Friday, September 22, 2023

Caption Jenifer and Eddie


Food app delivery workers ebikes and illegal motorcycles block sidewalk egress

 Queens Chronicle

“Oh, thank God.”

A man walking on 63rd Drive in Rego Park expressed that opinion last week when learning the Chronicle was taking photos for a story on how delivery riders of e-bikes, scooters and other two-wheeled vehicles have had a recent tendency to clog the sidewalk in front of a Taco Bell, Popeyes and bagel shop that adjoin each other.

His comment was little different from complaints the Chronicle has received via email about the site. At one point during the Sept. 14 visit, a senior citizen with a walker and one using a personal mobility chair simultaneously tried to navigate their way through 11 parked vehicles and their drivers.

State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Woodhaven) said in an interview on Tuesday that his office and the 112th Precinct are well aware of the situation and that the police are working to resolve it.

“My office has reached out to the 112th Precinct,” he said. “I’m planing to talk with all four precincts in my district. I’ll ask them, as I frequently do, ‘What can I do on a state level? What legislation can be done?’”

He said there already are laws requiring that some classes of two-wheeled vehicles be registered, and their operators licensed.

“But obviously, some are not,” Addabbo said. “And I’ve got a feeling that for every illegal one the police get, 10 more pop up in its place. Like the pot shops. It’s just a daunting task. That’s what law enforcement is up against here.”

In emails from their offices, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and a spokesman for Councilwoman Lynn Schulman (D-Forest Hills) said they have gotten similar complaints from constituents about other areas, but not that section of 63rd Drive specifically.

Both said their offices work directly with the 112th and other precincts on the problem.

“The NYPD is empowered to confiscate unlicensed scooters and e-bikes that don’t meet city regulations. I know that the 112th Precinct has been successful at increasing the number of scooters and bikes confiscated,” Schulman’s spokesman said. “With regards to what pedestrians can do, I would suggest that they call 311 and report the situation, especially if the scooter is blocking the sidewalk or intersection. If 311 does not solve the problem, they can reach out to our office and we will work directly with the NYPD to assist.”

Hevesi in his email said the vehicles play a huge role in the city for everyone from commuters to service providers.

But he also said the regulations for e-bikes and scooters are very clear.

“If the rules are not followed, it becomes a matter of enforcement,” Hevesi said

Bowling for housing and parking

CB 7 OKs building at Whitestone Lanes 1

Queens Chronicle

Community Board 7 on Monday approved plans for a nine-story residential building at 30-05 Farrington St., replacing the legendary Whitestone Lanes.

The push for the proposed nine-story apartment building is being led by Marco Macaluso Jr., the owner of Whitestone Lanes. His attorney, Eric Palatnik, spoke on his behalf at this week’s CB 7 meeting.

“Mr. Macaluso [Sr.] built this building with his blood, sweat and tears, by the skin of his teeth some 40 or 50 years ago — you never thought he’d be here today asking you to rezone the property,” Palatnik said. “It wasn’t his intention. Bowling alleys were the newest, biggest fad at the time — tells you how long ago it was.

“They’re not a fad anymore. It’s over, and they are over, too, and they know it.”

Plans for the new building were first reported in June; publicly available documents filed with the Department of City Planning proposed that the site be rezoned from an M1-1 zone to an R7A zone to construct a nine-story building with 413 units, 113 of which would be affordable, and 200 parking spaces below ground. It also included plans for publicly accessible outdoor space.

But First Vice Chair Chuck Apelian said Monday that through discussions with the board’s Land Use Committee, the Macalusos and the developers, the group had “come to an agreement” on an alternative plan: Instead, the building would have no more than 350 units, 91 of which would be affordable, and at least 300 parking spaces.

Given Whitestone Lanes’ location right off the Whitestone Expressway and that it is lined by two narrow streets — Farrington Street and Linden Place — traffic congestion was a significant concern for board members. With that in mind, Palatnik said while cars will be able to enter the garage both on Farrington Street and Linden Place, they can only exit on Farrington Street, heading northbound. Those entering on Linden Place can only be heading southbound, and from either direction on Farrington Street.

Arguably the largest change from the previous plan, however, was that instead of outdoor space, complete with benches, tables and the like, the board put forth the idea for a “parking garden,” which would add 35 more parking spots and be filled out with plenty of plants, trees and other greenery. It would sit in back of the building along Farrington Street.

Apelian said it was board member Arlene Fleischman who first articulated the committee’s hesitations toward open green space. “Arlene voiced concern that in this climate, in this environment of homelessness, of migrancy and other things that have taken place, that improper use would take [the] place of this altruistic idea of creating a public access area,” he said. A parking garden was proposed as an alternative.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

City of Yes or else

 NY Daily News

Mayor Adams announced Thursday a sweeping package of proposed zoning changes — including the elimination of parking minimums and allowing garages to be legally converted into homes — aimed at facilitating the creation of about 100,000 new homes in the next 10 to 15 years in a move that’s a direct response to New York City’s ongoing housing crisis.

Adams touted it as “the most ambitious changes to zoning in the history of New York City.” Rather than concentrating new housing in certain parts of the city, the measures would try to create “a little more housing in every neighborhood” by easing some of the strict zoning rules currently in place.

“So many of the issues we face as a city are rooted in this ongoing crisis,” Adams said. “We must change the restrictive laws that were put in place 62 years ago [with the 1961 Zoning Resolution].”

The citywide approach contrasts with the neighborhood-level and spot rezonings that have been used to ease zoning restrictions to allow for more and often taller housing.

“This is not tinkering around the edges,” Adams said. “Today, we’re proposing a slate of new rules that, if passed by our City Council, remove longstanding barriers to opportunity and usher in a new golden age of housing in New York City.”

In neighborhoods with smaller and fewer buildings the proposals would attempt to cut municipal red tape to make it easier for owners to adapt their homes.

Among other things, it would allow for certain types of “accessory dwelling units” to be built, such as backyard cottages and basement apartments, and conversions of attics and garages into housing. It would also aim to “safely legalize” existing ones.

One of the buzziest components announced Thursday is the elimination of parking mandates for new homes, space the city says it would rather use for housing.

“If you want to build parking spots, you still can,” Adams explained. “But we will not force people to build parking they do not want.”

The rules would also enable two to four stories of housing to be built above squat, single-story commercial buildings to match the height of neighboring ones.

  The new plan would enable conversion of under-used commercial buildings.

The city currently gives leeway for the creation of affordable senior housing, allowing for increased heights, an exception the administration is proposing extending to now include all forms of affordable and supportive housing in denser neighborhoods.

 The new plan would allow accessory dwelling units for single and two-family homes.

Under the new proposals, housing could also be built on various “large campuses” around the city, such as in the parking lots of houses of worship or on NYCHA property. Other changes include allowing three-to-five-story apartment buildings to be built on large lots near transit hubs as a way of blending in with the community; and making it legal once more for “modest apartments” to have common facilities such as shared kitchens and bathrooms.


Thursday, September 14, 2023

Developer gave Eric Ulrich a discount on a lux apartment hoping he would condemn a supportive housing building for the homeless across the street


On the evening of Aug. 10, 2021, Eric Adams joined a rooftop party in Brooklyn where a crowd of real estate industry figures awaited him, each of them bearing gifts. It was a month after Adams’ victory in his hard-fought race to become the Democratic mayoral nominee and he was busily harvesting donations from those eager to show support for the man overwhelmingly favored to become the next mayor of the City of New York.

That morning, a breakfast fundraiser at a Manhattan law firm active in land use issues netted the candidate $38,750 in contributions. He picked up $20,250 more at a later event with healthcare executives and doctors. Another soiree, at a hotel in the Rockaways, yielded $25,925 for his campaign coffers. 

But his biggest haul of the day came on the Brooklyn rooftop. The host was a successful developer and investor in commercial and residential projects around the city named Mark Caller. The party was held atop Caller’s office building on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood where his firm, The Marcal Group, is headquartered. 

Once all donations from the gala had been collected, Adams’ campaign was $47,050 to the better. Almost a third of that money, $15,400, came from members of Caller’s family, with the rest from his friends and business associates, records obtained by THE CITY via a freedom of information request show. 

Even in a campaign that ultimately took in nearly $9 million in private donations, it was the kind of political generosity that stood out. 

Now, the previously undisclosed fundraiser stands out for a much different reason. 

In coming days Caller is expecting to be indicted by the Manhattan district attorney on charges that he provided a luxury apartment at below-market rent to Eric Ulrich, a former City Council member and Adams appointee, in exchange for official favors. 

Ulrich, a Republican ex-Council member from Queens who bucked his party in 2021 to support Adams’ mayoral bid, is also expected to be charged. After Adams took office, he was appointed a senior advisor to the mayor.  A few months later, Adams named him city buildings commissioner.  The post put Ulrich, who held no management experience other than handling his Council staff, in charge of a sprawling agency of some 1,700 employees, one that is crucial to the city’s construction industry and notoriously prone to corruption.

The job didn’t last long. In November, five months after his appointment, Ulrich was forced to resign after it was revealed that the DA had seized his cell phone during an investigation into a mob-tied gambling ring. 

It’s unclear what favors Ulrich is alleged to have provided for Caller. The developer has been involved in significant construction projects that needed city approvals. Since 2020, Caller has built at least four new projects in the Rockaways, part of Ulrich’s former Council district. Just two weeks before he hosted the Adams fundraiser, Caller won a zoning change approval from the city planning commission to add a gym to a new condominium project he built on Beach 116th Street in Rockaway Park. That’s the complex where Ulrich lived in a fifth floor apartment near the ocean with two bedrooms and two baths. Units there currently range from $700,000 to $1.4 million; listed rents go from $3,000 to $4,100.

Campaign records show Caller was an early supporter of Adams’ mayoral bid. In December 2019, nearly a year before Adams officially announced his candidacy, Caller and his wife, Rivka Spitzer, made donations of $1,000 apiece to Adams’ campaign. After Adams became an official candidate, the campaign returned $600 of Caller’s own donation. That’s because, due to his quest for city land use assistance for his Rockaway condo project, he is considered someone doing business with the city and limited to donations of $400 to candidates for citywide office. His wife’s donation was unaffected.


One of the more disturbing allegations involved Ulrich’s effort in 2022 to shut down a hotel housing the homeless because it enraged Caller, the real estate developer. Prosecutors say he made this corrupt effort to aid Caller at the same time he was negotiating to obtain a discount apartment across the street from the hotel from Caller.

At one point in March 2022, while he was a senior advisor to Adams, Caller let Ulrich know he wanted to shut down a hotel at 158 Beach 116th Street that was housing homeless adults because it happened to be across the street from and adjacent to two of his upscale rental buildings.

In a WhatsApp exchange captured by prosecutors, Caller wrote to Ulrich, “There has to be a way to put 158 B116th out of business. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

 In response, Ulrich promised Caller to set up a “task force” of inspectors from the FDNY and the buildings department, writing, “They might be able to vacate the f...g thing. It’ll take months to get it reopened.”

Prosecutors described a conversation Ulrich had with a state Assemblymember described as Jane Doe #1. At the time, Stacy Pheffer Amato was the Assembly member representing the Rockaways. 

Ulrich is alleged to have requested that the Assembly member demand an FDNY/DOB inspection of the hotel, and instructed the Assembly member “to make sure FDNY and DOB issue a full vacate order so the occupants can be moved by the New York City Department of Homeless Services into alternative housing.”

Prosecutors say that shortly after several violations were issued at that address, but none involved a vacate order. Pheffer Amato did not respond to THE CITY’s questions Wednesday about this exchange.

While Ulrich was targeting the homeless shelter, he was simultaneously discussing with Caller obtaining an apartment at a discount rate in a building across the street from the hotel, an upscale address at 133 Beach 116th Street, prosecutors say.

Caller then offered Ulrich an apartment for $2,000 a month, the lowest monthly rental in the building, and said Ulrich could apply the rental toward a down payment on the unit at a reduced rate. He also threw in the furniture and offered to void the closing costs.

Ulrich moved into the apartment about a week before he was named buildings commissioner. Just before the appointment was made public, he called Caller to advise that their communications would no longer be direct.

“We have to be smart,” he said. “I have to be a little more careful because I can’t be conflicted. If you have to communicate with me about something directly, about something concerning a property you own, maybe it’s better if it comes from the councilwoman or the elected officials, so that we’re working on it at their requests.”


Wednesday, September 13, 2023

City council wants nothing to do with their law to close Rikers Island

 Queens Chronicle

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica) and Member Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan), chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, released a joint statement last Thursday in response to concerns voiced by Mayor Adams about closing Rikers Island.

During a fireside chat at New York Law School in Manhattan last Tuesday, he said the plan to do so “was flawed from the beginning.”

In their response, the councilwomen said the 413-acre facility cultivated a culture of brutal violence and dysfunction, then emphasized that the city must adhere to the 2019 law to close Rikers by Aug. 31, 2027.

“Public safety demands that we remain on-track to closing without delay,” said the joint statement. “To achieve this goal, it is imperative that Mayor Adams’ administration take responsibility for implementing the law, including working collaboratively with stakeholders involved in the criminal legal system to advance necessary progress.”

The mayor’s administration has missed several deadlines related to turning over unused parcels of land from the city’s largest jail complex for the development of an energy hub, reported the Queens Daily Eagle.

The Office of the Mayor said via email that Adams will always follow the law.

“It has become painfully clear that the plan passed by the City Council during the previous administration leaves open serious questions about the city’s ability to keep New Yorkers safe, while the costs are exploding,” a City Hall spokesman told the Chronicle on Aug. 31.

When conceived, the closure of the facility was estimated to be approximately $8 billion. In October 2022, the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform said it would be closer to $10.2 billion due to inflation.

“This is due to: necessary environmental remediation and landfill stabilization; the island’s isolation and single bridge on and off; and the presence of active jails, which would limit construction hours and require a staggered schedule to maintain sufficient capacity during construction,” according to the report. “In addition, the city would have to pay over $800 million to demolish the existing jails on Rikers. The city has already spent $500 million on design, demolition, project management, and site preparation for the new borough-based jails.”

The commission also said scrapping the shutdown plan and modernizing Rikers would cost 15 percent more than the $10 billion price tag and take years longer. Smaller borough-based jails will save the city $2 billion in operating costs annually, it said.

The city must make consistent investments in pretrial services, alternatives to incarceration and re-entry services, while addressing unacceptable lengths of stay with the courts, district attorneys and public defenders, said the councilwomen’s joint statement.

The mayor also blamed the city’s courts for failing to process cases. Commissioner Louis Molina of the city’s Department of Correction said that he believes the jail population will hit 7,000 by 2024, reported the Queens Daily Eagle. The new jails will have room for no more than 4,200 inmates, the mayor has said.

Asked about the rising costs of the jail and where the detainees will be placed during the transitional period, a City Council official said it’s up to the mayor to address.