Monday, June 18, 2018

Katz looking to run for Brown's seat

From the Queens Chronicle:

Multiple sources have told the Chronicle that Borough President Melinda Katz would be interested in running for District Attorney should DA Richard Brown opt not to seek re-election in 2019; or in an appointment to the post should he choose to retire.

Katz would not dignify the question when asked Wednesday by the Chronicle. “Judge Brown is a great DA, and there’s no indication he intends to retire,” she said.

A source with knowledge of Queens politics partially confirmed both other sources’ accounts and that of the borough president, saying Katz, an attorney, would be interested in the top prosecutor’s office under either scenario.

“But there’s no vacancy; and Brown’s not going anywhere,” the source said.

Brown himself was first appointed to the post in 1991 by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo — district attorney is a state position — and has been repeatedly re-elected with few serious challengers. But he does have health issues.

Katz, who is term-limited out of the Borough President’s Office after 2021, has said in the past that she wants to have a leadership role on matters of importance to the city when her term ends.

Time to drop the dead weight

From the NY Times:

Despite a high-profile effort by Mayor Bill de Blasio to reduce the number of city teachers without permanent jobs who draw full pay and benefits, the city spent $136 million this school year to keep them on the payroll, according to a study released Thursday.

The unassigned employees are part of a pool known as the Absent Teacher Reserve, and there were 1,202 teachers and other staff in it at the start of the school year, according to the report by the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission. Despite buyouts, mandatory placements in schools and a rule that all unassigned teachers must look for permanent posts, there were still 756 teachers in the pool in April.

Like teachers with full-time classroom assignments, those in the pool are entitled to regular pay raises, step increases and longevity increases, providing “no incentive for unmotivated or unsuitable teachers to secure new permanent placements,” the report notes.

Teachers in the pool have an average of 18 years on the job, and an average salary of $98,126. With a 3 percent raise for all city teachers going into effect on Saturday, combined with a 2 percent raise teachers received in May, senior teachers in the pool could now earn up to $119,472, the report found.

Teachers land in the reserve pool because their schools have been closed, or their budgets cut, or because they were the subject of unsatisfactory performance evaluations or disciplinary actions. They can stay in the pool indefinitely.

The United Federation of Teachers contract with the city expires in November, and the budget commission urged the city to use the contract negotiations to cap the time teachers can spend in the pool at six months.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

BDB caught off guard by raid

From the NY Times:

Two days after Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a sweeping civil settlement with the federal government over New York City’s public housing system, federal and local investigators seized documents and other items Wednesday from a Queens office of the city’s housing authority.

The investigators questioned housing officials, cloned computer hard drives and took the city-issued cellphone of a senior manager overseeing lead abatement, according to two people briefed on the matter.

Then they returned on Thursday.

The surprise visit rattled officials and pierced the veneer of common purpose presented by Mayor de Blasio on Monday when he announced that the city would commit at least $1.2 billion in extra funding for needed repairs in New York City Housing Authority buildings. With the agreement with the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey S. Berman, the city avoided a civil trial that would have examined longstanding problems at the authority, including failure to test for hazardous lead paint over several years.

“We agreed to create a common game plan,” Mr. de Blasio said.

The searches were conducted by the city’s Department of Investigation, the inspector general for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency, and they appeared to catch top officials at the housing authority off-guard. The investigators arrived at the building on 49th Avenue in Long Island City without a search warrant, relying instead on the city agency’s power to directly access city records without a warrant, according to one of the people briefed on the raid.

Riveting story from Jackson Heights

From CBS 2:

Across from his window that morning, and for days leading up to this, workers were making repairs to the transit infrastructure, Carlin reported. The first few workers he questioned denied the projectile came from their site. Then, he said another worker confessed to the accident and gave him an explanation.

“They use a high-powered device to shoot the rivets out. Now, there’s supposed to be another worker on the other end of the rivet to catch the rivet. He said they’re called a muffler. I guess like a baseball catcher would catch a fastball. Except in this case, there was no catcher at the other side,” said Siegel.

CBS2 asked the MTA about safety protocols and why, in this case, they apparently failed. The agency said it’s looking into it.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Ridgewood getting a hotel

From Queens Beans:

The hotel boom that seems to have taken over Queens is not stopping any time soon, since a new hotel is in the works. This new construction will have four stories and will be addressed at 1616 Summerfield Street, in Ridgewood. Behind the applications is the Loketch Group, and J Frankl and C. Mallea Architects. When it comes to location, the Halsey Street subway station in Bushwick is just four blocks away, a station which is serviced by the L train.

Once completed, the hotel will be 54-foot tall and the structure will yield over 62k sf. Besides creating 132 guest rooms, developers will include a commercial area spanning 38,600 square feet. There will be twenty-something rooms per floor, starting at the cellar and guests will be able to access bike storage room and a lobby.

What a great location for a hotel!

Friday, June 15, 2018

State made unnecessary Medicaid payouts

From Crain's:

Thanks to a lack of oversight, the state Health Department doled out $1.3 billion in six years in Medicaid premiums for people who were already enrolled in other comprehensive health plans, according to a new report from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

The report found that the state Health Department is not quick enough to disenroll people when they sign up for coverage with another insurer. The overwhelming majority of those funds—about $1.2 billion—are not recoverable.

"Glitches in the state Department of Health's payment system and other problems led to over a billion dollars in unnecessary spending," DiNapoli said. "The department needs to improve its procedures and stop this waste of taxpayer money."

City will build senior apartments amidst housing projects

From the Wall Street Journal:

New York City has committed $500 million to build up to a thousand of affordable apartments for low-income senior citizens on vacant public-housing land, a move advocates say would help reduce the wait list for apartments.

The plan, first pushed in the proposed new budget by New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, will construct new apartment buildings on lawns, parking lots and unused land at New York City Housing Authority developments and other public locations. The units will be set aside for low-income senior citizens, many of whom already live in public housing.

“If you can get seniors living now in two-, three-bedroom apartments in NYCHA to move into new apartments, you make room for folks who are on the waiting list,” said the Rev. David Brawley, pastor at St. Paul Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn’s East New York section and member of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation.

There are 207,000 families on the wait list for public housing, and addressing that number could help reduce homelessness, Mr. Brawley said. There are currently more than 58,700 people living in shelters across the city, according to the latest data.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Ozone Park comes out in force against shelter

From PIX11:

On Tuesday night, an incoming homeless shelter, reportedly designed to house more than 100 men, possibly classified as mentally ill, sat high on the meeting’s agenda.

“We are asking this board to put out a strongly worded letter, putting the city on notice, that we the community, we the residents, we the parents, we the constituents, we the homeowners, and we the business owners, do not want this type of shelter where they’re planning on putting it,” Esposito said.

The Administration has already given its “notice” to this neighborhood of plans to bring the shelter.

But Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks did not show up to face his detractors – as he has in the past.

So these residents were basically left to shout into the wind, venting if you will, perhaps, on some level, reluctantly accepting the inevitable.

State protecting shady real estate brokers

From The Real Deal:

Like many New Yorkers who have had bad experiences with real estate agents, Tanya Mejia took to Yelp in September 2014 to give brokerage Chrome Residential a one-star review. “Not only are these guys unprofessional, but they are crooks,” she wrote. “Do yourself a favor and stay clear of this company.”

To retrieve a $2,000 security deposit from her broker, she then went to Small Claims Court and obtained a judgment against Chrome, which the broker refused to pay unless she removed her Yelp review, according to a New York Department of State investigation. Mejia then filed a consumer complaint with the DOS, and finally, more than two years after the initial incident, an administrative law judge revoked the real estate broker’s license in September 2016.

But as far as the state’s public database of licensing decisions is concerned, this never happened. A search for the agent’s name (“Jacob Benchlouch”) only turns up two duplicate files for an earlier dismissed complaint, omitting any record that he was sanctioned for “engaging in deceptive acts and practices.” (Benchlouch could not be reached for comment and Chrome Residential is no longer in operation.)

To protect the interests of New York’s consumers, the DOS’ Division of Licensing Services regulates a number of professions, including real estate brokers and salespersons, by handing down fines, suspensions and revoking licenses as it deems necessary. But because the agency uses rudimentary public disclosure tools that are difficult to navigate and often incomplete, it is difficult for consumers to identify sanctioned brokers, leaving open the possibility that they will harm another consumer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

City to pony up in federal NYCHA settlement

From Crains:

New York City will likely pay $2 billion to settle claims that the nation's largest public housing agency has too often left tenants to contend with lead paint, malfunctioning elevators and rats.

The city agreed in a consent decree in Manhattan federal court to pay $1 billion over four years and $200 million annually until problems are overcome. The deal also calls for the appointment of a monitor to oversee the city-run public housing authority during the 10-year span of the agreement.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the settlement a "dramatic step" and a "turning point for our public housing system."

NYCHA Consent Decree by Anonymous 80as6U on Scribd

421-a rule change causes dip in regulated apartments

From AM-NY:

This spring, the city announced it had given hundreds of property owners one last chance to recoup the 421-a tax benefit by complying with provisions of a perk that aims to encourage the creation of affordable homes.

Now that the May 1 compliance deadline has passed, 730 of the 1,788 targeted properties lost the benefit, according to data provided by the city Department of Finance last month. Collectively, the properties lost about $22.38 million, according to the Department of Finance.

The property tax benefit was launched in the 1970s to spur residential construction. Over the years, it has been extended to co-ops, condos, two- to three-family homes and rental developments.

Although the city yanked 421-a from properties for a variety of concerns, advocates have focused their attentions on rental properties, since they must abide by rent stabilization rules while receiving 421-a.

Earlier this year, at least 367 developments with rental units had 421-a suspended for undisclosed reasons. The new city data shows 175 of these lots have had the benefit reinstated by fulfilling all of the 421-a requirements by May 1.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

How Chirlaine gets away with stuff

From the NY Post:

First lady Chirlane McCray has raised between $13 million and $28 million in donations for a City Hall-aligned nonprofit from people and entities with business before her hubby Mayor de Blasio, The Post found.

The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City raised the cash during McCray’s four-year tenure as chairwoman from big Wall Street banks, developers, lobbyists, nonprofits and others. The Post analyzed donations made between April 2014 and September 2017 found in disclosures filed with the city Conflicts of Interest Board, along with data from the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services.

In January 2014 de Blasio got approval from COIB to appoint his wife chair of the Mayor’s Fund. As chairwoman, McCray is the “lead fund-raiser” for the fund, which was created in 1994 under former Mayor Giuliani to promote City Hall’s agenda.

Conflict of interest rules bar civil servants from fundraising on the city’s behalf from people with business before their agencies unless “firewalls” exist between those officials and decisions that could impact the donors.

But because McCray is an unpaid volunteer and not a city employee, the rule doesn’t apply to her — even though the mayor often calls her his “closest confidante” and “No. 1 adviser.”

As boss of the mayor’s fund, McCray has the freedom to not only fundraise from anyone with business before the city, but discuss the donors or issues and policies impacting them with her husband.

Familiar excuses from DSNY

From CBS 2:

A Brooklyn block has been turned into a junkyard where public parking spaces are filled with wrecked and damaged cars.

Calls to 311 went unanswered. So CBS2 demanded answers and got action.

A frustrated Sheepshead Bay resident took CBS2’s Political Reporter Marcia Kramer on a tour of his block. He said he and his neighbors have been unable to park in public spaces for years because they’re filled with junked cars, like one with no motor and no doors. He said more than 40 to 50 calls to the city for help have fallen on deaf ears.

“They say they’re going to send somebody out… but no one shows up,” he said.

The block was filled with damaged cars and apparent attempts to beat the system by leaving cars on the streets with no license plates or registrations scraped off.

Kramer demanded answers from the owners of the nearby auto body shops and called both the Department of Sanitation and the NYPD. There were a lot of excuses, she reported.

This happens in EVERY neighborhood where there is an auto body shop. It would seem that Sanitation would make a gold mine off this issue but they'd rather send out bogus tickets to homeowners for gum wrappers that blow onto residential property. What a shame.

Monday, June 11, 2018

CB2 tells megadeveloper to shove it

From Sunnyside Post:

Community Board 2 voted Thursday to reject a developer’s bid to be granted a zoning variance in order to build a two-tower, 561-unit development along Queens Boulevard in Woodside.

The rejection represents another blow for the developer, Madison Realty Capital, in its quest to get a zoning change that would permit two buildings—one 17 stories and the other 14 stories–to rise at 69-02 Queens Boulevard.

The board vote, while advisory, follows Council Member Robert Holden’s announcement last month that he is opposed to the rezoning. The property is in Holden’s council district and his opinion will have enormous influence when the proposal is up for a vote in the city council.

Madison, under the existing zoning, is able to build a 12 story building that would consist of 289 units, 58 of which could be affordable.

The company, however, is looking to build much higher and obtain the right to build 561 units. In exchange, 30 percent of the units—or 168 apartments- would be affordable, meeting the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) zoning rules. Those rules require developers to construct between 25 and 30 percent of their units as “affordable” when a rezoning takes place.

Madison argues that there is a shortage of affordable housing in Queens and that the city should take advantage of its plan to bring workforce housing to the borough.

"workforce housing" LOL

Bike lane stupidity claims 73-year old business

From Forest Hills Post:

Ben’s Best, the Kosher deli that has been located in Rego Park for nearly 75 years, is closing.

The owner of the 96-40 Queens Blvd. establishment made the announcement on the restaurant’s website yesterday.

“Regretfully, after seventy-three wonderful years, Ben’s Best will be closing its doors on Saturday June 30,” the deli announced. “We are very grateful to everyone who has supported us and we hope to see you one last time.”

The deli is owned by Jay Parker, whose father Benjamin opened the famed deli in 1945. The deli is known for its old-fashioned pastrami, matzo ball soup and fresh rye bread.

The deli has struggled in recent times, with Parker attributing much of the decline to the Department of Transportation’s installation of protected bicycle lanes on Queens Boulevard, which required the reduction of parking spaces.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Would this work for the homeless?

From the Commercial Observer:

In 2002, I had an idea to take vacant city-owned land and have developers and various trades donate their services to build a multifamily building, housing only destitute tenants in rent-free units. It was a utopian vision but the building did indeed get built with the collective genius of Helen Ng, Lance Brown, Mark Ginsberg, Tara Siegel, Rex Curry, Rick Bell, Karen Kubey, the late Margaret Helf and and countless other volunteers. Shaun Donovan of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development shared our vision and found us a site in the Bronx for us to build on. The architects on our team changed the vision and decided that a “green space, sustainability and replicable, affordable design” competition would be a more achievable theme. After being on the initial steering committee, I opted to fade into the background after the goals changed, but I was pleased that so many professionals took the call to action. Rose Associates ended up winning the competition, Via Verde was built in 2006 and thrives today. The process was known as the New Housing New York Legacy Project. However, the recession of 2008 derailed replicating it in scale.

Fast-forward to 2016. Bill de Blasio unveiled the Turning the Tide program to revamp the shelter system to help the homeless. The administration was saying the right things, vowing to build 90 new shelters. Muzzy Rosenblatt of the Bowery Residents’ Committee gets high marks for taking the initiative and building Landing Road as a model project, combining a 200-bed shelter subsidized by 100 low-income apartments. However, since it is privately owned, the numbers don’t work for the city to replicate it in bulk without simultaneously overburdening taxpayers.

Here’s a refined idea:

Have the city identify existing owned multifamily buildings that are abandoned or foreclosed or commercial buildings that can easily be converted to multifamily buildings. Since they aren’t yielding tax revenues anyway, a 10-year moratorium on property taxes won’t impact the budget.

Have developers take on the project pro bono with regard to fees. This might seem Pollyanna, but I have faith that the Real Estate Board of New York could get our members to step forward and take this on. The PR effect, goodwill and intangibles would be invaluable to said developer.

Ask contractors with excess capacity to reduce their rates to aid on the project. This is clearly a big ask. The city could barter other services to partially offset the reduction while getting neighboring restaurants and retailers to further donate to these trades.

The only tenants eligible for the building have to demonstrate extreme need. Start with those that are chronically homeless. Get referrals from the local soup kitchens and shelters. Convince retailers to furnish the apartments. Get clergy, social workers, job counselors and medical workers to help the tenants after they move in.

Hope for Lefferts Ave Bridge?

From the Queens Chronicle:

The battle to save the Lefferts Boulevard bridge — and the handful of small businesses atop it — has been raging for more than a year now.

But at no point in that fight has Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal (D-Flushing) been more optimistic that Kew Gardens residents and leaders alike will win in the end.

“Their attitude has changed to, ‘How can we save the bridge?’” Rosenthal said of the MTA. “There are a lot of obstacles ahead, but things are looking up.”

His optimism stems from a May 24 Borough Hall meeting hosted by Borough President Melinda Katz and attended by a laundry list of officials, including new Long Island Rail Road President Phillip Eng, state Sens. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Rosenthal, aides to Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), MTA State Legislative Affairs Director Tim Ellis, Community Board 9 Chairman J. Richard Smith and a handful of Kew Gardens civic activists.

At the gathering, Eng expressed a willingness — even a desire — to save the bridge that no one else at the MTA or LIRR had done with similar vigor, according to multiple attendees who spoke with the Chronicle this week.

“We’re all on the same page. We all want to save the bridge,” Addabbo said. “We’re starting from common ground.”

According to Kew Gardens Improvement Association President Sylvia Hack, Eng told the crowd that he will take about four weeks to look over internal engineering reports before coming back to the community with a more informed opinion about how, or if, the bridge can be salvaged.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

MS-13 set Flushing fire

From CBS 2:

A suspected MS-13 gang member faces charges after he allegedly set a fire in Queens that left two other members in critical condition, police sources tell CBS2.

Crews were called to the two-alarm house fire around 2 a.m. Monday on 41st Avenue in Flushing.

Investigators later determined a flammable liquid was used to fuel the flames.

Two men, ages 29 and 48, were hospitalized in critical condition.

Sources say they were both MS-13 members squatting inside the vacant residence.

The suspect, 20-year-old Melvin Gongora, had also been staying there, sources say. He was caught on camera fleeing the fire.

Sources say he told arresting officers something to the effect of “I have to get them before they get me.”

Gongora was charged with arson, attempted murder and assault, among others.

Bayside cyclist thinks Alley Pond bike lane is stupid

From QNS:

Longtime Bayside resident Helina Cheung, an avid cyclist and runner, said she and neighbors are left befuddled by a bike lane project recently installed in the neighborhood.

“When my husband and I saw the project, we said, ‘This project doesn’t make sense at all,'” Cheung told QNS while onsite.

The project along the Alley Pond Park edge, between Northern Boulevard and Springfield Boulevard, was installed by the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) this past winter. It is one part of a larger safety project presented by the DOT to Community Board 11 in June 2017.

Community board members voted unanimously in favor of the Alley Pond segment of the project, while support for the Northern Boulevard segment, which has faced community scrutiny, has since been revoked. In March, QNS spoke with a local property owner who claimed the project causes “mass confusion” for drivers and pedestrians.

The Alley Pond safety project flipped the existing bike and parking lanes at the location and installed a four-foot protective buffer between the two. The bike lane is now situated closest to the park’s edge and cars are to park in a “floating parking lane.” A lane for moving traffic is situated next to the floating parking lane.

According to Cheung, many cars drive in the floating parking lane or bike lanes, creating dangerous conditions. A lack of signage and worn paint at the site add to this confusion, she said.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A public service announcement

Ozone Park getting f*cked with a shelter for mentally ill homeless men

From the Queens Chronicle:

The Department of Homeless Services will be opening a shelter in Ozone Park this coming winter as part of Mayor de Blasio’s “Turning the Tide on Homelessness on New York City” program.

In an email obtained by the Queens Chronicle, Amanda Nasar of the DHS outlined details of the shelter.

“DHS notified the electeds and [Community Board] ... that we’re opening a new shelter at 85-15 101st Avenue, Ozone Park, for 113 single adult males with mental illness,” said Nasar. “We anticipate this shelter opening in late winter.”

The site for the shelter is the location of the former Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.

De Blasio’s plan includes creating around 90 new homeless shelters and renovating and expanding 30 existing shelters to combat the closing down of more than 350 “cluster sites.”

Flushing's Mormon church to become big development

From The Real Deal:

Developer Xin Xiang Lin is looking to building a residential complex on the site of a Flushing Mormon church.

Xin filed a permit application to build an eight-story, 131-unit mixed-used building at 144-27 Sanford Avenue. The 113,000-square-foot property will be built on a 24,000-square-foot lot that sits between 147th Street and Parsons Boulevard.

Plans call for 93,000 square feet of residential space, with apartments having an average size of about 710 square feet. The building will also contain 20,000 square feet for an unspecified community facility.

The site will replace a two-story structure that was built in 1931. Demolition permits have yet to be filed.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Elevator inspections are lax

From PIX11:

Subcontractors paid by New York City’s Department of Buildings are — in thousands of cases — not properly inspecting elevators, a report by the New York State Comptroller’s office alleges.

The City Department of Buildings is responsible for inspecting 71,000 elevators every year. To do this, an army of subcontractors are hired. In some cases lack of data suggests inspections mights not be happening at all.

A multi-year audit by the Comptroller said there is no data for thousands of inspections assigned to those sub-contractors. In 2016, more than 6,700 inspections may have been skipped. In 2015, 8,800 inspections were possibly ignored.

City files lawsuit against AirBnB landlord

From AMNY:

One of the city’s “worst landlords” is accused of turning rent-stabilized apartments in Hell’s Kitchen into illegal hotel rooms and listing them on websites like Airbnb.

The Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement (MOSE) announced a lawsuit Wednesday against Big Apple Management LLC for allegedly converting seven buildings on 47th Street, between Eighth and Ninth avenues, into illegal hotels despite years of complaints, violations and fines.

Based on the city’s inspections, at least seven of the unlawful hotel rooms had been rent-stabilized units before 2009.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Deregulation causes hell for tenants

From the NY Times:

Because the building was so unsafe, the city moved the tenants to a Days Inn in Queens, filled mainly with other refugees from damaged apartments, their rent now paid by taxpayers. Ms. Wilkie, her daughter and granddaughter shared a cramped room with two queen-size beds. The hotel’s single, shared microwave became their kitchen.

With help from the Legal Aid Society, Ms. Wilkie and Mr. Brathwaite sued to fix the building on Sterling Place.

That case will take years. Mr. Brathwaite eventually settled, accepting another apartment from Mr. Sussman. Ms. Wilkie decided to fight.

Her family stayed at the Days Inn for more than a year, until the city tried to move her to a homeless shelter in November. To avoid that, she temporarily rented an apartment in Brownsville, a Brooklyn neighborhood still ungentrified, with a bathroom too small for Wendy’s wheelchair. The monthly rent is $2,110, almost triple what she paid before.

City Council planning major crackdown on AirBnB

From The Real Deal:

The City Council is slated to consider a controversial bill seeking to fine Airbnb up to $25,000 for every listing it fails to disclose to the city.

The legislation, which will be introduced in the City Council on Thursday, requires online home-sharing companies to submit data on individual listings — including the host’s name, home address and phone number — to the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, which goes after illegal hotel operators, Politico reported. Under the bill, Airbnb and similar companies can be fined between $5,000 and $25,000 for each listing that isn’t shared with the city.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Temporary cultural center coming to Hallets Point site

From The Real Deal:

While part of the project remains stalled over a funding squabble with the city, the Durst Organization plans to temporarily make use of another site at its Hallets Point development in Queens.

The developer plans to set up a temporary cultural center where the final phase of the mixed-use project will eventually rise, at 27th Avenue and 1st Street, said Durst spokesperson Jordan Barowitz. The 30,000-square-foot space will include a stage and a fenced off area for film, dance, music and other events, he said.

“Hallets is something of a blank slate, and we want to start to highlight the cultural and arts community in Astoria,” Barowitz said. “It’s the final phase of the project so construction is a few years away. The views it has of Lower Manhattan, it would be a shame not to activate it.”

The cultural center is expected to open sometime this summer.

Meanwhile, a 163-unit affordable housing project planned for the development’s second phase is being held up by a lack of funding. In January, the city Housing Development Corporation pulled $43.5 million in bond financing for the project.

Gentrification trolley has already cost taxpayers a pretty penny

From the NY Post:

There’s not a single rail in the ground, but the mayor’s plan to create a trolley along the Brooklyn waterfront has already cost the city at least $7 million in taxpayer money, The Post has learned.

That’s the current price tag on a delayed feasibility study — spearheaded by the consulting firms KPMG and WSP — that will determine whether the controversial project is even plausible.

Economic Development Corp. officials had initially said the review would be completed in the fall of 2017, but this week they wouldn’t put a timeline on its release.

Monday, June 4, 2018

BDB proposes change to admissions procedures for specialized schools

From the NY Times:

In the face of growing pressure to tackle New York City’s widespread school segregation, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Saturday a proposal that would change how students are admitted to eight of the city’s specialized high schools, a group of highly sought-after institutions where students gain entry based on a single test.

Black and Hispanic students, who make up 67 percent of the public school population, are grossly underrepresented at the specialized high schools, which include Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science.

Mr. de Blasio campaigned on the issue when he first ran for mayor in 2013, saying the specialized schools should “reflect the city better,” but he has yet to make a dent in the problem. This year, black and Latino students received just 10 percent of the offered seats at specialized high schools, a percentage that has held essentially flat for years.

The most significant change Mr. de Blasio proposed was replacing the test, called the SHSAT, with a new method that would admit students based on their class rank at their middle school and their scores on statewide standardized tests. That change would require approval from the State Legislature, which has shown little appetite for such a move. A bill outlining those changes was introduced in the Assembly on Friday.

Mr. de Blasio announced another, smaller change on Saturday, one the city can do on its own. Beginning in the fall of 2019, the city would set aside 20 percent of seats in each specialized school for low-income students who score just below the cutoff; those students would be able to earn their spot by attending a summer session called the Discovery program. Five percent of seats for this year’s ninth graders were awarded this way, the city said.

A spokesman for the city’s Education Department said the way students were chosen for the Discovery program would also change. Currently, poor students with certain scores from all over the city qualify, but under the new plan, the city would target students from high-poverty schools instead. Those schools tend to have a higher proportion of black or Hispanic students.

Two squatters injured in Flushing fire

From CBS 2:

At least two people are in critical condition after a fire breaks out at a home in Queens.

More than 100 firefighters responded to the blaze, which started around 2 a.m. Monday at a home on 41st Avenue in Flushing. By the time firefighters arrived, they say the home was engulfed in flames.

Fire officials say the home was vacant, but the two people who get out on their own were squatters who were inside when the fire broke out.

“The fire building is a vacant building, but I am told there were squatters who self evacuated prior to fire department units arriving on the scene and they were transported to the hospital by our EMS,” McSweeney said.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

He wanted them to chill forever

From QNS:

A Rego Park man who runs his own maintenance company faces criminal charges for allegedly pouring mercury into a Queens family’s air conditioning unit after getting one too many complaints about the malfunctioning system.

Yuriy Kruk, 48, of Alderton Street owns and operates the A+ HVAC and Kitchen Corporation. According to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, a Jamaica Estates family contacted Kruk during the summer of 2015 to perform various repairs to their home.

Prosecutors said the victim repeatedly complained to Kruk that the second-floor air conditioning unit wasn’t working properly. Kruk replied that the system needed to be replaced, and in July of 2015, a new unit was installed.

Soon after the unit’s installation, law enforcement sources said, one of the victim’s noticed drops of a silvery liquid on the floor near the air conditioning units, and the same liquid dripping out of the vents in which Kruk had worked.

Members of the Fire Department’s Haz-Mat Unit responded to the home after receiving a 911 call and determined that the substance was mercury — the highly-toxic liquid metal. The family of three, which includes a husband, wife and their son, complained of having symptoms of mercury poisoning — including joint pain, headaches and lethargy.

All three family members were tested and found to have elevated levels of mercury in their bloodstream, Brown said.

Queens Blvd bike lanes to be extended through Forest Hills/Kew Gardens

Courtesy Forest Hills Post
From the Queens Chronicle:

The Department of Transportation has unveiled Phase 4 of its extensive Queens Boulevard redesign plan, but the project has lost one of its biggest original supporters.

Speaking before Community Board 6’s Transportation Committee last week, DOT officials detailed the agency’s proposal for the 1-mile section of Queens Boulevard from Yellowstone Boulevard in Forest Hills to Union Turnpike in Kew Gardens.

This phase of the project is similar to the past three, as it includes bike lanes along the median separating the service road from the main drag.

The stretch of roadway in question will also see the creation of a new crosswalk at 78th Avenue, redesigned slip lanes between the main and service roads, an improved pedestrian island on the north side of the boulevard at 75th Avenue, extended median tips, 200-foot-long left-turn bays at Queens Boulevard and Ascan Avenue and 10 new unloading zones for trucks.

To install the bike lane, the DOT will remove the service road’s parking lane along the median, which contains 220 spaces along the one mile stretch of road.

Originally a supporter of the plan, Koslowitz began to waffle last year, once her office started receiving complaints about the lack of parking and drops in business experienced by entrepreneurs that were blamed on the bike lanes.

The lawmaker said she did not know what kind of compromise could be had between cycling enthusiasts who vehemently defend the bike lanes and area residents who oppose them.

But what she did know, the lawmaker said, is that the boulevard project is both “saving lives” and “killing business.”

“They have to redesign it to where the stores have parking and people have their bike lanes,” she said. “How many people do you see riding bikes down Queens Boulevard? Hardly any. I drive all the way into Sunnyside and I can count the cyclists on one hand.”

Saturday, June 2, 2018

LIRR discounts for some Queens residents

From the Times Ledger:

The MTA will temporarily offer discounted rates with a pilot program for commuters traveling between Brooklyn and Queens from Atlantic Terminal on the Long Island Rail Road to experiment how offering lower fares will affect ridership.

The study, called Atlantic Ticket, will offer lower rates to LIRR riders who commute through the Brooklyn hub in an attempt to fill seats on these trains, which have greater capacity than those traveling to and from Penn Station.

The stations in Queens where commuters can take advantage of $5 rates at all hours are in Hollis, Jamaica, Laurelton, Locust Manor, Queens Village, Rosedale and St. Albans.

The $5 fare will represent a 51 percent reduction in price from the peak hour charge of $10.25 and a 33 percent decrease from the off-peak $7.50, the MTA said.

The MTA said this would make up for the $2.75 a customer would have to pay for a transfer to the subway.

Sort your trash!

From CBS 2:

When it comes to cardboard, a little cheese on the pizza box is OK, Aiello reported. Lid soaked with grease? Tear it off and toss it in the garbage.

Experts say disposable paper cups are a common recycling blunder. Most have been treated to be leak-proof, making them difficult to recycle.

Bottom line: Every municipality has a website or annual mailing, spelling out how to do the recycling thing the right way.

I think washing garbage is incredibly stupid, especially considering that they get washed at the recycling center anyway.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Carsharing companies to get exclusive access to public parking spaces

From Crains:

Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking back the streets—and then giving them to two massive multinational companies.

Starting June 4, residents of certain neighborhoods will see signs reserving parking spaces for Enterprise and Zip Car rentals. It's part of a two-year pilot program unveiled Thursday by the mayor to promote carsharing. It will allocate 230 spots at curbside, 55 in municipal garages and 24 in New York City Housing Authority lots for the members-only autos.

The carsharing services allow people to unlock cars via smartphone and use them for short periods of time.

The mayor characterized the program as an anti-congestion measure "pointed in the same direction" as CitiBike and his public ferry program: to diversify transit options and promote sustainability. De Blasio asserted it would ultimately liberate more parking spots across the city, citing a study finding that carshare options take autos off the street.

"There are just too many cars here," the mayor said, highlighting the five boroughs' swelling population and the costs of car ownership. "If people only sometimes really need a car, let's help them get a car only when they need it."

Both companies will give free memberships and discounted rates to public housing tenants. Zip Car will also give a free membership to holders of the IDNYC public identification card.

Yearly memberships with Enterprise start at $40, and the cost for a rental starts at $8 an hour or $69 a day. At Zip Car, the annual fee is $70, plus hourly rates beginning at $7.50 and daily ones at $70 to $80.

De Blasio said he hoped to see the pilot eventually grow "much bigger" and prompt thousands of New Yorkers to get rid of their personal autos and to stop hailing for-hire cars.

You can't park here!

From Brooklyn Daily:

A group of Canarsie homeowners has secured a court order authorizing them to call in tow companies to haul away cars that illegally park on the narrow, private roadway that runs behind their houses, where scofflaws routinely block their rear driveways and can even deny access to emergency vehicles.

The private road runs behind houses on E. 78th and E. 79th streets between Flatlands Avenue and Paerdegat First Street. It’s a tight pathway, owned by the individual homeowners rather than the city, and the homes’ driveways are located there. Parking on the road rather than in the driveways can easily block the way for wider vehicles and sometimes prevent homeowners from being able to turn out of their driveways.

The 78–79 Street Block Association, which represents the homeowners forbids parking on the private street, but outsiders and even some residents often ignore the rule, which is why the association went to court to get permission to tow.

The association asked the Kings County Supreme Court for an injunction against cars parking along the road in March, being represented by the law firm Novick, Edelstein, Lubell, Reisman, Wasserman & Leventhal, P.C. On May 10, a justice ordered that cars, including those belonging to residents, cannot park there and thus blo ck the “right-of-way easement.” Members of the association are now authorized to call a private towing company to remove any delinquent cars parked there, according to court documents.

Because the road is private, it is not the city’s responsibility to arrange for towing, but rather that of the homeowners, but they wanted a court document stating their rights to have illegally parked cars towed at the owners’ expense because some of the towing companies have refused in the past.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Slán do anois, Shannon Pot!

From LIC Post:

The Shannon Pot, a longstanding Irish dive bar in Long Island City, will be closing down for a second time, but with plans already in the horizon to remain in the neighborhood.

The bar and restaurant, currently located at 21-59 44th Dr., will close on Friday as developers plan on bulldozing the one-story building to make way for a seven-story residential and commercial project.

The business, in the neighborhood since 1999, was already forced to relocate to its current 44th Drive site in 2014 from its prior spot at the corner of Jackson Avenue and Davis Street, which was also demolished as part of the two-story project under construction at the former 5Pointz site.

But a spokesperson for The Shannon Pot told the LIC Post that the developer, Kyriacos Stavrinou, has promised them a place at their upcoming development.

The spokesperson said The Shannon Pot will be back in business when the new building is completed. The bar currently has no plans to reopen elsewhere in the meantime, but could potentially do so if a short-term lease were obtained.

How de Blasio marketed affordable housing is a joke

From City Limits:

Consider the calculations behind the June 12, 2017 official opening for the 535 Carlton tower in Prospect Heights, the first “100 percent affordable” building in the Pacific Park (formerly Atlantic Yards) project.

The emails show developer Greenland Forest City Partners scripting quotes from a grateful new 535 Carlton resident; a mayoral aide transforming a corporate press release into a governmental statement; and seeming distance from affordable housing advocates who once strongly backed Atlantic Yards, slated to include 2,250 below-market apartments.

Unmentioned: the grateful tenant was hardly representative of a building with 148 of 297 units aimed at middle-income households paying, for example, $2,680 for a one-bedroom apartment or $3,223 for a two-bedroom unit.

As this reporter wrote for City Limits in April 2017, the “real math” behind that building’s housing lottery showed some 67,000 households aiming for the 90 low-income apartments, while only 2,203 made the first cut for the 148 middle-income units. Ismene Speliotis, former ACORN housing head and now Executive Director of MHANY Management, which manages the housing lottery and tenant intake for the project expressed concern, telling City Limits that the limited response for the middle-income units indicated “a disconnect between the population’s need and the apartment distribution.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Water towers are kind of gross

From City and State:

Despite years of reforms, new data reveal widespread neglect in the thousands of weathered wooden water tanks that supply drinking water to millions of New York City residents. A review of city records indicates that most building owners still do not inspect and clean their tanks as the law has required for years, even after revisions to the health and administrative codes that now mandate annual filings.

There are still many thousands of water tanks across the city for which there is no information at all. The city can’t even say with certainty how many there are or where they are located, much less their condition – even well-maintained water tanks accumulate layers of muck and bacterial slime.

Building owners who do self-report the condition of their water tanks provide suspiciously spotless descriptions on annual inspection reports. These reports include bacteriological test results, but in almost every case the tests are conducted only after the tanks have been disinfected, making it a meaningless metric for determining the typical quality of a building’s drinking water. And regulators have issued dramatically fewer violations in recent years.

The data show that the city reported drinking water tanks on municipal buildings, including the city sanitation offices and several court buildings, tested positive for E. coli, a marker used by public health experts to predict the presence of potentially dangerous viruses and bacteria. Oversight remains lax: It took health officials more than a year to investigate several isolated reports of E. coli in drinking water tanks. After inquiries from City & State, however, officials now say that their own reports were erroneous.

But scientists at the federal Environmental Protection Agency and public health experts consulted by City & State warned that animals can easily get into New York City’s water tanks, that mucky sediments inside the tanks may contain pathogens and that poorly maintained water tanks could be the source of disease outbreaks.

Toby pushing for kitchens at shelters

From the Times Ledger:

State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) was joined by members of the advocacy group Elmhurst United last week outside the former Pan American hotel, where she announced legislation she recently introduced that would mandate homeless family shelter units to have working kitchens.

The measure, S7181 A, would require family homeless shelters for 10 or more families to have working kitchens within 60 days of the registration of the contract between the operator of the shelter and the city of New York.

Stavisky’s bill is in direct response to the recent and controversial uptick of repurposed hotels being used as homeless shelters. In Stavisky’s district, the city came under fire for turning the former Pan American hotel on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst into a family shelter without supplying functioning kitchens in each unit.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Glass panel falls, kills worker on job site

From CBS 2:

A security guard was killed and a worker was hurt when a large panel of glass fell at a construction site near Central Park Saturday morning.

The FDNY said it responded to calls for a construction related accident at 217 West 57th St. just after 10:30 a.m.

When medics arrived they observed that a large glass panel had fallen onto 67-year-old Harry Ramnauth.

He was rushed to Mt. Sinai Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

A 27-year-old construction worker was hurt, as well. His injuries are believed to be non-life threatening.

Police said the glass panel was in the process of being moved when it fell and crushed the 67-year-old, who was working as as security guard at the location.

The incident remains under investigation.

The property already had a stop work order in effect when this happened.

"Simple" rezoning sounds a bit strange

From the Queens Chronicle:

Community Board 5 voted 32-8 last Wednesday in favor of a rezoning plan that would allow the famed restaurant to construct a second story. The additional space would contain a banquet hall that fits up to 140 people.

Under the proposed plan, the height of O’Neill’s would increase from 14 feet to 25 feet with the addition of the second floor. In order to build higher, restaurant ownership is seeking to rezone the plot of land from an R4 to an R5D district with a C2-2 commercial overlay.

The rezoning pitch also includes a handful of other area lots to bring them into compliance with city code.

CB 5’s Zoning and Land Use Committee recommended the full board vote in favor of the project, a vote of support the committee’s chairman, Walter Sanchez, said came with the “full understanding” that parking is a challenge in the area.

In an effort to alleviate some of those concerns, O’Neill’s submitted letters from various businesses and organizations in the area, including Babco Inc. and Action Tire Services, which they said will allow cars from O’Neill’s to park on their premises.

The restaurant’s management has also committed not to build apartments above the restaurant, even if a future zoning change may allow it, according to Sanchez, who said O’Neill’s has a good track record in the community.

How would that work? The city is enforcing deed restrictions now? Why would you ask for a change in residential zoning only to restrict what you can build? This is a bit strange.

Above is a map of where the proposed valet parking lots are. (O'Neill's is marked in red.) I've seen restaurants use a lot around the corner, across the street or down the block, but I ain't never seen anything proposed quite like this. How would this even work? Are these places authorized to park non-customers' cars in their lots? How does insurance work?

This sounds an awful lot like the White House Restaurant story. After convincing CB7 that he needed a zoning change in order to build a catering hall, the owner instead tore it down and replaced it with a large piece of Queens Crap. (Coincidentally, O'Neill's hired the same lawyers.)

Monday, May 28, 2018

Honoring an outstanding veteran

From the Times Ledger:

The Vietnam Veterans of America Queens Chapter 32 will march in Monday’s Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade with their former leader, Michael O’Kane — still slowed by knee surgery — riding along in a camouflage Camaro. This year the organization will pay a special tribute to former service members from Queens who died alone and sometimes homeless.

“We are sponsoring the Francis Lewis High School Junior ROTC, who will be carrying 125 folded casket flags belonging to indigent veterans that our chapter has had the honor of escorting to their final resting place,” O’Kane said.

For nearly a decade Chapter 32 has partnered with the Hess Miller Funeral Home in Middle Village to provide dignified burials for veterans who can’t afford one. Each flag-draped casket is transported to Calverton National Cemetery in Suffolk County, where the veteran receives full military honors and since there are no family members to receive the flag, the Chapter 32 members take it back to their Whitestone headquarters where the flags are put on display.

“In an effort to reconnect a family member with their relative, a listing of the veterans’ names, date of birth and date of death will be distributed along the parade route,” O’Kane said. “Contact information will also be provided if a relative is found and the casket flag will be returned to them. This is a very proud moment for the chapter.”

He recently stepped down after serving two years as president of the chapter, but he remains on the board of directors. Last week, the Glendale resident was inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame after he was selected by state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach).

O’Kane served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, where he earned the Vietnam Service Medal, National Defense Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal and the U.S. Navy Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, and Meritorious Unit Citation for engaging the enemy several times in fire fights along the various rivers and canals in the Republic of Vietnam.

Thank you for your service

From CBS 2:

More than 2,300 sailors, Marines and members of the Coast Guard will be gracing the streets of New York City this weekend. What will the experience will be like? We wanted to find out firsthand and share it with you. CBS2's Vanessa Murdock followed a Marine from shore to shore as he set foot in the city for the first time.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Owning a home in Queens is not cheap

From the Times Ledger:

Owning a home can be quite expensive in New York City.

A new analysis revealed that Queens ranked as the fourth highest county in New York where residents spent half of their income on housing costs.

Gavop, a real estate, housing, and local data analytics service, used data from the U.S. Census Bureau to produce a study on homeowners’ costs as a percentage of income, according to Kevin Pryor, Gavop analyst. It analyzed real estate trends at the county level across the United States and found that Queens County had a median income of $62,207 and a median housing cost of $29,136 per year for homeowners with a mortgage.

In the study, housing costs include homeowner expenses such as the sum of mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance, and utilities.

“We looked at annual housing costs as a percentage to gauge how much debt people owe to their living situation based on location,” said Pryor. “Here, the numbers show that Queens residents paid a high median percentage of income on housing costs, resulting in a large debt to homeownership in the area.”

Pryor said for Queens “it was abnormally high for New York.” The percentage was 46.8 percent, where residents spent half of their income on mortgage payments, including utilities and maintenance.

Queens County’s median housing cost in relation to income is much larger than New York state’s rate of 39.5 percent and the national level of 31 percent.

Just going to leave this right here...

From The Intercept:

Sweeney’s office, according to the Daily News, made $30 million as counsel to the public administrator of the court from 2006 to 2017, administering the estates of people who died without wills. He did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment, and he declined to comment to the Daily News last year about his work. Scott Kaufman, who served as Crowley’s campaign treasurer for 17 years, made almost half a million dollars from assignments by the court from 2006 to 2017, the New York Post reported last June. Kaufman’s haul prompted a state probe into possible pay violations. He did not return The Intercept’s request for comment, but he told the Post last year that he was in compliance with state rules on court appointments. “Any review will conclude that the rules have been complied with,” Kaufman said. A spokesperson for the Office of Court Administration declined to comment on the investigation, but noted that “Scott Kaufman is currently eligible for appointments,” meaning he is still able to accept court appointments as a public administrator.

Crowley’s allies in the machine, Ocasio-Cortez charged, “defend him in court and they bump his opponents off the ballot,” referring to ballot challenges filed with the Board of Elections against candidates Crowley did not support or who oppose the machine. Last year, as DNAInfo reported, a candidate in a City Council primary was booted from the ballot for not having enough valid signatures; she said she was bullied for not “kissing the ring” of the party boss, Crowley. In that race, Crowley supported Assemblyman Francisco Moya, who went on to defeat Hiram Monserrate, a former council member and state senator who was expelled from the legislature after a 2009 conviction for assaulting his girlfriend.

The machine has a tight relationship with developers. Ocasio-Cortez noted in a follow-up email that Crowley’s organization reaped large sums of real estate money before the Queens machine installed the new City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, who has since “led the council in rezoning neighborhoods for luxury developments — pricing out local families and constructing high rises when the city already has 275k vacant units.”

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Push to use video as evidence for littering summonses

From the Queens Chronicle:

A Sanitation Department official told the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association last Thursday that the agency would “love” to use camera footage in its enforcement of littering laws, but can’t because of the law.

“It does help our enforcement because usually its ritualized,” said Nicholas Circharo, community affairs liaison for the DSNY. “They do it every morning. We would love to use the footage.”

Right now, Sanitation enforcement agents must catch a litterer in the act to write him or her a summons and are not allowed to use video evidence against an illegal dumper.

Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) said earlier in the meeting that he’d be interested in writing a bill that would allow the agency to use surveillance equipment to keep streets clean.

Litter laws are a top issue for the WRBA, and it’s discussed at almost every one of the civic’s meetings. Circharo was asked to appear at the May one to answer a few questions from WRBA President Steve Forte and other residents.

Many complained that summonses are often written to homeowners and merchants for trash left behind by other people in front of their property — some businesses have been issued thousands of dollars in violations.

Sidewalk repair reprieve

From Crains:

The City Council approved a measure Wednesday that will give landlords an extra 30 days to repair damaged sidewalks abutting their properties, stretching the deadline to 75 days from 45 days. Minority Leader Steven Matteo, R-Staten Island, who sponsored the bill, said the idea grew out of constituent complaints from his district—where single-family homes predominate.

He noted that the city hands out many repair orders during winter, when cold and damp conditions can make work impossible.

Friday, May 25, 2018

BDB used Mets games to look like an everyman

From CBS 2:

In an August 27 email, de Blasio said, “Chirlane, Chiara will go to the Mets/Red Sox game Friday night – in very cheap seats… I will go the Sat game with queens bp (Borough President) Melinda Katz. I will go to the Sunday game with Queens councilmembers.”

Outside consultant Jonathan Rosen, of BerlinRosen, sometimes referred to as “Jro” in the emails, weighed in on August 28 with a political “tweak.”

“Can we also frame this as how BdB (Bill de Blasio) does his politics. Some pols do dinners and drinks… but he’s working the Queens delegation and the BP over Mets games. It’s work – him doing politics well,” he wrote.