Monday, September 30, 2013

Liz Crowley publicly supports questionably operating club

It has come to the attention of Maspeth civic organizations that the developer that owns 52-19 Flushing Avenue, Mr. David Sklar (and a relative named Paul Sklar), have applied for a liquor license to serve up to 5,000 people at a location that they have been operating as a dance club and art exhibit hall for more than a year. They made their pitch to Community Board 5 on Wednesday, September 18.

The application that CB5 received was for a new liquor license to serve “up to 600 patrons” with the applicant listed as “David Sklar d/b/a Knockdown Center”. However, there is reason to believe that the 3-acre facility will host many more people than that, based on DOB records on file.

The zoning for this area is M1-1, and the location sits within the Maspeth Industrial Business Zone. The Daily News mentioned this in a report earlier this year, when the community board was taken by surprise at the brazenness in which the club was operating without their knowledge or any permits.

There also are multiple complaints on file that people are living there and the owner has applied to put “employees quarters” on the mezzanine. My guess is that "employees quarters" means live-in artist studios. Not only does this violate the purpose of Industrial Business Zones, but the Toxics Targeting website indicates that this site may require some cleanup.

As you can see from the Knockdown Center’s website, alcohol is already being served on the premises to hundreds of people per event via Roberta's, a caterer with a shady reputation. (Thank you Miss Heather for breaking that story.) The venue does not have a valid place of assembly permit; they applied for one earlier this year for occupancy of up to 5,000 persons, and it was rejected by the DOB. In this filing, they listed the building as “A-2: 24 GALLERY / EXHIBITION HALL”, but in another filing, they wrote “A-4: ASSEMBLY: INDOOR SPORTS.” Okay, so which is it?

The building is rented out for weddings, film shoots, parties and other events. They are planning an indoor/outdoor flea market on Sundays starting October 20th.

· How can the owner file for a liquor license without having an approved location at which to operate? The location is a run-down factory building, and its safety is in question. A special permit from BSA is required, and as of this date, the owner has neither received one nor applied for one.

· A cabaret license for this type of venue is required. None is on file.

· The current certificate of occupancy is for a factory, therefore having any event open to the public is illegal.

· Does anyone really believe that in a building with the capacity to hold 5,000, only 600 people will be served alcohol? And at what type of events? There have been drug busts at “raves” in other area factories that have been converted into clubs.  It seems that "up to 600" has been chosen to avoid having to obtain a cabaret liquor permit from the State Liquor Authority (which is different from the city's required cabaret license).

· How would 5,000 people even get to Maspeth? Public transportation is lacking. Where will the parking be when the yard is in use (which is often)? And should people be driving around after they have been drinking at a club all night?

· This venue would no doubt become a trouble spot for the NYPD. The 104th precinct is already stretched way too thin.

· There are row houses on the same block as the venue and a residential community sits right across the street. When the club-goers start leaving during the wee hours of the morning, they will cause problems for the residents of the area. Complaints have already been received about noise and crowds at this location.

In addition, online reviews of the place have mentioned the loudness of the events (note from the photo above that the location is mainly outdoors, at least one building on site is missing a roof, and the main building does not have windows or doors) as well as the fact that drugs have been openly passed around and used at past events. There's even a photo on FourSquare of a guy puffing on a joint at one of their parties.

And then there's the shuttle bus. The L train at Jefferson Street is the closest rapid transit to the Knockdown Center. It's about 3/4 of a mile away. So they send this bus out to pick up the patrons:

Does this thing look safe or street legal? It doesn't even have a license plate on the front of it. Miss Heather found people living in it on Driggs Avenue in Greenpoint last year. Note the bunk beds inside and hammocks on the roof! Does the person who drives this thing have a CDL to transport passengers?  It's highly doubtful. And this vehicle certainly would not be able to handle the shuttling of thousands of people to and from the subway, even when it is running.

Since the owner himself has not been forthcoming about what his establishment will be and how many people it will serve, and since he has pretty much flipped the bird at the neighborhood and its representatives by operating illegally for more than a year, it is imperative that his liquor license application be rejected.

Assembly Member Cathy Nolan and State Senator Michael Gianaris, whose districts this is in, have already sent letters asking SLA to reject the application and State Senator Joe Addabbo has done so in support, since his district begins a block away. (The Council Member for this area, James Van Bramer, reportedly has told civic groups that he was sending a letter out last week.) The Queens Civic Congress has sent their own letter to SLA.

Shockingly, Council Member Elizabeth Crowley spoke in favor of the application at the September community board meeting even though this is currently not in her district. She "coincidentally" has received thousands in campaign donations from the main investors, the Argento family.

Her stated reason for supporting the venture was that the Astoria Argentos own Broadway Stages in Greenpoint, which she claims employs up to 1,500 people at a time. Interestingly, their own website says that they have "created hundreds of local jobs."  Whatever the number, why should that entitle them to do what they please in Maspeth (apparently they already do what they please in Greenpoint), especially since they only project 30 full-time jobs being created at the Knockdown Center after expansion?

Crowley also said she is pleased that someone is bringing an arts center to Maspeth.  In fact, she called it "positive economic development."  It's quite clear that the "arts center" nonsense is a smokescreen for the club that they are running, which can be called a lot of things, but positive economic development is not one of them, at least not in the eyes of the community she represents.

When have you ever heard a politician testify in favor of a liquor license at a community board meeting, especially when the venue is not even in his or her district?

Sklar and Argento no doubt are hedging their bets that both Crowley and Melinda Katz will be victorious in November.  They will then proceed to apply for their licenses and permits with the assistance of Crowley and Katz after the new district lines bring the Knockdown Center's site into Crowley's district.  The liquor license takes the longest to obtain, which is why they are putting the cart before the horse.

The owner & investors have donated $14,500 to Melinda Katz.

In fact, the Knockdown Center's Twitter page has been re-tweeting her campaign tweets!


True beautification or lipstick on a pig?

"An heroic effort to beautify one of the town's seediest back alleys.

But it didn't take long for delivery scooters to crap up the view." - The Flushing Phantom

Stairs collapse, fire escape unstable, FDNY evacuates kids from roof

From Daily News
From CBS New York:

An early-morning rooftop party in the East Village ended Sunday morning after a stairwell collapsed, sending a man falling at least two stories.

More than 30 college-aged students at the party were trapped on the roof after the accident that occurred around 1 a.m., an FDNY spokesman said. Firefirghters used a ladder and cherry-picker basket to rescue them from the top of the seven-story building at 159 Second Ave., near East 10th Street.

“They also tried to get everyone off the fire escape, but the fire escape is not deemed to code,” a partygoer who lives in the building told WCBS 880′s Monica Miller reported. “So when they were actually trying to get people off, some of the rings were breaking. So that’s why they were bucketing people because there was literally no access in and out of that building, and the elevator wasn’t working either.”

The man who fell was admitted to Bellevue Hospital. He injured his leg and suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung, 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck reported. The man was apparently jumping up and down on the landing.

City properties taxed unfairly

From the Daily News:

On Autumn Ave. in working class Cypress Hills sits a modest $462,000 brick two-family home with a postage-stamp sized front yard and a warning sign, “These Premises Protected by Video Surveillance.”

The owner pays $6,919 in property taxes.

Six miles away on Fourth St. on one of upscale Park Slope’s most exclusive blocks sits an impressive $2.5 million four-story brownstone with a lush backyard garden, four bedrooms and three baths.

The owner of that lovely home pays $6,209 in property taxes — $710 less than his fellow Brooklynite, whose plot sits in one of the city’s poorest zip codes.

When it comes to property taxes, New York City homeowners live in an upside-down “Alice In Wonderland” world — a system that often favors the rich and punishes lower- and middle-income property owners, a Daily News investigation has found.

Because of the bizarre way the city taxes residential property, owners in upscale gentrified New York neighborhoods like Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights and the upper East Side often wind up paying less than owners in hardscrabble zip codes like East New York and Canarsie in Brooklyn, South Jamaica in Queens and Mott Haven in the Bronx.

Property taxes collected under this unequal system are the city’s biggest single source of money, accounting for 40% of all revenue and totaling $18.7 billion this year.

By law, the city is supposed to treat everyone the same, assessing taxes based on what the Finance Department determines as the “estimated market value" of a property and then applying a uniform 6% assessment ratio to that number.

Records show it doesn’t happen that way.

At the request of The News, the city’s Independent Budget Office performed an analysis of tens of thousands of property tax records citywide and found “wide disparities" in how the Finance Department nails down its version of “market value.”

Miss Heather's advice to elected officials

From New York Shitty:

Thought of the day: if the leaders of our community want to attract tourists, perhaps they should crackdown on speculators/developers who do not maintain their properties, illegally occupy the sidewalk and/or street with their “accoutrements”*, etc.? Is it just me or are our electeds sort of missing the forest for the trees here?Paul Richard has a sense of humor. It kind of stings, though, doesn't it?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Junk cars in Jamaica

From Cleanup Jamaica Queens:

Yesterday I reported to 311 and sent an email out to the powers to be in regards to 2 very smashed up vehicles with license plates that were on the street. One on 90th Ave between 168th Pl & 168th St right across from the 103rd precinct.

The other on 168th St between Jamaica Ave and 90th Avenue also right near the 103rd precinct.

Today I received a response for each vehicle:

First one:
Service Request #: C1-1-894470621
Date Submitted: 09/28/13 7:21:17 AM
Request Type: Derelict Vehicle
Details: With License Plate
Your Service Request was updated.
Your complaint has been received by the Police Department and it has been determined that a long-term investigation may be necessary. Additional information will be available at the conclusion of the investigation

2nd One:
Service Request #: C1-1-894470641
Date Submitted: 09/28/13 7:23:33 AM
Request Type: Derelict Vehicle
Details: With License Plate
Your Service Request was updated.
Your complaint has been received by the Police Department and it has been determined that a long-term investigation may be necessary. Additional information will be available at the conclusion of the investigation.

Do you believe this? There are two totally smashed up cars on the street that cannot be driven away and need to be towed to a facility, but yet the Police Department feels that a long-term investigation may be necessary. Do the investigation in a junkyard! I mean this is not the collapse of the economy due to greedy corporations and financial institutions, it is two smashed up cars parked in residential areas on the street looking like eyesores.

Joe Moretti

Replacing the Rockaway boardwalk a huge undertaking

From the NY Times:

Replacing it will be hugely expensive, with a tentative price tag of $200 million. It will involve 4.7 miles of new decking and about 50,000 linear feet of railing. And though work could start by the end of the year, the Boardwalk will take years to rebuild; just how many is unclear.

What is certain, however, is that it will not be made of wood. Soon after the hurricane, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that the storm had laid to rest the debate over wood versus concrete as the preferred material for boardwalks. He pointed to the few concrete sections that had come through in relatively good shape.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which pumped nearly 600,000 cubic yards of sand onto the beach this summer, will eventually build whatever storm protections are chosen, but that will not happen for years, given the Corps’ lengthy technical and economic reviews. The Corps plans to share draft alternatives for the Rockaways with the public early next year, said Chris Gardner, a spokesman for the agency.

In the meantime, parks officials and engineers reassured the residents that the Boardwalk would be rebuilt to withstand future monster storms.

Not only will it be raised along its entire length, but the decking will be securely fastened to concrete pilings. The old Boardwalk had simply rested on the pilings, making it vulnerable to the storm surge.

U.S. Attorney to go after crooked pols' pensions

From the Queens Chronicle:

The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York is upping the ante in his fight against political corruption in the state, telling the governor’s Moreland Commission that his office will start going after the pensions of public officials who are convicted of crimes.

And an unscientific survey of elected officials from Queens elicited that legal changes and legal challenges will be forthcoming.

Speaking before the commission at Pace University in Manhattan on Sept. 17, Preet Bharara said his aim is a simple one.

“Convicted politicians should not grow old comfortably cushioned by a pension paid for by the very people they betrayed in office,” Bharara said in a copy of his testimony released by his office.

The commission was appointed this past summer by Gov. Cuomo following a spate of corruption charges against state and city officials in the preceding months.

“I understand the sentiment — people should not be rewarded for bad acts,” Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) said. “I think the United States Attorney will move forward, and I think there will be a legal test where this will be determined.”

Published reports quote Gov. Cuomo as saying there may be state constitutional concerns with Bharara’s proposal, a concern Scarborough shares.

Scarborough and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who said he is in favor of the idea, also believe that a 2011 law aimed at those elected after that year may be unclear in regard to Bharara’s efforts.

“If it’s not in existing legislation, I’ll introduce it,” Avella said. “Again, only if you are convicted. It’s absolutely a disgrace that you can abuse the public trust and still get a pension.” He said private pensions earned by those same individuals should not be subject to any bill he puts forth.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Council calls for reimbursement for co-ops damaged by storm

From the Queens Courier:

The City Council has unanimously passed a resolution calling for Congress to make co-op and condos eligible for federal storm recovery grants.

“Condo and co-op owners are homeowners too,” said Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. who brought forth the measure. “Yet, right now, the federal government is denying them Sandy relief. That needs to change.”

The resolution, introduced September 12, comes after many citywide co-op and condo owners found they could not receive FEMA grants for Sandy-inflicted damages.

The measure sailed through the City Council less than two weeks later on September 24. The Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings moved the resolution forward earlier that morning.

It would push the passage of an already proposed federal law that aims to fix a glitch keeping co-op and condo owners from disaster aid.

The Stafford Act, which governs how FEMA responds to major disasters, does not include the word “co-op” in the law, officials said.

However, there is no statute that bans co-op owners from being eligible for grants, a privilege given to homeowners.

Co-op and condos are also categorized as “business associations,” which makes them eligible for federal loans but not grants. It also means they cannot get funds to fix shared spaces like lobbies and roofs.

Congressmember Steve Israel introduced a law in August that would better define co-ops in the Stafford Act, allow co-op and condo owners to apply for FEMA grants, and call for a new cap on FEMA’s Individual and Households Program.

The proposed legislation currently sits in a subcommittee on the House’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Water & bugs & mold - oh my!

From CBS New York:

Some residents at a Queens apartment building say they’ve been complaining to their landlord for months about water, bugs and mold.

Their landlord? It’s the city.

Erycka de Jesus showed CBS 2′s Dave Carlin her flooded second-floor apartment at the Ravenswood Houses in Astoria. She has moved her four children to her bother’s house an hour away because she fears for their health at her home, which has attracted insects and mold because of standing water.

“My asthmatic son definitely cannot stay in this environment,” de Jesus said.

She said a crew with the New York City Housing Authority, which manages the property, patched the wall in a way that did no good. De Jesus is now taking NYCHA to court.

She also contacted City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens), who had some choice worlds for the Housing Authority.

“When there are situations like this calling for immediate response, there is no excuse,” Van Bramer told Carlin.

CBS 2 repeatedly pressed NYCHA for an explanation, but the agency said only that it was “looking into it.”

AirBnB listing deemed legal

From DNA Info:

East Village renters using AirBnB, the apartment-sharing website popular worldwide, did not violate city hotel regulations, an administrative law panel ruled Thursday.

The case involving a tenant who sublet his room in a two-bedroom apartment on East Second Street last September, was widely seen as a test case in the city for the relatively new form of apartment sharing.

The decision reverses an earlier ruling that found Abe Carrey, the owner of the apartment, was in conflict with the city code governing transient hotels because his tenant rented out his room to a Russian tourist for three nights using the online site.

The Department of Buildings originally fined Carrey $40,000 for breaking the hotel regulations, as well as series of safety violations required for a licensed transient hotel. At the time of Thursday's decision only a $2,400 fine remained, which was nullified by the ruling.

Richmond Hill Republican Club to become catering hall

From the Queens Chronicle:

The Richmond Hill Republican Club at 86-15 Lefferts Blvd. hasn’t hosted the political party in two decades, but the vacant building looks to be headed to a future of hosting parties of a different kind.

Ivan Mrakovcic, vice chairman of Community Board 9 and president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, said a group called Siberian Ice, LLC bought the property several years ago and is planning on reopening the building as a catering hall. Their plans for the building will be presented to CB 9 at its Oct. 8 meeting and the board’s executive committee got a sneak peek at the plans Tuesday night during a meeting at Borough Hall. The presentation is required because the owners are opting to file for a special permit under Section 74-711 of the city’s zoning regulations that allows the catering hall to operate at the site that includes the landmarked facade.

CB 9 Chairman Jim Cocovillo said the board was pleased with the plans for the building.

Out of control sukkahs

"Crapman: Check out my latest blog entry about the sukkahs in Borough Park, Brooklyn. You think the one in Kew Gardens Hills took the cake? You ain't seen nothin' brother. Sidewalk AND Street blockage galore. A harbinger for future Queens mishegoss? Regards, GtheA"

George also reports that the previously reported Kew Gardens sukkah wasn't removed last Wednesday as promised.

As a side note, on Tuesday night, I was westbound on the LIE near the Fairgrounds and saw a "mobile sukkah" on the back of a pickup truck. I'd like to say, "You can't make this stuff up," but someone apparently did! - QC

Friday, September 27, 2013

Take a deep breath

From Metro:

The city’s air quality has reached the cleanest levels in more than 50 years through efforts that will save the lives of some 800 New Yorkers annually, officials announced Thursday.

“New York has the cleanest air now of any major American city,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

In the last five years, the levels of sulfur dioxide—which can cause difficulty breathing, death and contribute to acid rain production—decreased by 69 percent, according to a study conducted by the city. Soot pollution has dropped 23 percent since 2007.

Phasing out the most toxic heating oils as part of the Bloomberg administration’s PlaNYC initiative is the largest contributor to the reductions, officials said.

Through the Clean Heat program, more than 2,700 of the most heavily-polluting buildings converted to cleaner fuels since 2011, though regulations only require they do so by 2030.

“All of the people in this city have gotten together and, whether they really thought about it or not, collectively they’ve made a real difference in the stuff we’re putting in the air,” Bloomberg said.

Expanding the regional gas supply and local distribution as well as state emission regulations have also contributed to cleaner air quality.

Officials said these efforts were the biggest step in saving lives in the city since banning smoking in bars and restaurants a decade ago. Since 2008, there’s been about 25 percent less pollution-related deaths, hospital and emergency room visits, Bloomberg said.

Judge Rules Plaintiffs in Atlantic Yards Legal Case Entitled to Fees; Forest City Ratner Must Pay

Developer, State Must Compensate Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn,
Other Community Groups

NEW YORK, NY — A judge today ruled that the Empire State Development Corporation ("ESDC") is liable for legal fees incurred by community groups that sued successfully to compel a supplemental environmental impact study (SEIS) for the second phase of Forest City's controversial Atlantic Yards project. She referred the parties to a referee to determine the amount of the award, which under an agreement with ESDC, Forest City Ratner will then have to pay.

The ruling was issued by New York State Supreme Court Justice Marcy S. Friedman, who in July of 2011 held that the second phase of the Atlantic Yards project must undergo re-analysis because of significant changes in the originally claimed 10-year construction timeline. Justice Friedman noted that this review "should lead to ‘consideration of alternatives [to the currently proposed project] that may more effectively meet the ostensible goal of the project to alleviate blight and create affordable and market-rate housing with less adverse environmental impacts.'" ESDC and Forest City Ratner lost their appeal of Justice Friedman's ruling at the Appellate Division, and the Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, refused to hear the case. The ESDC, the quasi-governmental entity overseeing the project, has yet to issue the draft SEIS required by the courts.

In reaching her decision that the plaintiffs were entitled to their attorneys fees as the prevailing party, Justice Friedman expressly denounced ESDC's claim that it was justified in continuing to use a ten year timeline when its own Development Agreement with Forest City Ratner reflected a buildout of up to 30 years, calling the claim "no small audacity, in light of the court's prior findings . . [including] the ESDC's ‘deplorable lack of transparency.'"

"Justice Friedman's ruling today is another reminder of the sordid 10-year history of the Atlantic Yards project, which to this day has largely failed to deliver on the promises that were used to sell it to the people of New York," said Candace Carponter, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's legal director. "We're gratified by today's decision, but the fact remains that, as Justice Friedman suggests, had the ESDC and Forest City Ratner not knowingly misrepresented the facts to the court, the entire Atlantic Yards project, including the heavily subsidized Barclays Center, would never have gotten off the drawing board."

"Justice Friedman has rendered a strong decision that vindicates what the community has been saying for a long time. One can only wonder whether this project would have ever moved forward if, as Justice Friedman noted, ESDC had disclosed the project's true timeline", said Jeffrey S. Baker, lead attorney for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and a partner in Young, Sommer LLC. "It is time for ESDC to finally engage in an open and honest process that considers the full range of alternatives for Phase II of this project, not just the interests of Forest City Ratner."

Jewish Center suing caterer

From the Queens Courier:

One Howard Beach synagogue is suing its longtime associate after discovering the group allegedly hosted wild parties after hours on the grounds.

Crown Royale Caterers has been licensed since 2005 to have various religious celebrations at the Rockwood Park Jewish Center. The group, run by brothers Joshua and Myron Gurelle, is supposed to cater events such as bar mitzvahs and weddings and inform the synagogue when it does so.

But Rockwood Park’s lawyer, Gary Rosen, said the caterer has consistently failed to keep the synagogue informed. They also allegedly throw loud parties and he claims the partygoers hang out inside and outside the 84th Street site until all hours of the night.

Rosen said he discovered party plans on social media that indicated Crown Royale was hosting raucous parties — and charging attendees — at the synagogue without officials’ knowledge. He also alleges he heard complaints from the surrounding residents.

Schools still bursting at the seams

From CBS New York:

A teachers union survey found that nearly one in four New York City public school students – more than 230,000 kids – is in a crowded classroom.

UFT president Michael Mulgrew said Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens tops the list with 385 overcrowded classes. In all, the survey found 6,313 overcrowded classes, 180 more than last year.

“What we are asking them, for once, before they leave office: do the right thing, reduce the class sizes right now, do not make hundreds of thousands of children wait all the way through next spring to reduce the class size,” Mulgrew said.

As CBS 2′s Andrea Grymes reported, some classes at Cardozo have a few extra students, while others have up to 15 more students than the cap.

“It’s terrible because there’s too many kids,” Cardozo High School senior Christina Frias told Grymes.

“They stand in the back of the room, they sit on the windowsill. We have kids literally standing in the doorway,” Cardozo teacher Dino Sferrazza told Grymes.

Pass on these vegetables

"Everyday at approximately 4:30 pm, I get to the Q13 bus in Flushing to go home- only to be greeted by this person selling vegetables! Now you would say who cares? People in Manhattan sell fruits and vegetables all the time!........But not like this!......This person as you can tell from the picture sells these vegetables just sitting on the ground in cardboard boxes! To make the situation even worst, today a police officer was walking on the other side of the street and he acted like he did not even see this disgusting site! As usual, the police in Flushing fail to reinforce the law! Way to go NYPD!" - anonymous

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Avella to protest Astoria medical building today with neighbors


Today at 10:30 AM, Senator Tony Avella will be joined by Astoria residents at a rally protesting the developers of a proposed Medical Ambulatory Care center being built at 23-25 31st Street who are threatening to sue the residents in order to gain access to their properties to complete the construction. This is despite the fact that the developer has already encroached on and caused damage to adjacent private property.

Avella held a rally this past May regarding the obnoxious and blatant violations of the zoning and building codes by this developer at this construction site. At the time of the initial rally, the construction was causing severe damage to the abutting homes, causing them to shift from their foundation. Residents had also obtained reports from professional structural engineers confirming that the homes located at 23-26/28 32nd Street are no longer salvageable and have to be torn down due to all the damage incurred by the construction. The homes located at 23-24/22/20/18 were also severely damaged and repairs would be extremely costly.

Now, the developer has sent letters to the residents indicating that they will be taken to court unless they are given access to their properties in order to allow the developer to finish the work.

WHO: Senator Avella, neighboring residents

WHERE: In front of developer’s office at 23-18 31st Street in Astoria

WHEN: THURSDAY, September 26, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Anyone notice who's missing? (Vallone, Gianaris, Simotas...)

DOE cleans up moldy trailers

From NY1:

Water leaking in through cracked walls. Mold growing in ceilings from vents.

The photo seen above was taken by a teacher at Richmond Hill High School of the ceiling of one of the nearly two dozen trailers where hundreds of students go to class.

"They're kept in deplorable conditions, where they don't clean them properly," said Charles diBenedetto, a teacher at Richmond Hill High School. "The floors sink in because the moisture seeps in through the sheet metal that's outside, seeping in through the walls, causing the floors to bevel and crack. Some of our trailers actually have metal plates where the floors should be, so that way, nobody falls through the floor."

DiBenedetto requested an inspection by the teachers' union's health unit. So did teachers at Cardoza High School. At Francis Lewis High School, teacher Arthur Goldstein called the union after being interviewed by NY1 for a previous report on trailer conditions.

The DOE responded quickly to the health reports, cleaning trailers at Francis Lewis and Cardozo in the days before school started. At Richmond Hill, the DOE said that students have been temporarily removed from the moldy units until they're made safe.

Ridgewood Reservoir gets $7M facelift

From the Daily News:

The city has completed the first round of improvements to Highland Park, including new pathways, better lighting and fencing.

The $7 million project was designed to make the greenspace — which straddles the Queens-Brooklyn border — safer and more accessible to the public.

But a more ambitious plan to use the area around the decommissioned Ridgewood Reservoir is still years away.

Catch basins clogged up

From NY1:

Rockaway residents who live on Shorefront Parkway, located just feet from the ocean, are concerned there are too many catch basins or storm drains covered in weeds and packed with dirt.

"We're already compromised in terms of being on the waterfront, so I can't imagine the water has a place to go," said Marie Raico, a concerned resident.

Longtime Rockaway resident Dan Brown says after taking his own inventory of the clogged catch basins, he was startled at what he found.

"There were some that were unrecognizable, I had to dig to find them," he said.

Some residents say it didn't take Hurricane Sandy to overwhelm the drains. They say average rainstorms can mean flooding.

"What happens is the water goes down and goes into that stairwell. Down there we have all of our electric. We have boilers, we have hot our water tanks," said Ray Watson, a concerned resident.

Residents say they have called 311 but feel like they're just getting the run around.

How to spot an illegal cab

From WPIX:

Fernando Mateo President Of The New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers describes the so-called “epidemic” of the more than 10,000 illegal livery cabs navigating city streets as “unsafe and it’s unacceptable.”

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference in Flatbush, he asked one simple question to the TLC Chairman, “David Yassky why are you not doing your job? That is our question.”

Mateo along with Tony Herbert, President of the National Action Network Brooklyn East Chapter says that on the same week that legal yellow-cab drivers are being targeted in the city, the TLC should additionally zero in on the illegal cabs and their drivers for the safety of the general public. “Protect our rider. Protect the passengers who just want to get home safely,” said Herbert from sidewalk news conference.

The fake livery cars are easy to spot because they sport plates from nearby states where insurance is much cheaper. Another tell tale sign? Their drivers tend to walk away when a PIX 11 news camera is focused on them.

Legislators desperately trying to hide sources of income

From the NY Times:

New York, like many other states, has a part-time Legislature; the 212 members get a base salary of $79,500, plus leadership bonuses and expenses. Now the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and staffed with top-flight lawyers and prosecutors, has started asking about the private business deals lawmakers have kept hidden for decades.

Even where state law requires some minimal disclosure, legislators have made it hard to find the details. To take just one obstacle, lawmakers fill out disclosure forms by hand; when the form was posted on the Internet this summer, it took two public interest groups, Common Cause/NY and New York Public Interest Research Group; a newspaper, The New York World at Columbia University; and two interns working for two weeks to make sense of it all.

What they found merely whets the appetite for even greater disclosure. The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, made up to $920,000 for his work with a law firm and his investments; the Senate Republican leader, Dean Skelos, earned as much as $263,000 in legal work, investments and deferred compensation. All told, 115 of the 212 legislators earned income on the side.

Crucially, however, these raw numbers do not show in detail where that money comes from, and thus where the conflicts of interest may lie. Is this legal client pushing a particular piece of legislation? Is that insurance company seeking a tax exemption?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Music for the Mansion

From DNA Info:

A group trying to buy and restore the sprawling Steinway Mansion is turning to the very thing that made the landmarked Astoria building famous in the first place — music.

The Friends of Steinway Mansion will kick off a series of live concerts beginning Saturday to raise awareness and funds to turn the former home of the famous piano-making family into a museum and community space, the group announced.

"Using music to raise awareness for the plight of the Steinway Mansion was frankly a no-brainer," Bob Singleton, executive director of Greater Astoria Historical Society, said in a statement.

"The Steinways revolutionized modern music and modern New York," he continued. "The Steinway Mansion Music Fest pays homage to both legacies and appropriately launches our fundraising effort to save the Mansion."

The 27-room villa, which sits atop a hill at 18-33 41st St., was built in the 1850s and was home to the Steinway family from the end of the 19th century until 1925. It was declared a New York City landmark in 1967, and has been up for sale for the past several years.

The Friends of Steinway Mansion want to open the building up to the public and estimate they will need around $5 million to purchase the house and its surrounding grounds, and then another $4 million to restore it.

Whales spotted close to Rockaway

From CBS New York:

Humpback whales have been spotted just a few hundred yards from the Queens shoreline, CBS 2′s Tamara Leitner reported.

Mike Leonard, his brother and his father were boating off the Rockaways on Friday when they saw four whales, they said.

“It was literally like five feet away,” Leonard said. “It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in life. It was pretty cool actually.

“The big 40-footer went underneath our boat, and our boat rocked a little bit.”

Dennis Suslak said he has seen whales from his fishing spot in the Rockaways almost every day for the past two weeks.

Pols say no to more MSG tax breaks

From DNA Info:

City and state politicians rallied on the steps of City Hall Tuesday morning to drum up support for a measure that would eliminate a decades-old, multimillion-dollar tax break for The Madison Square Garden Company, which owns "The World's Most Famous Arena," as well as the Knicks and Rangers.

The company, led by executive chairman James Dolan, has been given as much as $16 million a year in tax breaks since 1982, according to the city's Independent Budget Office — or nearly $350 million over the past 31 years, politicians who oppose the tax break said.

Assemblymen David Weprin and Brian Kavanagh and State Senator James Sanders have said that the money should instead go toward cash-strapped city services. In April, they introduced bills in both houses of the State Legislature that would erase the tax exemption.

On Tuesday, they announced that the bills have gained more than 40 co-sponsors, as well as support from City Council members across New York, including incoming Councilman Corey Johnson, whose district includes Madison Square Garden.

There is "no possible justification at this point, with needed revenue for New York," Weprin said at Tuesday's press conference, speaking in front of about 20 labor union members. "We've lost police, lost firefighters. There's talk of closing firehouses, senior centers."

Suffering for the sake of Long Islanders

From the Daily News:

The skies above northeast Queens have become deafening as helicopters comply with new routes designed to decrease the ear-splitting noise — for residents of Long Island.

Local leaders are calling on city and federal agencies to give residents a bit of peace and quiet and suspend the loudest routes.

“The noise and the vibration are unbearable,” said Alfredo Centola, president of the Malba Gardens Civic Association, which represents the wealthy, Queens community.

“It starts between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. and continues well past midnight,” Centola said of the noise, which is worst on weekends. “The houses shake. Things are falling off your shelves.”

The roar got louder last year after the Federal Aviation Administration mandated that choppers traveling between middle of Long Island and the Hamptons fly over water instead long-suffering dry-land residents.

As a result, many Hamptons-bound pilots fly over northeast Queens to reach the new Long Island route, a faster, cheaper and, for Queens residents, more annoying, way to go.

Governor unveils highway texting locations

From Metro:

New York State drivers will now have designated areas to pull over and send a text message.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled on Monday 91 texting zone locations along the state thruway and state highways in the latest effort to cut down on distracted driving.

“In addition to tougher penalties, new detection methods for state police and ongoing public outreach efforts, we are now launching special Texting Zones to allow motorists to pull over and use their phones,” Cuomo said. “We are sending a clear message to drivers that there is no excuse to take your hands off the wheel and eyes off the road because your text can wait until the next Texting Zone.”

The governor also announced a 365 percent increase in tickets issued in summer 2013 compared to summer 2012 for distracted driving. This summer, state police issued 21,580 tickets, surpassing last summer’s total of 5,208 tickets.

The texting zones are located in areas throughout upstate New York and in Suffolk County in Long Island.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Preserved JFK terminal to become a hotel

From Curbed:

Not a month after architecture geeks and Jet Age preservationists mourned the demise of JFK Airport's saucer-like PanAm terminal did news emerge that the NYC airport's other midcentury monolith, its alternative insignia of the Jetsons era, will get a new lease on life as a clubby hotel, a quintessentially modern stay-over produced by swank hotel scion AndrĂ© Balazs. Once the TWA Terminal, the building—a slick, sloping space reminiscent of a minimalist paper airplane—was a 1962 project of midcentury stud (and Mad Men favorite) Eero Saarinen, and while American architect Robert A.M. Stern once called it the "Grand Central of the jet age," the space has been basically empty since 2001.

What exactly does Balazs have in store for the terminal, a building he once called "a masterpiece by my personal architectural hero"? It's to be The Standard, Flight Center—the commas make it trendy, see—and will be subdivided into hotel rooms, restaurants, bars, a museum, and conference facilities. While the timeline for the project remains, for now, enshrouded in a fog of mystery, the city's Port Authority agency has been trying for years to revitalize the space, and are reportedly "look[ing] forward to ... a presentation of a ­final vision."

I hope the rooms are furnished with earplugs.

Oh my Lord!

From Brownstoner:

The once gracious boulevard of mansions and churches known as Bushwick Avenue is no stranger to the incongruous, but we did a double take when we saw Isaac & Stern’s plan to convert a small brick church there into a residential apartment building. The avenue, which has become a heavily trafficked route to the Jackie Robinson expressway, is a jumbled mix of the commercial and residential, large and small, including a giant electrical substation. Many of the mansions and row houses have been disfigured by inappropriate renovations and a few are in extreme states of decay, like a house at the corner of Halsey and Bushwick whose side is covered in a plywood quilt, some of it peeling away. The design, above, makes no secret of its marriage of old and new, which can sometimes work well, but the outsize addition is somewhat reminiscent of the Carroll Gardens “hunchback” building, aka the Carroll Gardens Atrocity.

Just think, somewhere out there is an architect who is proud of this.

Has the Queens Machine found religion on historic preservation?

From Sunnyside Post:

State Sen. Mike Gianaris and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer spoke at the board meeting and expressed their opposition to it. They both said that Sunnyside Gardens was the wrong location for the aluminum house. Furthermore, they questioned the building materials being used for the residential component of the development.

Congressman Joseph Crowley sent a representative to make clear that he opposed it.

Whoa! What's going on here?

Illegal immigration on the upswing

From the Daily News:

The number of immigrants crossing into the U.S. illegally appears to be rising again after a big drop during the recession.

About 11.7 million undocumented immigrants were in the U.S. last year, up from 11.5 million in 2011, according to estimates released by Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project on Monday.

The increase is within the researchers' margin of error, but Pew said the country's recession-era decrease in illegal immigration — including visa overstays and border crossings — has bottomed out. Illegal immigration peaked at 12.2 million in 2007 and dropped to 11.3 million in 2009, Pew researchers said.

"Whether this is an indication that the economy's improving enough to attract new unauthorized immigrants is hard to say," said Jeffrey Passel, Pew Research Center senior demographer.

"But the leveling off of the unauthorized population and the unauthorized Mexican population suggests that the people who wanted to leave have already left."

In New York State, the number of undocumented immigrants is still much lower - 875,000 in 2012 - than the pre-recession high of 1 million in 2007, Pew said.

Seven percent of all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. live in the Empire State, the study found.

Duo braves subway station bathrooms to take photos

Hello cousin Comrie:

Over the weekend P/J team embarked on review. Here is our update. The ladies' toilet at the "E" Jamaica is still too dirty and dingy to be acceptable.

In a letter dated 5/23/13 you stated that you visited the toilet. Further, you sent a letter to Joseph Raskin/Director of community& government relations. He was supposed to better the conditions. However, there is very little change.

The scent was a bit more tolerable because the outter floor was semi-cleaned. There was a strong smell of bleach.

However, on the inside, the unidentified black object is still intact. Wires are still hanging from the ceiling and there were no toilet paper, hand sanitizer, nor paper towel.

Can you follow-up on this matter?

Photos were taken on 9/21/13: The men's toilet at the "E" station, Jamaica Center had such an awful odor that my team member held his nose and scampered out.

The floor is a national disgrace. Is this the best you can do for your constituents/ voters/ cousins before you close your final curtain? Have you followed-up with Mr.Raskin/ director of community & government relation?

What a travesty.

Pamela Hazel

Monday, September 23, 2013

Do we really need more transient housing?

From the Queens Chronicle:

Advocates are pushing for the passage of legislation in the City Council that would permit the licensing of residential hostels in the city.

The bill, which is sitting in the Committee on Housing and Buildings, would authorize the construction and regulation of hostels. Jack Friedman, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said he predicts that the flourishing of hostels in Queens could bring in more revenue for the borough.

“Countless tourists, who can’t afford luxury hotels in Manhattan, are drawn to Queens when they visit our city and inevitably spend tourism dollars on restaurants and other amenities in our borough,” Friedman said.

Hostels are dwelling units where guests can rent a bed and share the bathroom, kitchen or lounge with other guests. It’s an alternative to hotels and usually cheaper.

The legislation is an effort to correct the damage wrought by the 2010 illegal hotel bill that forced hostels in the five boroughs to close. Friedman said the closings were an unintended consequence of the bill, which was implemented to clamp down on illegal hotels, apartments designated as permanent residences that were improperly rented out on a nightly basis.

Friedman said hostels would contribute to Queens local economy by attracting tourists to the borough and creating jobs. He noted that studies have shown that New York City is losing $150 million annually since hostels were forced to close.

“Millions of dollars, taxable revenue, can be generated in the Queens economy,” he said. “When we welcome [tourists and travelers] to someone’s home they’re going to spend money at local restaurants and retail stores.”

The bill defines a licensed hostel as a “multiple dwelling providing lodging, food and other services to tourists, travelers and others requiring temporary accommodation.” The bill also states hostels may contain private rooms, but not apartments, and should not be occupied by the same individual for more than 29 days in a 12-month period.

“[Hostels ] would mean more to us than any other borough because we have two airports. We can attract more travelers,” Friedman said.
Despite the money hostels are projected to bring to the borough if the bill is passed, some Queens residents are worried that these facilities will attract the wrong people.

“We have enough cheap hotels already,” Ram Garib of the Queens Village Civic Association said. “If you attract the wrong people, you will attract the wrong problems in the area.”
Cynthia Curry of the Wayanda Civic Association in Jamaica said she doesn’t think the additional revenue hostels would bring in is worth risking the safety of Queens residents.