldn't take 5 more years, but if it does, so be it. We won't stop advocating for this much needed green space."

DOB forces developer to tear down shitboxes

From the Bronx Times:

Kiss $2 million goodbye.

The developer of the Teddy Place luxury homes at 3250 Rawlins Avenue, after losing an appeal, was forced to raze two of five houses, so that he could proceed with marketing the remaining three Country Club properties formerly occupied by a decrepit old mansion. The demolition of 3 and 4 Teddy Place was completed on Tuesday, May 10.

The project’s architect and developer originally filed a self-certification application with the Department of Buildings to build the houses in a cluster format around a private street named Teddy Place, and to have the development treated as one house. Upon DOB review, an egregious mistake was discovered.

The homes were both too close to one another and set too far back from the street to meet Country’s Club’s R-2 zoning regulations.

The project’s owner, listed as 3250 Rawlins Avenue Partners, was left with no choice but to level 40 percent of his original investment.

The application for the demolition permit was filed on Tuesday, March 8, and the permit was granted on Tuesday, April 26.

“I think what we had here was someone who didn’t understand the local zoning and who took a chance and got stuck,” said Councilman Jimmy Vacca. “Our neighborhood has worked very hard to stop the kind of over development that we had here, and I hope this sends a message that no one should try to skirt our local zoning. Most importantly, hopefully soon the residents of Rawlins Avenue will no longer have to look at a construction site every day and we can now see this project move.”

The architect, Gerald Caliendo, declined to comment.

From a zoning expert:

"And why hasn't Caliendo lost his architect's seal and ability to file? Vacca's statement about the developer 'not knowing the zoning laws and taking a chance' is pretty ridiculous. Caliendo knew exactly what he was doing."

You'd think this sort of malfeasance would get one kicked off a community board, but in Queens, this is exactly the type of person the borough president appoints again and again. Caliendo has been on CB1 for more than 30 years.

$85,000 in grant money for this?

From the NY Times:

Tania Bruguera has eaten dirt, hung a dead lamb from her neck and served trays of cocaine to a gallery audience, all in the name of art. She has shown her work at the Venice Biennale, been feted at the Pompidou Center in Paris and landed a Guggenheim fellowship.

But now she is sharing a tiny apartment in Corona, Queens, with five illegal immigrants and their six children, including a newborn, while scraping by on the minimum wage, without health insurance.

She has not fallen on hard times. Ms. Bruguera is performing a yearlong art piece meant to improve the image of immigrants and highlight their plight. And she is bringing her high-concept brand of provocation to a low-wattage precinct of taco stands and auto-body shops, where the neighbors have responded with varying degrees of curiosity, amusement and befuddlement.

I was going to just make fun of this, since it's a really stupid "art" project. But then I read this: Ms. Bruguera has turned the space, a former beauty supply store, into the headquarters for her new advocacy group-cum-art project, Immigrant Movement International, using about $85,000 from Creative Time, a nonprofit arts group, and the Queens Museum of Art.

She's getting grants from not-for-profits funded by our tax dollars, even though it says in the article that she's a woman of means who could have funded this experiment herself. How generous of us!

Her roommates, especially an out-of-work Ecuadorean laborer, do not know what to make of her. “I explained to them four times what I’m doing already,” she said. “They don’t get it. They’re not very excited.”

Looks like I have something in common with Ecuadorean day laborers in Corona...

So much for the illegal conversion crackdown

From the Daily News:

Faced with two fatal fires at illegal apartments in three weeks, Mayor Bloomberg insists his administration is aggressively attacking the problem in the courts.

He says the city has ratcheted up its effort to get "access warrants," which allow inspectors to get inside suspected firetraps.

But a Daily News investigation found the city's use of this weapon is anemic at best. Reviewing records and visiting dozens of suspect buildings, The News found:

The city pursued warrants in less than 1% of the 20,000 illegal apartment allegations they field each year. Usually inspectors simply close cases after two attempts to get in.

The Buildings Department usually doesn't seek a warrant - even when another city agency has already cited a property for illegal apartments.

When the city does get a warrant, there's often no followup, which allows illegal apartments to remain.

Let's go for a Rockawalk

Click photo for story