Wednesday, March 31, 2010

TDC based DEIS traffic report on wrong info!

From the Daily News:

The city Department of Transportation has shelved a three-year-old plan that would have made Main and Union Sts. in downtown Flushing one-way to improve traffic flow and make streets more pedestrian friendly.

Instead, the agency will implement a "modified two-way alternative," starting in July with a six-month trial run, Queens Transportation Commissioner Maura McCarthy said at a news conference Monday.

The department can implement the plan without community board approval because it is a safety improvement.

"I can't argue with science, but I don't see how this plan can work," said Jim Gerson, chairman of the Flushing Business Improvement District. "It pales in comparison to the one-way plan."

Apelian said the two-way plan will not serve the long-term traffic problems created by the Flushing Commons development, to be built atop a municipal parking lot on Union St.

"Just implement the one-way plan," he said. "This one is counter-productive to us trying to develop downtown Flushing."

McCarthy said that the agency would reconsider the one-way plan if the trial is unsuccessful.

Now, the DOT may be able to do whatever it wants without Community Board 7's approval, however, the Flushing Commons DEIS is based on the one-way plan, bus routes includes.

So it looks like it's "back-to-the-drawing-board" for TDC because there is no way CB7, the borough president or the City Council can possibly approve of this plan based on inaccurate and incomplete information.

They are going to have to withdraw their rezoning application until they have their new traffic study completed.

Urban planner's take on Flushing Commons

Controversy and intrigue is coming into full swing in downtown Flushing – again.

Municipal Parking Lot #1, a 5.5-acre city-owned parcel just east and north of the frenetic crossroads of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue, has been targeted for a mega-project, Flushing Commons, and its affordable-housing sister component, Macedonia Plaza. On its face, Flushing Commons/Macedonia Plaza – which includes retail stores, residential units, a small park and a brand new YMCA facility - sounds like a creative use of public land. However, the devil is most assuredly in the details.

TDC Development Corp./Rockefeller Group, along with their status as chosen developer of Municipal Lot #1, recently constructed the Queens Crossing tower across the street and are deeply invested in future mega-development at Willets Point. For TDC/Rockefeller to win the design competition, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) entered into a detailed community benefits agreement with then-Councilmember, now Comptroller, John Liu in 2006. Among other things, the agreement called for a minimum of 2,000 parking spaces; reasonably-priced parking rates capped in perpetuity; a new YMCA with zero rent, full build-out and $5 million in programming funds; a movie theater; a bookstore; a business-class hotel; and $2 million in business disruption funding to help existing merchants weather the anticipated three-year construction timetable.

This agreement has been largely reneged upon by both TDC/Rockefeller and the EDC. Their current proposal is 400 parking spaces short; parking prices will revert to market-rate after several years; the hotel is in serious jeopardy; the bookstore – also promised at Queens Crossing – is unlikely; the movie theater has been nixed; and the YMCA, while still being built, will not have a rent-free facility or the $5 million promised. In fact, the YMCA’s 86-year old building on Northern Boulevard will have to be sold to a developer in order to make the new facility possible.

In 2007, Liu called the project “dead in the water” due to the lack of follow through from TDC/Rockefeller and the EDC. Flushing Commons then sat dormant for three years, until just after Liu moved into his new digs at the Comptroller’s office. The project, and Macedonia Plaza, began the public approvals process in late January, taking the entire Flushing community by surprise.

The lack of transparency for the biggest proposed development in Flushing since the 1960s is simply appalling. And, the fact that the Bloomberg administration would support this project in its current form – EDC is the actual applicant, not the developer – after violating the terms of agreement seems to be just another part of a disturbing trend that has been happening all over the city: mega-projects are approved at record speed while enforcement of the goodies for the community drags, diminishes or doesn’t happen at all.

Simply put, the residents and businesses of Flushing deserve the best possible development of our public land. At the very least, the commitments made by TDC/Rockefeller and EDC to the community must be honored, or the developer and city must go back to the drawing board. Additionally, the present YMCA building should be converted into a desperately-needed public school. And, without question, Macedonia A.M.E. deserves to get their land back that was so unfairly taken almost 60 years ago by eminent domain.

If nothing is resolved and this development proceeds as TDC/Rockefeller and the EDC intends, then three words will sum up what will have happened to Municipal Lot #1: Bait and Switch.

Paul Graziano is an urban planning consultant and life-long resident of Flushing. He is also a vice-president of the Queens Civic Congress, the umbrella organization for over 115 civic, homeowner, tenant and cooperative associations in Queens County.

State park in Rockaway slated for closure

From the Daily News:

As part of a drastic bid to plug a $9 billion budget deficit, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has chosen Bayswater as one of two state parks slated for closure.

If the budget, due April 1, is approved, this would be the first time in history a state park has been shuttered other than for seasonal closures, said agency spokesman Dan Keefe.

The closure would leave many city reel-casters without a fishing hole. It has also infuriated elected officials and advocates who note that the savings from the closure would be a measly $5,500 a year.

"In times like these we need our parks more than ever," said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates.

The recession has forced many people to scale back on vacations, and families are instead relying on nearby public spaces for escape.

Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14, called the closure "almost punitive."

"That's less than a rounding error," Gaska said of the $5,500 figure compared with the 10-figure deficit. "At that rate, you would have to close 20,000 parks this size."

But state officials said every penny adds up.

I'm sure the fact that it's located in a not-wealthy black neighborhood has nothing to do with the decision. Since they only put $5,500 into maintenance of this site to begin with shows you how much they care about it.

City seeks operator for Marty's $64M potato chip

From the Brooklyn Paper:

Borough President Markowitz’s controversial Coney Island amphitheater hasn’t even been approved yet, but the city is acting as if the fat lady has already sung.

On Thursday, the Parks Department announced that it is seeking proposals from venue operators to run the new, $64-million amphitheater slated to be built inside Asser Levy Park in Coney Island by 2012.

The agency’s formal “Request for Expressions of Interest” calls on prospective operators to “include year-round uses for the facility” and operate “10 designated locations for food carts, and three separate areas for food service, a commissary … and food storage containers.”

The venue must also generate “enough revenue — including food concessions — to cover the cost of both programming and maintenance” while “maintaining the same level of free concerts already offered at the current band shell” by the borough president.

Despite such a big operation, the project is not going through the city’s normal land-use review process because there is already an operating, though far smaller, band shell currently on the site.

Still, the city’s Design Commission has said it will not sign off on the project until an “environmental assessment” has been completed. It’s unclear when that will be, but the Parks Department is going ahead in seeking an operator, offering a site tour on April 16 and a bidding deadline of May 7.

Opponents have consistently taken their protest to Community Board 13, which has not weighed in — mostly because half of the board’s 50 members are appointed by the borough president, foes say.

“We have $64 million for an unwanted and illegal amphitheater while the Fire Department is called upon to reduce its budget by $64 million,” local resident Paul Sternblitz cried.

Letter from Peter Koo about Flushing Commons

Dear Editor,

The certification of the Flushing Commons development project marked the official beginning of a public review process that will feature significant amounts of dialogue, debate and input from our community. As Flushing’s Councilman, I have the responsibility of working to ensure that everyone will be able to voice their concerns, have their opinions respected and debated openly.

During these difficult economic times, our top priorities should be putting people to work and stimulating our struggling economy. Therefore, after reviewing the details of the project and listening to the public discourse, I must base my decision on what I believe is in the best interest of the Flushing community. And it is my opinion that the Flushing Commons Project has much to offer in terms of public amenities and long-term economic growth.

This $800 million, privately financed community renewal project will create a truly new and exciting urban center in Downtown Flushing. It will feature a 1.5-acre public outdoor open space large enough to support community sponsored cultural events and performances (and which will be larger than Rockefeller Center), a new state-of-the-art YMCA for our community’s families, an additional 36,000 square feet for community use, residential housing, and local and national retail space. This will become an attraction in Flushing that will be considered the "Crown Jewel" of not only our downtown area, but the entire borough of Queens.

Furthermore, during these fiscally challenging times, with so many Flushing residents out of work and struggling to make ends meet, this project will create 1,900 permanent jobs and 2,600 construction jobs. Most importantly, many of these needed jobs will be for local residents. A comprehensive strategy will be created to identify local businesses and residents to work on the project during and after construction. It is extremely beneficial to have a local developer engaged in the project who will focus on hiring local workers.

The City has promised to provide assistance to small businesses that will be impacted by the construction of the Flushing Commons project. This is a component of the community benefits package that is absolutely essential to my support. I will not allow this project to move forward with my support if we cannot protect the small business owners who will be affected, and I will be working closely with EDC to make certain those resources are provided.

In the end, I recognize that a project of this magnitude will have shortcomings along with benefits, and that issues will continue to need to be addressed. For example, residents have expressed traffic as a major concern and I agree. I recently invited Commissioner Maura McCarthy of the Queens Department of Transportation to Flushing and asked her to present the DOT’s long-term solutions to our traffic problems. I made it clear that there is no more time for studies. We need and deserve real inventive solutions to our traffic problems. The Department of Transportation has put forth a plan that will be implemented on a trial basis in July and I eagerly await the results of the instituted traffic plan. Commissioner McCarthy has committed to my office and the community that if flaws in the plan are discovered or suggestions for improvement are presented, the plan can be modified to address traffic issues.

True leadership often means making difficult decisions for the good of the people. In the end I am charged with the responsibility as your Council Member to make sure that the best interests of Flushing are met and that we balance our long term needs against any potential short term pains. My staff and I have attended dozens of meetings on these critically important issues already, and during this review process I will continue to fight for adequate parking, traffic remediation, the needs of local merchants and for desperately needed capital improvements in Flushing.

In closing, I would like to state that given the community benefits package, the strong economic stimulation to our local economy, protection of our local businesses and the creation of jobs during the most difficult time since the Great Depression, I find that I must support this project for the betterment of our community. Therefore, I hope that all the members of our community join me in supporting the Flushing Commons project and work with me to resolve issues as we move forward.

Peter Koo
20th District

Vicky's editorial is equally as nauseating.

Do Italians have enough "clout" to save historic church?

From the NY Times:

Over the past decade, as Catholic officials in New York have closed underused churches and schools, there have been many battles. About a dozen churches have been demolished, and at least a dozen more are in limbo, draped for demolition while parishioners mount campaigns to reopen them.

Yet this fight is different. Former parishioners do not pretend that the neighborhood can support Our Lady of Loreto, which has been closed for more than a year.

Instead, they have gathered behind a proposal by a loose coalition of Italian-American advocates and African-American leaders, including the developer Jeffrey Dunston, to convert the church into an arts pavilion and community center. The culture center would be the anchor for 90 to 100 units of low-income housing, a few more than in the church’s plan. Mr. Dunston, chief executive of the nonprofit Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation, has built hundreds of low- and moderate-income housing units in the neighborhood over the past 15 years.

But church officials say their own plan is “shovel ready,” awaiting formal go-aheads from city and state financing agencies. The plan offered by Mr. Dunston and Mr. Piazza lacks financing, they said, and underestimates the cost of converting an aging church into a community center.

Last week, Bishop DiMarzio extended an olive branch, offering to insert some of the church’s outdoor statues into the facade of one of the new apartment buildings.

Flavia Alaya, an architectural historian who has been working to preserve the 1908 church, called the proposal “grotesque.”

Ms. Alaya, who has studied the works of the church’s architect, Adriano Armezzani, and its builders, Antonio and Gaetano Federici, called Our Lady of Loreto one of the finest examples of a Roman Renaissance style embraced by Italian-American artists at the turn of the 20th century in an effort to introduce neoclassical architecture to American cities.

She pleaded with Bishop DiMarzio in a letter last month to cancel the “irreversible demolition of this extraordinary century-old church” while Mr. Piazza and Mr. Dunston arrange their financing. And she wrote to a Vatican commission that oversees historic preservation, which promised to review the case.

A similar battle was recently won by a coalition of Latino parishioners, Irish-American organizations and the serendipity of an anonymous donor who gave $20 million to save St. Brigid’s Church, in the East Village, which was built by Irish immigrants in the 1840s.

“This will be the test of whether Italian-American clout is equal to that,” Ms. Alaya said.

City needs to kick its spending habit

From the NY Post:

...the alarmist talk of "doomsday" budgets and "crippling" service cuts makes truth a casualty. The Big Lie is that City Hall and Albany don't have any money.

By any historic measure, they are filthy rich. The windfall they take in would make Tammany Hall blush and was inconceivable just a few years ago.

New York City will spend over $63 billion this year. In Mayor Bloomberg's first year, 2002, it spent $41 billion.

That's an increase of 57 percent in unadjusted dollars. Thanks to unrelenting tax and fee hikes and the economic boom, revenues, including state and federal aid, grew by as much as $5 billion a year.

The city spent it all, and then some. Only once, last year, did it spend less than the year before. That decrease was under 3 percent, though it seemed draconian to hear the wailing over minor cutbacks.

Even now, $63 billion is apparently not enough to maintain essential services. On this broken model, nothing can be.

Like parents who lost their kids because they self-destructed, the city is perpetually broke because it is addicted to binge spending. And too much of what it spends is a handout to well-connected interests and advocates that doesn't benefit the public.

Benepe plans to limit artists in parks

From the Daily News:

The Parks Department wants to limit the number of painters, photographers and other artists who display their wares in popular Manhattan parks - and the artists aren't happy.

"People come here to brighten their mood, during their lunch hour, after work," said painter Jessie Bowers, 35, of Brooklyn, who goes by the name Cypha. "If you spread us out, this part of the park would lose its essence."

He was one of at least 28 artists selling their work in Union Square Park, where the city wants to limit the number to 18 first-come, first-served spots.

There would be just nine spots for artists in Battery Park, 24 flanking the Metropolitan Museum of Art, four at Columbus Circle and five on the High Line.

Artists face no limits now, thanks to a series of court rulings giving them First Amendment protection. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe says that has led to chaos and overcrowding.

"It's an attempt to get a little bit of organization back," Benepe said.

No, it's more likely an attempt to make money.

Some people love living on top of each other

From the NY Times:

Doua Moua, 23, played a menacing gangster in a Clint Eastwood movie, but Mr. Moua swears he really is a nice, gentle and rules-abiding fellow. At least he was until he moved to New York City and unwittingly slipped into a world of lawlessness.

From left, Doua Moua, 23, George Summer, 30, and David Everett and Jasmine Ward, both 21, are among six people in a four-bedroom apartment in Hamilton Heights. “It’s part of New York City culture,” Mr. Moua said.

Mr. Moua lives with five roommates. And in New York, home to some of the nation’s highest rents and more than eight million people, many of them single, it is illegal for more than three unrelated people to live in an apartment or a house.

The law, for decades part of the city’s Housing Maintenance Code, is little known, widely broken and infrequently enforced. Three citations have been issued since July, according to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

When the law is enforced, it is usually because of a complaint from a neighbor or because inspectors spotted a violation while responding to a maintenance problem. The violation is rarely written up unless it is accompanied by a host of others. Rarer still are the tenants who call up the city to turn in their landlord.

The lax enforcement might not be a bad thing, since a sizable number of the city’s denizens, especially its penny-pinched younger residents, have found living with more than two others a financial necessity. According to the Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey, nearly 15,000 dwellings in the city housed three or more roommates who were unrelated to the head of the household. Experts say that number is almost certainly underreported.

Mr. Moua, who played Spider, a bandana-clad villain in “Gran Torino,” never thought twice about moving into the immaculately renovated four-bedroom apartment in Hamilton Heights that half a dozen people call home. The place is lined with track lighting and has two bathrooms. His room costs $850 a month.

He could live by himself in a studio in an outer borough for that much. Silly people.

Flushing, Queens: tourist destination!

From the Washington Post travel section:

Even though I go to Flushing, N.Y., fairly often, I'm always caught off guard by how quickly things change in the Queens neighborhood. Sometimes it will be just a new restaurant, or maybe a new hotel, but last year, as my train was pulling in, I noticed a whole new stadium. Shea was gone, and Citi Field was in its place. The area has an energy to it that I just want to bottle and sell.

Citifield is in Corona, on the other side of Flushing Creek, not in Flushing (no matter how hard the Wilpons pretend). I do sometimes fantasize about marketing "Eau de Flushing", though...

Here's a neighborhood that really seems to be part of China, only with New York City street signs.

Yes, we've noticed.

When I step off the train at Main Street, get my first whiff of scallion pancakes, make my first sighting of a new menu or find some ingredient that exists nowhere else in the Eastern United States, I know that I've come to the right place.

The first thing you smell when you step off the train at Main Street is definitely not scallion pancakes.

I'm not kidding about the stepping-off-the-train thing. There are Chinese street food vendors right under the elevated tracks.

Yes, we've noticed.

When it comes to shopping, I always set out with a goal; it could be a pair of jeans, an ethernet cable or some cereal bowls. And I can guarantee that I'll never find what I want and will come home with something else. Last time, it was my favorite Fisherman's Friend cough drops in Chinese packaging.

I'd resist the urge to consume any food product in Chinese packaging these days, pal.

The neighborhood is filled with malls that look more like third-world market stalls, and a small storefront could be a gateway to dozens of tiny vendors and even more food.

Finally, a dose of honesty!

Flushing Meadows Corona Park never seems to be on anybody's list of favorite parks.

Another dose of honesty!

At the Queens Museum of Art...head for "The Panorama," a model of New York City as it existed in roughly 1992. At 9,335 square feet, it's the world's largest architectural display. I can't visit it without crying.

Neither can I. New York before Bloomberg. A wonderful place. When they finish updating the panorama, it will show all that we've lost and the crap that we've gained in its place.

At the end of the day, take a walk down Main Street. Embrace the crush of the crowds, browse in the shops, grab a few snacks and pretend for a moment that you're in Asia.

No need to pretend. "Am I still in America?" is a phrase I have said many a time while strolling down the main drag.

Just as I was thinking that this was as urban as a place could be, I heard a rooster crow.


Yarvin is a writer and photographer in Edison, N.J.

Ah, that explains it.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Park Slope plagued by phony 311 complaints

From IMBY:

Six South Park Slope property owners received no less than 27 complaints over a three day period in February. Remarkably, this is not the first time these neighbors have been tormented by 311 complaints. Back in July of 2009, eleven anonymous complaints were filed against them claiming they all had illegal conversions of some form or another. When these neighbors are not fighting off DOB inspectors they have been dealing with having their automobile's tires slashed, and their properties damaged on a regular ongoing basis. A quick check of other properties on the block show no similar instances of multiple complaints.

Building inspectors have a duty to follow up on any and all complaints, and have been making as many as three visits for each complaint, leaving what's known as a LS-4 document taped to the front door of the property when they fail to gain access. The NYCBuildings LS-4 notice is a legal request for the property owner to contact the DOB and arrange a date when the premises can be inspected. Failure to comply with this notice may result in the Department obtaining an access warrant authorizing the inspection of the premises against the home owners will.

If you conservatively estimate that each complaint will take up two hours of an inspector's time, than that's more than a week's salary, our tax dollars, thrown down the toilet... Or worse yet, used in some diabolical plot to annoy and harass hard working families during these tough economic times.

Remember that some of these complaints, for instance the ones dealing with crumbling facades and falling debris (a class A complaint) require an immediate response from the DOB in order to protect the public from possible harm. So instead of monitoring potentially disastrous foundation excavations or high rise crane installations, they're rushing out to check these fraudulent claims of falling bricks on the sidewalk and non-existing air conditioners on Sixteenth Street.

If there ever was a case for the NYC Department of Investigations, this is it.

Sign at Bayside High a public nuisance

From the Queens Chronicle:

The controversial Bayside High School LED electronic display sign remains turned off as officials continue to work with the city on having it comply with zoning.

The sign, which cost around $33,000 with funds raised by students more than three years ago, was erected in the fall. A few neighbors living near the school on Corporal Kennedy Street complained that the light generated from the sign was beaming into their homes and was particularly offensive late at night.

Community Board 11 got involved in the issue and one of its members, Frank Skala, who is also president of the East Bayside Homeowners Association, met with the principal, Michael Athy. Athy later turned the sign off at night.

But the Queens Chronicle discovered that the sign is illegal in a residential neighborhood and the Department of Buildings referred the case to its sign enforcement unit.

The display was turned off completely on Dec. 18. Marge Feinberg, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said on Monday that the principal has not heard the sign is illegal, but that it would remain off.

Carly Sullivan, spokeswoman for the Department of Buildings, said Wednesday her agency’s audit of an application by Mahatab Siddique, an engineer, to remove the illumination is still open. “They will have to change the existing sign to comply,” Sullivan said.

She added that it’s up to the engineer to either remove it or fix the existing one. According to her, it was the engineer who installed the sign and also self-certified it, indicating that it met city requirements. Calls to Siddique were not returned.

CB11 previously voted to have the sign removed.

Photo from Times Ledger

Budget cuts do not apply to City Council

From the Daily News:

The City Council has some chutzpah.

As the rest of city government is being forced to swallow big budget cuts, the City Council increased its own new budget Thursday by 4.6% - to $52.9 million for the budget year that starts July 1.

That's $2.3 million more than the budget they approved this time last year, though five months later the Council doled out 4% raises to staffers.

Speaker Christine Quinn defended the new spending plan, insisting it's not an increase when the cost of the raises are included. "I would argue our budget is in fact the same as it was last year," she said.

And I would argue that council staffers don't deserve raises.

Immigrants not filling out census

From Eyewitness News:

City leaders are worried because a vast number of New Yorkers aren't filling out their census forms - especially those people in immigrant communities.

From Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, to Jackson Heights in Queens -- time is of the essence for community activists and census workers.

They're begging residents to be counted, because so far, the city's numbers are not even close to what they should be.

"There are some parts of the city where only 17 percent of the households have completed the census -- 16 to 17 percent, that's pretty bad," said Commissioner Fatima Shama, Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs.

And the problem is the worst in the immigrant communities, but only some people realize how important it is to fill out.

During the last census in Queens, the federal government actually stopped immigration raids. But that's not the case this time around. Which is why there is still some concern in the community.

When was the last immigration raid in Queens? Please... The Mayor's Office says it's even worse than that:

The New York City response rate as of today (3/24), by county, is as follows:

* Bronx County – 2 percent
* Kings County – 6 percent
* New York County – 7 percent
* Queens County – 6 percent
* Richmond County – 16 percent

Some neighborhoods that have had a particularly low early response rate to date include:

* Most of Jamaica, Queens – less than 2 percent
* Lower East Side, Manhattan – less than 2 percent
* A portion of Ocean Hill, Brooklyn – no forms returned
* A portion of Soundview, Bronx – no forms returned

Back to the drawing board for Jamaica project

From the Times Ledger:

The development group that oversees Queens Center Mall has taken the reins of the much-delayed project at the former Merkel Meat Plant in Jamaica, but it is not clear what type of property will be built.

In January, the Manhattan-based development firm of Washington Square Partners did not renew its lease on the land at Sutphin Boulevard and 94th Avenue, where it originally intended to create a 13-story commercial space for technology goods and services, according to a representative from the firm.

Another Manhattan developer, Shopco Properties, has signed the lease on the land and any future project would be handled by them, according to the Washington Square representative.

Shopco representatives did not return several phone calls for comment before press time Tuesday.

Although it is not known what will go up at the site, community leaders said they want to have input. Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12, said she has not met with Shopco about its plans and has been asking to do so for weeks.

The site, which is right next to the AirTrain station, was rezoned by the city nearly three years ago in a major plan to add upscale commercial properties to downtown Jamaica. Reddick said whatever goes up at the Merkel site should take advantage of the zoning and at the same time adhere to the community’s needs.

Con Ed rates to go up again

From the Daily News:

Con Edison customers are getting zapped again with higher electric bills - hiking rates 12.6% over three years.

The new increase takes effect next month, pushing the average residential customer's $83.60 monthly bill up to $87.23 in the first year, $90.71 in the second and $94.11 in the third.

Utility officials, state regulators and independent watchdogs agreed Thursday to the compromise package, which is 40% lower than Con Ed requested last year.

Not all of the rate hike is the utility's fault: The company said 23% of it will pay for higher property taxes, 7% for other taxes, and 17% for pension costs.

Councilman sets up shop in a piece of Queens Crap

Hey remember this Whitestone POS from a post 2 years ago? Well it's not quite finished yet, but Council Member Dan Halloran has opened his district office here. And if you think the outside exemplifies ugliness, the inside is even worse... Turns out he put a Dennis Gallagher confidante on his payroll despite multiple warnings from people begging him not to. And over in Flushing, Peter Koo is paying Gallagher for advice! Looks like the Queens GOP really wants to self-destruct.

(Bye, Frank.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Building collapse in Williamsburg

From the NY Post:

Four workers were injured when a building collapsed this morning in the Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood, reports Channel 7/

The three-story building at 34 Conselyea Street was apparently under construction when it crumbled on Monday afternoon.

The fire department says four workers were pulled from the rubble, with one, a man in his 40s, rushed to Bellevue Hospital in critical condition.

Two others were taken to Woodhull Hospital in stable condition and the fourth remained at the scene, refusing medical attention.

Photo from Gothamist, which has more info.

There's also a partial collapse at 212 Ralph Avenue as per Brownstoner.

Crane operator loses license

From the Daily News:

The city Buildings Department on Sunday yanked the license of the operator of a 25-story monster crane that collapsed in Manhattan's Financial District.

Crane operator Christopher Cosban "failed to leave the crane in the safest position possible at the end of the work day," contributing to its Saturday night collapse, Buildings Department spokesman Tony Sclafani said.

Cosban failed to lower the hydraulically operated boom of the mobile crane as low as he should have, creating a serious hazard, sources familiar with the probe said.

Investigators hauled the 360,000-pound crane onto a truck and removed it for investigation.

During the day Saturday, the 250-foot crane was hoisting air conditioning equipment to the top of the building, but it was not in operation when it crashed.

Cosban's negligence contributed to the mishap but may not have been the only cause, Sclafani said. Buildings Department investigators also were probing possible mechanical failure.

The crash also is under investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

No crime at Penn Station, either

MYFOXNY.COM - Five people beat and kicked a man outside of Penn Station while a crowd watched.

25-seconds of the video was posted on YouTube.

The attack supposedly happened on March 27.

It's unclear what provoked the fight.

Albany "pay to play" scam exposed

From the NY Post:

Democrats in the state Senate are up for sale — and they don’t come cheap!

The Capitol’s scandalous “pay to play” culture descended to a new low as Democratic lawmakers told top labor leaders that they would have to pony up $50,000 each in donations if they want special access, The Post has learned.

In a shocking letter to union bosses who are battling state budget cuts, state Sen. Jeff Klein of The Bronx offered to sell them "chairmanships" on a newly created "Labor Advisory Council."

"Advisory Council chairs will have the unique opportunity to advise the Senate Dems on the structure and focus of the Labor Advisory Council," says the letter from Klein, chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

"In addition to all meetings, conferences and events that are included with Advisory Council membership, the advisory chairs will be invited to an exclusive meeting with the Senate majority leaders," the letter states.

It also promises that Advisory Council members "will actively participate in the essential policy conversations that help construct our 2010 campaign strategy."

All state lawmakers are up for re-election this year, and the Democrats' narrow control of the state Senate hangs in the balance.

For labor leaders unwilling to kick in $50,000, Klein offered a second-tier "general membership" at $25,000 apiece.

"This is 'pay to play' run amok," said a longtime Democratic activist. "In the current climate of Albany as an ethical cesspool, how could they be so blatant?"

From the NY Post:

Mayor Bloomberg yesterday branded efforts by state Senate Democrats to extract $50,000 campaign contributions from union leaders "the ultimate pay to play," as outraged good-government groups urged a criminal probe of the blatant fund-raising demand.

"Pay to play is just something we shouldn't have," declared Bloomberg.

That's right. Real men just buy their support.

Avella formally announces Senate campaign

Avella's campaign website: Tony Avella for Senate

Photo by Steve Garza on Smugmug "A real reformer" is having a fundraiser sponsored by Joseph Crowley? Is this an April Fools joke?

Who should pay for special elections?

From the NY Times:

Arguably, $350,000 is a small price to pay for democracy. But we keep hearing from politicians how every dollar counts in hard times. So there is a question about who should pay the bill when a special election is required not because of death or illness or some other unforeseeable calamity but, rather, because of an officeholder’s gross misdeeds.

Or because of raw ambition — as when a representative gives up her House seat to become a United States senator after the old senator quits to become secretary of state.

With so many New York officials forced out in recent years because of bad behavior, we have had a bunch of special elections. Why not make the politicians who are responsible bear the freight? They all have campaign funds.

Photo by Susan NYC on Flickr.

Developers want DOB, ULURP processes sped up

From left: Steven Spinola, Lou Coletti, and Robert LiMandri

From The Real Deal:

Construction and real estate industry organizations are in conversations with the city's Department of Buildings to make the permitting and development process more predictable in the face of possible service reductions resulting from looming budget cuts, a trade group leader said.

Building Trades Employers' Association chairman and CEO Louis Coletti said DOB commissioner Robert LiMandri asked his organization and the Real Estate Board of New York to identify major priorities such as ways to improve the city's processing of building applications.

The industry has long complained of the cumbersome permitting process, and with an 8 percent cut to the DOB budget, included in Bloomberg's budget for 2011-- and a possible additional 7.2 percent reduction because of Albany's financial woes -- builders are bracing for less service for the development review and inspection process.

Steven Spinola, president of REBNY, said at times members complain of slow approval of permits or waits for inspections.

He added that the industry was concerned about the disparate way DOB regulations are enforced or prioritized around the city.

"There are five different borough commissioners and their interpretations are a little different from [one another]," he said.

Wifi comes to 2 Queens parks

From NY1:

As of Friday (March 26), Time Warner Cable Road Runner high speed online customers can get unlimited free Internet access in Queens, Manhattan and parts of Long Island. The Queens spots include Kissena Park and Baisley Park.

Rolling up the green carpet

From the Daily News:

The New York City Soccer Officials Association is boycotting four of nine fields at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park because of gaping tears in artificial turf, holes full of standing water and dangerous divots in the ground.

"We refuse to referee games on those fields," said Alan Wharton, president of the association. "It's a liability issue for us."

The group officiates Public School Athletic League games, as well as private school, college and club games. Without the referees, games cannot be scheduled on fields 1, 4, 5 or 6, leaving just four open for the northern Queens teams that compete at the park. The ninth field is a nonregulation- size children's field.

"They are not playable," said Bob Sprance, varsity girls coach at Forest Hills High School. "They must be repaired before somebody gets seriously hurt."

Fields 1 and 5 are artificial turf, and each has several tears and ripped seams. The other two are dirt fields and are littered with bottle caps, glass and rocks.

"I go out with giant cones to mark the spots that the girls need to be aware of," said Keith Horan, varsity coach at the High School for Arts and Business in Corona. "It's plain dangerous."

His school is one of several that practice and play games there because it doesn't have its own field. The park fields are often filled from dawn to dusk.

The Parks Department has not received a complaint from the NYCSOA, said Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski. She said it could cost up to $500,000 to replace a synthetic field, depending on its size.

"Even though you try to regulate play through permits, there's such a demand for soccer in that area," she said, adding that there are 42 leagues with permits to play in the park - all of which agree to not wear metal spikes.

Council closes overdevelopment loophole

From the Daily News:

The East Bronx won another battle yesterday in its war against overdevelopment.

The City Council approved a zoning change to close loopholes that allowed developers of mid-rise buildings to waive parking requirements, a trick many neighbors despised.

"We don't need more housing," said resident Andrew Chirico. "We need more parking."

When the city downzoned much of the area in 2004, it prohibited developers from building rowhouses where one- and two-family houses are the norm.

But the downzone, which also included suburban-style parking regulations, skipped some blocks in Pelham Bay and Zerega, where taller buildings are permitted.

On those blocks, some developers subdivided lots to escape the parking regulations. Developers who crammed apartment houses onto tiny lots were also allowed to slash parking spots.

The change, sponsored by local City Councilman James Vacca, holds developers to local parking regulations - no matter what.

"It puts more teeth into our downzone efforts," Vacca said.

Chirico applauded the change because he considers overdevelopment the cause of most problems in the East Bronx, from empty storefronts to crowded classrooms.

Making a McMansion out of a rowhouse, part 3

There once was a row of small houses along Shore Parkway in Brooklyn.
But someone wanted to make a mountain out of a molehill.
It blends in so well, you hardly notice it!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

NYPD finds firetrap nightclub in Jamaica basement

JAMAICA, QUEENS (WABC) -- An underground club was found in the basement of a house in Queens.

Police found it while responding to a shooting.

Authorities were called to the scene in Jamaica Saturday morning. One man was shot and taken to the hospital.

But what police weren't expecting to find was a nightclub in the basement.

Buses had to be brought in to evacuate more than 50 club-goers, according to police.

So far, no charges have been filed.

If anyone can find the address for this, please post it.

Riot at Rikers

Melee at Rikers Island jail leaves 12 correction officers, 3 inmates injured
BY Meredith Kolodner

A major disturbance at Rikers Island Saturday night sent 12 correction officers and three inmates to the hospital.

Authorities said several inmates refused to go to their cells for routine lock-in, ABC Eyewitness News reported.

Prison officials said the melee may have been sparked by anger over a prisoner search earlier in the day.

The jail was put on heightened alert Sunday.

The injured inmates are awaiting trial and were identified as high-security prisoners.

Most injuries were minor, but one officer required 20 stitches for gashes on his head and face.

Still no crime in the subway

2 dead, 1 injured in subway stabbing

Two men were killed and another injured after an early morning confrontation on a subway train.

Police responding to a call shortly after 5 a.m. Sunday found the three men when the train was stopped at the station at Varick and Houston streets.

Two of the men had been stabbed multiple times in the chest and were pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. The third man had been stabbed in the arm and neck and was in stable condition.

Police said the stabbings occurred during a confrontation between two groups. Authorities were searching for those involved.

Is that all? Here I thought they were going to insinuate that a crime took place in the subway, which we know, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg, is impossible...

This is not a photoshop

From the NY Post:

During the show, the mayor looked right at home in a groovy get-up of long, flowing locks, a headband, suede moccasins and custom-made bell-bottom jeans.

He was festooned with funky patches, each symbolizing a city agency.

Bloomberg entered the stage on a cardboard Volkswagen bus and sang along to several reworked classics from the original Broadway show "Hair."

The musical's title tune was changed to "Times Square," a song about the pedestrian plaza created there, and "Aquarius" became "Mike-quarius."

In a song called "Good Morning Papers," Bloomberg sang about the "punch of The Post."

At one point, "Berg" is asked what he'll run for after he leaves City Hall.

"Public advocate?" someone suggests. "It'd have to be a real job," he joked.

Photo from the Daily News, which offers this:

...the peacenik leader, true to his radical spirit, announced a new initiative for the city: "Bette Midler will help us plant one million pot plants in the next 10 years."

Fear not: more of Manhattan landmarked

Great news, folks. The LPC has calendared 6 more Manhattan buildings and extended the Upper East Side Historic District! Thank goodness. I was worried that Manhattan didn't have enough designations. This improves my quality of life so much!

Putting "affordable housing" in the projects

From the NY Times:

A small asphalt lot fills a nondescript corner of Chelsea, visually bland, wrapped in iron fencing and carpeted with a couple dozen cars. The only thing remarkable about it is that it exists.

The lot provides cheap parking for tenants in the adjoining public housing development, the Elliott-Chelsea Houses, an unlikely perk in a neighborhood synonymous with the trappings and traps of success.

But the lot’s valiant fight against the physics of real estate and government finance is about to come to an end. The city Housing Authority is selling it to a developer for $4 million.

The sale is part of a sweeping citywide plan to shoehorn up to 6,000 homes affordable to low- and moderate-income families, along with some shops, into parcels of public housing property deemed “underutilized” — mostly open spaces and parking lots. Set in motion in 2006, the plan is now hitting its stride, with 3,500 units either finished or in the pipeline, including four projects completed and another eight under way.

The initiative is rooted in practical needs and grander hopes for the future of public housing. The new construction will help Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg reach his goal of preserving or creating 165,000 affordable units by 2014. It will also generate money for the cash-poor Housing Authority.

With their parking lots, greenery and open space, the city’s housing complexes were often “under-built to what zoning would allow,” said Ilene Popkin, the authority’s assistant deputy general manager. Ms. Popkin said her goal was “to identify where the opportunities are for affordable housing development that makes sense.”

Sold-off parking lots will be replaced with new lots nearby, Ms. Popkin said. “No one lost a parking spot as a result of what we did,” she said.

At Elliott-Chelsea, the new units on the site of the current parking lot, at Ninth Avenue and West 25th Street, will be open to households with annual incomes of up to $150,000 for a family of four. Assurances that lost parking spaces will be offset by spaces in a garage beneath the new building have done little to temper existing tenants’ misgivings.

I don't understand how $150,000 for family of four is considered affordable. And who at that level of income would want to live mixed into the projects.

I also don't understand the point of building on a parking lot and then replacing them with new lots nearby. What is currently on the other lots? And why not build the affordable housing on them and leave the parking where it is instead of wasting more money? In fact, why do people in Manhattan need cars and how do people in projects afford cars?

Bayside house in sad shape

From the Queens Chronicle:

At the intersection of 40th Avenue and 216th Street in Bayside, what was once an urban tragedy has become urban legend: a bereaved widow, whose firefighter husband died in the line of duty, secluded herself in her home, leaving its exterior vulnerable to four decades of decay and only a specter of herself in her neighbors’ imaginations.

According to East Bayside Homeowners Association President Frank Skala, Louise Miller moved into a nursing facility just last year, at which time some neighbors assumed the octogenarian had died. Prior to that, Miller’s son Eric, who lived only a few blocks away, had attended her lawn in haphazard fashion; somehow, he overlooked the blue Buick Skylark parked there for 15 years and the overgrown trees growing on the building’s southwestern wall.

Today, the ramshackle, brick, one-family house is an eyesore, albeit a mysterious one, to the otherwise manicured residential community. The doors and windows on the ground floor have been cemented over because the Department of Buildings found the structure open, vacant and unguarded. The second-floor windows are shattered, and the building, abandoned by its one human resident, is now inhabited by raccoons and squirrels.

Skala described the structure: “It looks like one of those apocalyptic movies, like a hydrogen bomb went off.” If the house had been maintained, it would in this real estate market be worth about $800,000. “Now, it’s not worth 70 cents,” Skala added. The property’s current condition and assessed value of $21,713 lowers its neighbors’ market values.

Smith, Espada & Sampson subpoenaed

From the NY Times:

Three senior State Senate Democrats have been subpoenaed by the office of the state inspector general as part of an investigation into the awarding of a casino contract at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, people briefed on the matter said on Tuesday.

The subpoenas, which the Senate is seeking to quash, were issued last week to the offices of John L. Sampson, the Senate’s top leader, as well as Malcolm A. Smith, the Senate president, and Pedro Espada Jr., the Senate majority leader.

Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, declined to comment on the Senate’s move to quash the subpoenas, which seek documents relating to the contract. However, legislative officials have bristled in the past over subpoenas issued by the inspector general, who reports to the governor’s office and runs an executive branch agency.

The awarding of the Aqueduct contract to a politically connected bidder, the Aqueduct Entertainment Group, has been mired in controversy almost from the moment Gov. David A. Paterson announced the selection in January.

On March 11, he announced that Aqueduct Entertainment would not get the franchise after all; state officials said the state’s Lottery Division had determined that it could not license some of the company’s investors.

Also from the NY Times:

Senate Democrats said on Wednesday that they would make public some documents related to the controversial awarding of a casino gambling contract at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, even as they waged a legal battle to quash subpoenas from the state inspector general’s office, which is investigating the Aqueduct deal.

A top Senate lawyer indicated that whatever documents the Senate does release to the public, they are unlikely to be as much as the inspector general is seeking, reinforcing the chamber’s unwillingness to make a full accounting of how it handled the Aqueduct bidding process.

The Senate leader, John L. Sampson, said on Wednesday that he intended to be open about his chamber’s handling of the deal, but his words were undercut by his office’s actions in court. Senate lawyers have sought to seal court proceedings as they fight the subpoenas, but their request was denied by a state judge this week.

And while Senate officials argue that they should not be subject to subpoenas from the inspector general, who reports to the governor, their counterparts in the Assembly are cooperating with the investigation.

Photo from the Daily News

Second Avenue subway causing major headaches

From Metro:

Work on the Second Avenue subway is not only years behind schedule, but now it’s forcing Upper East Side residents out of their homes.

Tenants in 28 apartments along a stretch of Second Avenue in the East 90s got letters from the MTA yesterday, telling them they’ll have to temporarily leave for at least a month or two.

The tenants’ apartments in century-old buildings are showing cracks from the violent shaking caused by deep digging. After studying the problem, the MTA says it has to reinforce the “fragile” buildings and needs tenants out of the way.

The MTA will spend $8 million to put residents in furnished hotel rooms, pay their rent and shore up the buildings.

Feds not playing around

From the AP:

A federal jury in Boston has found a former top U.S. Department of Homeland Security official guilty of encouraging her Brazilian housekeeper to remain in the United States illegally.

Lorraine Henderson was a regional director of homeland security, customs and border protection. She was responsible for stopping illegal immigrants from entering the country through Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The 52-year-old Henderson was convicted Monday. During a six-day trial, prosecutors accused her of violating the immigration law she had taken an oath to uphold.

From the NY Times:

For the illegal immigrants who came to the lawyer, the benefits were immediately apparent. The immigrants, many of whom were from Pakistan and India, were able to live out in the open, work, pay taxes and travel abroad. And of course there was the glimmering prospect of a shortcut to citizenship.

The lawyer, Thomas Archer, was taking advantage of a two-year window that allowed longtime illegal immigrants — those who came to the country before 1982 and remained through 1988 — to apply to become legal residents and to live out in the open while the applications were pending.

Over the course of a year and a half, Mr. Archer, who worked in Queens, submitted applications for more than 230 illegal immigrants, charging his clients $1,500 to $2,500 each. None of them were approved. And on Wednesday, Mr. Archer was convicted of visa fraud for preparing and filing those applications and, prosecutors claimed, encouraging his clients to lie.

Mr. Archer’s former assistant, Rukhsana Rafique, who speaks Urdu and was responsible for communicating with many of the defendants directly, was also found guilty. Mr. Archer faces a maximum sentence of 35 years, and Ms. Rafique faces a maximum sentence of 25 years.

Sports group wants soccer stadium in Queens

From the Daily News:

Plans to build a soccer stadium in Queens for the city's newest franchise may be running afoul due to lackluster interest from city officials and an aggressive push from Nassau County.

Owners of FC New York have said since the team's founding last year that they want to build a 9,000-seat stadium, preferably in Jamaica. But negotiations have stalled after preliminary discussions with the city Parks Department and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall's office, said team President Doug Petersen.

And the team is now being courted by Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, Petersen added.

But for FC New York officials, Queens remains the first choice - if only city officials would play ball.

"In the last two weeks, we are stepping up our campaign to reach out to people in local governments [in New York City] again to see if there are soccer friends in the political arena who want to help us," said Petersen, who is based in Garden City, L.I. "I think the sport of passion for people in Queens is soccer."

Yes, please build it here so we have even more traffic and have to dedicate more cops from our precincts to work game nights. I'm actually surprised the city isn't jumping at the chance to use eminent domain to build this stadium to entertain the tweeded masses.

What's new on Mazeau

Tommy Huang's Mazeau Street garage is now complete. I'm impressed by all the lush greenery around this property.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Crane collapse in lower Manhattan

NEW YORK (AP/1010 WINS) -- A fire official says a listing crane has struck the side of a 25-story building in lower Manhattan.

The fire official said Saturday there were no injuries after the crane hit the 23-story parapet of the building near 80 Maiden Lane. A parapet is a barrier that extrudes from the side of the building and can be decorative.

The official says it's unclear whether the building was damaged.

He says at least 6 trucks responded to the area and that some traffic is being diverted and streets have been closed.

As the Village Voice points out, this is the HQ of the NYC Department of Investigation!

NYU expanding...again

NEW YORK (AP) -- New York University is proposing a massive expansion over the next 20 years.

The proposal calls for a new tower on Bleecker Street and 3 million square feet of new offices, dormitories and classrooms in the Greenwich Village area. It also includes a new engineering school in Brooklyn and a satellite campus on Governors Island.

The projects, which would expand NYU's physical plant by 40 percent, still need approval from city agencies.

They've already been met with concern from some neighbors and preservationists worried about overwhelming the historic area.

NYU says it needs to expand to accommodate a growing student body and compete with other universities.

The plan will be formally introduced at a series of events in April.

Carrozza hanging it up

From the Queens Courier:

State Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside) said Friday that she would not run for re-election this fall and three northeast Queens Democrats have already been named by a source within the party as potential opponents for her seat.

Carrozza, who was first elected to the Assembly in 1996, announced in a statement that she would not make another bid to hold on to her seat in November.

The assemblywoman would have faced off against Republican attorney Vince Tabone, who has already been endorsed by the Queens County GOP.

A source within the Queens County Democratic Party said that three names that have been floated to run against Tabone are Michael Sais, who is chief of staff for state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria); New York state Young Democrats President Matthew Silverstein; and Steve Behar, a Bayside attorney who ran for City Council but lost to Kevin Kim in the Democratic primary for District 19.

Placards a big part of Jamaica parking problem

From the Daily News:

Lined with municipal buildings, shops and outlet stores, the streets of downtown Jamaica seem like one big parking lot.

And with so many city workers taking advantage of parking placards and hogging up limited metered parking spots on the side streets off ever-busy Jamaica Ave., some local leaders are calling for the city to step up.

"They've gotten so blatantly ridiculous," City Councilman Leroy Comrie said of the cops that jam up traffic near the 103rd Precinct stationhouse.

Double-parking can bring streets to a standstill, but any laminated dashboard card can usually ward off hefty fines, Comrie said. And traffic agents are more focused on expired meters than the validity of a parking placard.

"We would love to see real enforcement of the illegal parking in the area," he said.

The advocacy group Transportation Alternatives has noted more than 60,000 city workers receive parking permits that allow them to park pretty much anywhere, anytime.

According to the group's research, 75% use them to park illegally in front of hydrants and in bus stops and crosswalks.

The group has called on Mayor Bloomberg to abolish them altogether.

Sounds good to me! Let them come down to the same level that the people they serve are at. Let them have their cars towed the same like what they do to us.

Photo from the Brooklyn Paper.