Thursday, January 29, 2015

Julissa misses the old Corona

From the NY Times:

[Ms. Gutierrez] has noticed [Corona] is more crowded. What was once an empty lot across from her family home now holds a 10-unit apartment building, she said, making parking more difficult.

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who lived in Corona until moving to East Elmhurst a year and a half ago, said overdevelopment is one of the neighborhood’s biggest challenges. In recent years, many two-family homes have been torn down and replaced with larger, multifamily buildings. The resulting influx of residents has not only affected parking, but has also brought in more traffic and strained city services, Councilwoman Ferreras said.

“It’s hard seeing these beautiful, large colonial homes disappearing,” she said. “As a resident, it makes me sad, because I like the feel of old Corona.”

And whose fault is it that this happened? Your old boss - Hiram, and you.

Should property owners be consulted before tree planting?

From the Times Ledger:

In November, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) stood in front of his office with some homeowners asking the city to let them decide if they want a new tree planted close to their properties.

They claimed problems with trees include breaking sewer lines, pushing up sidewalks and the non-removal of stumps.

According to Avella, a letter he received from the city agency noted, “Just as residents do not determine the placement of city infrastructure such as traffic lights, bus stops or fire hydrants, they are unable to refuse the planting of a city tree in the public right-of-way.”

The lawmaker fired back, saying that “when a city refuses to hear the voices of its residents, something is profoundly wrong.”

The legislator noted that he is drafting legislation “to ensure that we are able to maintain the trees that we have before subjecting homeowners and residents to the liabilities that come with planting new ones.”

Avella said he had a meeting with officials at Parks, but they told him that the policy would not be changed.

Are the times changing for the better in Jamaica?

From the Queens Courier:

In another big sign that Jamaica is changing, the more than three-decade-old Jamaica Colosseum Mall known for its hip-hop clothing stores and huge jewelry exchange is being marketed for sale.

The mall, which was a Macy’s until 1978, has been listed by Epic Commercial Realty for $45 million.

The site at 89-02 165th St. has nearly 50,000 square feet of space and up to 250,000 square feet of buildable potential for a commercial or residential development, New York YIMBY reported.

Dirty Dilan

From the Daily News:

Ex-City Councilman Erik Dilan was slapped with a $9000 fine for taking an affordable apartment for which he didn’t qualify from a crooked developer with business before the New York City Council.

Dilan’s sweet deal was first revealed by the Daily News in 2011, and the Conflicts of Interest Board launched a probe.

Dilan (D-Brooklyn) — now a state Assemblyman — broke city conflicts of interest law by failing to disclose his financial relationship with his landlord, developer Sergio Benitez, when he voted to approve three of Benitez’s projects before the City Council, the board found.

Then, he asked for and got a bigger apartment from Benitez — even though he made tens of thousands of dollars too much to legally qualify for it.

The two-bedroom apartment on Decatur St. in Bushwick that Dilan picked out in 2008 was restricted to families making less than $114,000 a year, but he was allowed to move in even though he and his wife made $174,205.

The conflicts board found Dilan was illegally using his position for personal gain.

Hotels a-boomin' all over

From Crains:

Taking a page from the film Field of Dreams, developers have been lining the city's outer boroughs with a growing number of independent and brand-name hotels, convinced that if they build them, guests will come.

So far, they have: Outer-borough occupancy rates between January and November 2014 ran as high as 81%, according to STR, a hospitality-industry research firm. Most hotel markets operate at 65% occupancy, while Manhattan is "pushing" 83%, said Sean Hennessey, chief executive of Lodging Advisors, a Manhattan-headquartered consulting firm.

"We're in a huge tourism boom, and that echoes across the boroughs," said Rob MacKay, director of the Queens Tourism Council, which is a part of the Queens Economic Development Corp.

With a record number of tourists visiting the city—and an estimated 22.5 million hotel guests among the nearly 56 million visitors to the city last year, according to NYC & Company—hoteliers have turned to the outer boroughs to snag out-of-towners who can't score a reservation in Manhattan's tight hotel market or think it is too pricey.

Over the next 36 months, more than 100 hotels are slated to open across Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx. Still, the future of outer-borough lodging is anything but certain.

"The unanswered question is how deep is the market for people who dream of coming to New York and couldn't because there weren't enough rooms available or in their price points," said Mr. Hennessey.

Moreover, the expansion of the city's hotel sector beyond Manhattan could be threatened by a City Council push for changes that would end hotels' right to open in industrial and manufacturing zones without council approval. Council leaders argue that industrial and manufacturing jobs in Brooklyn and Queens, which represent the strongest outer-borough markets for lodgings, pay workers nearly twice what the hotel, retail and restaurant industries do.

Sorry, but I don't think that having 20% or more of your rooms available on an average night is a good thing for one's business. Hotels in Queens become homeless shelters. And a dirty secret that no one wants to discuss is that even the ones still operating as hotels house the homeless in their empty rooms at night. Who in the borough is saying, "You know what our neighborhood could really use? A hotel!"

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hundreds more gentrifiers will soon be on their way to Ridgewood

From Crains:

A developer that has long focused on emerging markets in Manhattan and the outer boroughs released renderings Tuesday of its latest endeavor—the largest residential project underway in Ridgewood, Queens. The project, being built by Essex Capital, will be tailored to creative-class New Yorkers priced out of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The firm has already begun construction on the 90-unit building at 16-14 and 16-26 Madison St., between Myrtle and Wyckoff avenues. Construction will run through summer of 2016.

The property will include a WeWork-style business center designed for renters who work from home (and are largely associated with trendy neighborhoods like Williamsburg), but Essex Capital founder Mitchell Rutter does not want to jump on the Queens-is-the-new-Brooklyn bandwagon.

"We view Ridgewood as having an separate identity and a separate desirability from whatever places like Bushwick are offering," said Mr. Rutter, a 1996 Crain’s 40 Under 40.

Though it is undeniably undergoing gentrification, Ridgewood has a more established working-class residential and retail community than do the gritty former industrial areas of Williamsburg and northern Bushwick that have seen a wave of new residential development. In addition, large swaths of Ridgewood are landmarked, meaning opportunities for new development are limited.

I guess we've given up on keeping artists in the neighborhoods they originally moved to and now have to build more affordable housing (which will be unaffordable as soon as it is completed) to attract them to other areas.

Silver gone as speaker by Monday

From CBS News:

Embattled New York State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver has agreed to step down by Monday of next week, in the wake of federal corruption charges.

As CBS2’s Jessica Schneider reported, Democratic leaders met for two days, and finally decided Tuesday night to force the powerful assembly speaker to step down.

“I don’t know what decision my colleagues made,” Silver said. “I made a decision that I will not hinder this process.”

Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle (D-Rochester) announced the move Tuesday. Morelle will serve as acting speaker until a new one is elected by Feb. 10.

Sources told CBS2 Silver will step down from the speaker post, but will remain a member of the Assembly.

As majority leader, the No. 2 post in the chamber, Morelle will be the interim speaker from the moment Silver resigns until the lawmakers formally convene again Monday. At that point, they plan to amend their rules to keep him as interim speaker until Feb. 10. That’s intended to give any other member a chance to express interest and explain how he or she would lead, said Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti.

Settlement calls for squatter to leave house

From the Daily News:

The cab driver allegedly squatting in a Bronx woman’s building must find a new home, according to a deal the two parties hashed out at Bronx Housing Court on Monday.

Clark Eli-Selassie, who has been staying at the Kingsbridge home owned by Maria Diaz since at least May, has until March 26 to move out, the settlement mandates.

Diaz, 62, who had been locked out of the dilapidated Sedgwick Ave. building, now has the new key and can enter the second floor, basement and attic, according to the court ruling.

City restores Brooklyn theater for $94M

Max Tourney for Curbed
From Curbed:

Two years ago to the day that the city embarked on a $94 million restoration of the Loew's Kings Theatre in Flatbush, the institution reopened its doors and reclaimed its standing as Brooklyn's largest theater. The restoration was painstaking: when it began in 2013, the theater had already been sitting vacant for four decades, a time during which looters plundered everything that wasn't bolted down (and most of the things that were), and nature found its way into the neglected structure.

Meanwhile, in Flushing...

Chocolate maker gets big grant to stay in Rockaway

From the Rockaway Times:

After receiving a $13.2 million grant from the City, Madelaine Chocolate Company is here to stay.

The 66-year-old chocolate company, which has been operating in Rockaway for 48 years and serving as one of the peninsula’s largest employers, will stay in Rockaway due to a tremendous grant provided through the City’s Hurricane Sandy Business Loan and Grant Program. The large award was made possible after the Mayor de Blasio administration made changes to the HSBLGP over the summer.

Hurricane Sandy devastated the company, leaving it with $50 million in losses from damaged equipment, property and a $10 million loss in inventory alone. Madelaine Chocolate officially opened with limited capability in October 2013. In February 2014, it was announced that the building at 9603 Beach Channel Drive was up for sale and the company may be moving, since it didn’t have sufficient funds to recover.

The grant will allow Madelaine Chocolate to remain in Rockaway.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Is someone looking at the nephew?

Ed Braunstein previously worked in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's Manhattan district office.

From the Daily News:

In an only-in-Albany moment, Brian Meara, a veteran lobbyist and longtime friend of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was publicly revealed to be cooperating in Bharara’s case against the speaker a day after his nephew, Assemblyman Edward Braunstein of Queens, attended a news conference of Assembly Democrats supporting Silver.

Braunstein attended a nearly two-hour meeting of Assembly Democratic members hours after Silver's arrest. Afterward, several dozen of Silver's members came out for a press conference to say they support keeping Silver as speaker.

That widespread support began to erode over the weekend, leading to Silver to cut a deal in which he will turn over control for now of the chamber to five veteran Assembly members as he fights the criminal charges against him.

Meanwhile, Meara, who has been close with Silver for four decades, is cooperating with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's case against Silver.has been cooperating as a “fact witness” as part of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's investigation, sources told The News.

Cuomo in a heap of trouble

From the Daily News:

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s warning to “stay tuned” for more corruption arrests after he bagged Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has sent a big chill through the state Capitol.

“I think everyone is waiting for the next shoe to drop,” said one legislative official.

Added former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat: “When a prosecutor says stay tuned, I think he means it.”

The big fish reportedly being looked at is Gov. Cuomo.

Bharara has been probing whether the governor and his top aides improperly interfered with the Moreland anti-corruption commission Cuomo established.

He is also probing the circumstances behind Cuomo’s decision to abruptly end the commission after the Legislature agreed to some ethics reforms.

Bharara took control of the commission’s files and promised to follow up on any unresolved leads.

From the NY Post:

“Andrew’s been working the phones day and night, staying up into the early morning hours, making hundreds of calls in one day trying to find out what the hell is going on,’’ a source close to the governor said.

Cuomo, who has retained a private lawyer, has enlisted several former federal and state-level prosecutors with ties to Bharara’s office including Steve Cohen, his former chief-of-staff, in an effort to find out Bharara’s next move, the sources said.

“He’s freaked-out, furious, and obsessed with fear, it’s like a nightmare for him. The whole narrative he laid out for his second term has been derailed by Bharara,’’ said a source in regular contact with the governor.

“The narrative has been taken over by Bharara and it’s all about Albany’s corruption, not Cuomo and his program for the state,’’ the source said.

State political circles are abuzz with speculation that Bharara is seeking to determine if Cuomo had any knowledge of Silver’s allegedly illegal outside income last spring when he agreed with Silver and Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos to fold the commission.

3 Dems to take over for Silver

From the NY Times:

Sheldon Silver, the longtime speaker of the New York State Assembly, agreed on Sunday to relinquish his duties on a temporary basis as he fights federal corruption charges.

His decision came amid mounting pressure from his fellow Democrats in the Assembly, who worried that the criminal charges would impair his ability to carry out the duties of one of the most powerful positions in the state’s government.

In an unusual arrangement, Mr. Silver would not quit his post. Instead, he would temporarily delegate his duties as speaker to a group of senior Assembly members.

Under the tentative plan developed on Sunday, the Assembly majority leader, Joseph D. Morelle of the Rochester area, and the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, Herman D. Farrell Jr., Democrat of Manhattan, would assume responsibility for budget negotiations.

Three other senior Democratic members — Carl E. Heastie of the Bronx, Catherine T. Nolan of Queens and Joseph R. Lentol of Brooklyn — will round out the leadership team.

Cutting costs on yet-to-be-built library

From LIC Post:

Construction of the library, which will be built at Center Blvd/48th Ave (next to Gantry Plaza State Park) was expected to begin in 2013. However, there have been several delays due to the inability of the city to find a contractor willing to build it for the $28.6 million that had been allocated.

The bids came in ranging from $33 million to $42 million and the city had to do some value engineering in order to find a construction company that could build it within budget.

Officials said that they had to get rid of some of the more elaborate features to reduce the cost by about $5 million. They included replacing the aluminum exterior facade with cement and glass; forgoing custom interior fixtures; and going without the geothermal well system.

However, the library will feature a rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the city skyline, a garden, a gallery, a conference room, a computer center and youth and teen spaces. The 21,500 square-foot facility will be largely a glass and cement structure.

Take a look at the renderings. Why all the wasted space?

Of course, a developer is involved in the Albany scandal

From the NY Times:

Unlike many other New York developers, Leonard Litwin, a shy, soft-spoken, compact billionaire, has never sought the limelight.

Yet Mr. Litwin and his company, Glenwood Management, have always stood out, for the number of luxury residential towers they have added to Manhattan’s skyline and the exceptionally generous donations Glenwood has made to state lawmakers.

Now, in his 101st year, Mr. Litwin is embroiled in a very public corruption scandal that is rocking the real estate industry and the state’s political establishment.

When Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York State Assembly, was arrested on federal charges on Thursday, the criminal complaint against him included accusations that he used his powerful position to reap millions of dollars in graft by steering real estate developers, among others, to law firms that gave him a slice of their fees.

Glenwood is one of the two developers cited but not named in the complaint, according to people familiar with the matter.

At Mr. Silver’s request, the complaint says, Glenwood, which owns 26 buildings with 8,700 apartments in the city, including three in Mr. Silver’s district, and the second developer hired a small law firm, Goldberg & Iryami, to handle some of its property tax work.

Though not named, Leonard Litwin's company, Glenwood Management, is cited as one of the real estate firms in the case against Sheldon Silver.

In exchange, prosecutors say, Mr. Silver got a portion of the fees that Glenwood and the second developer, whose identity remains unknown, paid the firm — a total of $700,000.

Glenwood was unaware of the arrangement until 2012, the complaint says. And Mr. Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, never reported the income as required on his annual financial disclosure forms, even as he continued to deal with legislation of interest to Glenwood and other developers, including rent regulations and real estate tax breaks.

While neither of the developers is accused of wrongdoing, Glenwood’s part in the case has stunned Mr. Litwin’s colleagues in the real estate industry, where he is a revered figure who, friends say, has always sought to avoid controversy. He and the company declined to comment for this article.

From Capital New York:

Leonard Litwin, who appears to be the developer at the center of a criminal complaint against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, gave nearly $3.6 million to candidates and state-level political parties in the last election cycle, more than any other donor, according to a Capital analysis of campaign finance filings.

Litwin was followed on the list of top donors by the health care union 1199 SEIU, hedge fund manager James Simons, New York State United Teachers (which also managed an independent expenditure committee that spent millions of dollars on Senate races) and the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.

Litwin and 26 limited liability companies owned by Glenwood Management gave $2.07 million to statewide candidates and parties in the four years preceding December 2014 and $1.52 million to state legislative candidates in the two years preceding that month, the analysis by Capital showed.

These donations included $1 million to Governor Andrew Cuomo, $450,000 to the New York State Democratic Committee and $19,700 to Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. This makes Litwin the largest donor to Cuomo. He was also the largest donor to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman ($240,000) and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli ($180,000).

He gave to each of Albany’s five legislative conferences: Senate Republicans ($1.01 million), the Independent Democratic Conference ($195,300), Assembly Democrats ($179,500), Senate Democrats ($133,000) and Assembly Republicans ($3,150). Senator Jeff Klein received $80,000 from Litwin’s holdings, more than any other individual legislator. In all, 89 state-level campaign committees received money from an LLC owned by Glenwood.

The total does not include amounts Litwin sent to other groups’ political action committees or independent expenditure committees. Glenwood’s LLCs gave $162,200 to Jobs for New York and $100,000 to the New York League of Conservation Voters, both of which supported Senate Republicans. This also does not include donations to local candidates. Litwin was notably the largest donor to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino in the last year of his 2013 re-election campaign.

1199 SEIU gave the second most money to candidates and parties, contributing $2.43 million. The Working Families Party received $801,350 from 1199, the largest share of its donations. Seven Senate Republicans received money from the union, which pledged last June to give no money to Senate Republicans.