Thursday, February 28, 2013

Where the concert money went

From NBC 4:

Some of the biggest names in music, from the Rolling Stones and The Who to Roger Waters and Paul McCartney, came together for the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief to raise millions of dollars. The money went to its organizer, the nonprofit Robin Hood Foundation, but since then many victims of the storm have been asking where the money went.

To find out, the I-Team analyzed the numbers, interviewed Robin Hood's top executive, and reached out to hundreds of nonprofit organizations that received grants after the concert.

The Robin Hood Foundation has already disbursed $50 million to more than 320 nonprofits in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but not all of that money has gone directly to rebuilding homes or into the hands of affected homeowners.

About 54 percent of the concert donations have been designated for housing rehabilitation and relief. The other 46 percent is paying for human services, like counseling, education, health and for reimbursing smaller nonprofits that provided emergency response in the hours and days immediately following the storm.

Good luck with that

From DNA Info:

A new beer hall and a music venue might be on tap for Court Square — part of a plan to turn the booming neighborhood into a nightlife hub.

Rockrose Development Corp. is building thousands of luxury residential apartment units in the industrial Long Island City neighborhood, but retail amenities are still sparse.
The company's president, Justin Elghanayan wants to change that.

Rockrose has plans to draw retail tenants to the neighborhood — with hopes for a beer hall, music venue and high-end restaurants — with the anticipation that Court Square will be one of the city's next nightlife and cultural destinations.

Gateway units getting some grub

From the Daily News:

Jamaica Bay, a hidden jewel in New York City for nature lovers, could become a destination complete with food stands and rental stands for kayaks and bikes.

The Parks Department and the National Park Service are putting the finishing touches on a request for proposals to place concessions at several locations around the bay in Queens and Brooklyn.

The new concessions are part of a larger plan between the two agencies to cooperatively manage the 10,000-acre site, which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

Parks officials unveiled the plan at the Community Board 14 Parks Committee meeting last Thursday. They posted a map of the area that showed several locations where concessions could be created.

But the agency declined to discuss the proposal until the RFP is released next week.

We have a winner

From Politicker:

Donovan Richards declared victory today in the Queens special election to replace his mentor, former Councilman James Sanders, putting to rest fears that the election’s outcome would be unknown for weeks or even months in what had become a racially-charged contest.

With all absentee and affidavit votes counted, Mr. Richards padded his razor-thin 26-vote Election Day margin with another 133 additional votes, while his main competitor, Pesach Osina, only gathered an additional 80. This brought the unofficial tally to 2,646 for Mr. Richards and 2,567 for Mr. Osina, a wide enough margin to avoid an automatic recount. The results will be certified next week.

More foreclosures = more crime

From the NY Observer:

New York City has, in many ways, been spared the worst ravages of the foreclosure crisis. A city of renters, where single family homes are the exception rather than the norm and co-op and condo boards regularly turn their noses up at perfectly decent financial packages, we have avoided the magnitude of problems suffered by many other American cities.

But foreclosures have still troubled the city—and often indirectly. For example, many renters in overleveraged multi-family properties suffered when landlords fell behind on payments and ceased to conduct maintenance. And where foreclosures have hit New York, they have also been tied to increases in crime, according to a new report by NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate & Urban Policy.

That the two should be tied together is not so surprising. Across the country, a combination of falling fortunes and vacant homes, desperation and a place to conduct desperate acts, have produced similar patterns. Marijuana growers and meth labs have both taken advantage of empty abodes and absent neighbors.

But the correlation between foreclosures and crime in New York, even given the city’s active street life, its declining crime rates and its far-from-abandoned neighborhoods, is noteworthy. For each property receiving a foreclosure notice, the immediate neighborhood saw a 0.7 percent increase in total crime, a 1.5 percent increase in violent crime and a 0.8 percent increase in public order crime, according to the report. However, significant increases in crime only occurred on blocks where there had been three or more foreclosures. Neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of foreclosures and existing crime rates saw the biggest upticks.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Would you pay $1.38M to live along the Flushing River?

From The Real Deal:

The final tower at Sky View Parc, the massive mixed-use project looming over Flushing, Queens, has hit the market, representatives for developer Onex Real Estate Partners, confirmed to The Real Deal today.

The tower, known as Tower 2, holds 134 studio, one-, two- and three-bedrooms over 17 floors, including 22 penthouses, according to a spokesperson for Onex. Helen Lee, a director with Onex, said that 32 percent of the available units were in contract within four hours of the soft sales launch. Onex has marketed apartments at Tower 2 by word of mouth for about the last five weeks, but began officially marketing the condominiums this week.

It seems the tides have turned for the mammoth project, which struggled in recent years, as lawsuits and the recession plagued the development, which reportedly cost an estimated $1 billion to build. In tandem with the 800,000-square-foot mall below, called Sky View Center, the project is the largest mixed-use development in Flushing.

Condos at Tower 2 start at $325,000, a statement from the developer said. The most expensive unit listed so far is a 1,653-square-foot three-bedroom, three-bathroom asking $1.38 million, according to

Queens building permits plummet

From The Real Deal:

The number of residential permits issued by the New York City Department of Buildings rose by 19 percent in 2012, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data released by the New York Building Congress.

The DOB issued permits for 10,599 units in 1,011 buildings in 2012, compared to 8,936 units in 997 buildings in 2011. The 2012 number represents a 75 percent increase since the 2009 recessionary low of 6,057 units, but is still some ways away from the 2008 peak of 33,911 permits. Eighty-six percent of all permits issued were for multifamily residences.

Brooklyn and the Bronx saw the biggest gains, with a more than 100 percent increase in both boroughs. The number of permits issued in Brooklyn went from 1,522 units in 2011 to 3,353 in 2012, while the number of permits issued in the Bronx went from 1,116 in 2011 to 2,552 in 2012. Activity in Manhattan remained stable, going from 2,535 in 2011 to 2,492 in 2012, and Staten Island saw a modest increase, going from 581 units in 2011 to 673 in 2012. Queens was the only borough that saw a decrease, with the number of new permits dropping to 1,529 in 2012 from 3,182 in 2011.

Grocer not exactly green

From DNA Info:

This green grocer has some Corona residents seeing red.

A produce wholesaler in the neighborhood is making life a nightmare for some — from refrigerated trucks spewing toxic exhaust, to workers making sexual comments and even threatening residents with "connections with Mexican gangs," a $10 million lawsuit claims.

The papers, filed in Queens Supreme Court earlier this month, also accuses the city and the NYPD of failing to respond to a "tidal wave of complaints" from residents about Moreno Produce, at 97-03 43rd Ave., in recent years.

Chief among the allegations is that trucks from the company, also known as Nuevo Mexico Lindo Su Abarrotera Central Corp., are being allowed to idle for "hours at a time...sending toxic pollutants into neighboring residential homes."
He said the trucks are also causing sleepless nights for residents, a problem that has been getting worse over the past two years.
According to the suit, which also names the city and the NYPD as defendants, trucks from the company block traffic, "forcing school buses and emergency vehicles to change their routes," and occasionally damage their vehicles.
Aside from the trucks, residents also have to contend with forklifts, which are used on the sidewalks and streets "in a recklessly dangerous manner," the suit says.

Moreno is also "allowing its employees to make rude, abusive and sexually suggestive comments and even...indicating that they have connections with Mexican gangs, when faced with complaints from the neighborhood," the complaint says.

Johnny does business with overbiller

From the NY Post:

Comptroller John Liu has blasted a major city contractor for allegedly cheating taxpayers of $163 million — but that wasn’t enough to stop Liu’s office from quietly doing business with the same firm, The Post has learned.

Liu excoriated the Bloomberg administration last year for allowing overbilling in its $2 billion-plus contract with Hewlett-Packard for the massive 911 call center project, and he recently threatened to reject future contracts with the company — all while quietly inking his own deal with HP.

Two months after issuing a searing audit charging HP with $163 million in overbilling, Liu awarded the company a $550,000 no-bid contract for printing services.

“Odd that, for some reason, he does not put out a glossy press release every time he inks a no-bid contract with a company he publicly trashes,” said Bloomberg spokesman Marc La Vorgna, when told of the contract. “Typical of the daily hypocrisy you see coming out of that office.”

Liu’s spokeswoman, Eve Kessler, defended the comptroller’s contract.

“Why is this news? Of course, we have a contract with HP. Many city agencies do, which is how, as a city, we’re spending around $80 million a year with the company. That’s exactly what gives us leverage in calling for a boycott if HP doesn’t pay the $163 million it owes NYC taxpayers,” she said.

Liu’s 2012 audit of the 911 project, formerly known as the Emergency Communications Transformation Program, claimed outrageous examples of overbilling, including a software engineer who actually wrote “called to kill a waterbug” on his time sheet.

The comptroller concluded the 911 project is more than $1 billion over budget.

We're too poor to buy new cars

From Crains:

Median-income families in the New York area cannot afford new cars at their average purchase price nationally, according to a study by Those families are in good company, though, since the same is true in all but one of the country's largest metropolitan areas. calculated what households in the country's 25 largest metropolitan areas could afford to spend on cars. They factored in median income, sales tax and insurance costs, creating an affordability index for car purchases. The New York metropolitan area ranked at No. 10 on that list, right behind San Diego and ahead of Philadelphia.

The study found that the affordable purchase price for a New York City household's new car is $21,464, or a maximum monthly payment of $431.

What the study mainly illustrates is that people spend too much money on their cars, said Mike Sante,'s managing editor. In New York, car costs are driven up by higher-than-average sales taxes and insurance costs.

"It just makes buying a car that much more expensive," Mr. Sante said.

Higher incomes offset this a bit, but New Yorkers also have to pay more for housing. There is much more flexibility in choosing a car, Mr. Sante said, so people in expensive housing markets like New York have even more to gain by making a smart car decision.

"The thing for New Yorkers that is so critical is that you have to pay a lot for housing," Mr. Sante said. "This is your second biggest expense and you really need to keep it under control."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Renderings of giant soccer stadium released

A couple of not-so-pleasant surprises from our friends over at Save Flushing Meadows-Corona Park:
  1. The Wilpons are likely building their own power plant as well as a sewage treatment plant as part of the Willets Point project.
  2. The design for the secret MLS soccer stadium (that has no team) has been revealed, and it is quite gargantuan and ugly.

Food fraud charges for senior center founder

From CBS New York:

The founder of the United Hindu Cultural Council Senior Center was arrested Monday and charged with stealing more than $50,000, allegedly by filing false invoices for lunches that were never served.

Chan Jamoona, who also serves on the Queens General Assembly and on numerous boards and leadership roles in New York City, was arrested Monday morning at her Ozone Park, Queens, home.

She was charged with grand larceny in excess of $50,000, falsifying business records, and conspiracy, 1010 WINS reported.

An investigation by the city Department of Investigation and the New York State Attorney General’s office found numerous fraudulent transactions involving Jamoona, 66, according to a news release.

Jamoona allegedly was involved in a scheme where fraudulent invoices from the senior center were sent to the city Department for the Aging for lunches that were never actually served to seniors at the center, the Attorney General’s office release said.

Also charged were Jamoona’s daughter – Veda Jamoona; and Steven Rajukumar, owner of Sonny’s Roti Shop, which provided food to the senior center, the release said.

Authorities said from 2004 until 2010, Jamoona ordered a senior center employee to make false entries on the lunch sign-in sheets, and offered to put together false invoices that would result in higher payments to the Sonny’s Roti Shop, the publication reported. Rajukumar agreed to split the payments with Jamoona, the release said.

Veda Jamoona also allegedly created false invoices as part of the scheme, the release said.

One of those arrested works for John Liu.

Bloomberg wants soda ban to be statewide

From the NY Post:

Mayor Bloomberg today called on the state to follow the city's lead by banning the sale of sugary sodas in sizes larger than 16 ounces in all stores, not just restaurants.

The city's new law takes effect March 12 in food establishments regulated by the Health Department.

Supermarkets, groceries and shops where prepared foods constitute less than 50 percent of sales are not affected because they're overseen by the state Agriculture Department and the city doesn't have jurisdiction.

Individual pizza parlors would have to obey the new law, even when it comes to deliveries.

"You have exactly the right question, but you're asking it the wrong way," the mayor said.At a press conference today, the mayor was asked why pizza shops shouldn't be in the same category as supermarkets, where customers would still be able to walk out with all the two-liter soda bottles they could carry.

"Keep in mind we're trying to save the lives of these kids, particularly kids...The state should do exactly the same thing in stores."

Queens small businesses killed by fines

From the Daily News:

Queens has become fertile ground for city inspectors looking to rack up violations against local businesses, according to a new report by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

Inspections by the Department of Consumer Affairs in Queens more than doubled from 2010 to 2012, de Blasio said.

“They turned these businesses into their own ATM,” de Blasio said at a Monday news conference in Richmond Hill.

Business owners in the borough have recently complained about receiving hundreds of dollars in fines for missing pricetags, failing to post return policies and other minor violations.

De Blasio said his office sued the city to get the statistics. He said inspections by Consumer Affairs have increased more than 40% across the city from 46,635 in fiscal year 2009 to 77,481 in fiscal year 2012.

The spike in violations handed out citywide by the Health Department was even greater, de Blasio said, from 179,677 in fiscal year 2009 to 311,465 in fiscal year 2012.

Seven of the 10 neighborhoods issued the highest number of Health Department violations are in Queens, figures show.

And Queens businesses receive 22% more fines from Consumer Affairs inspectors than those in Manhattan.

What to do?

From the NY Times:

I spent several days walking the Rockaways with Mr. Gair; Mathew W. Wambua, the city’s housing commissioner; and Marc Jahr, the president of the city’s Housing Development Corporation, for whom I worked as a tenant organizer in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, in the early 1980s.

Theirs is a complicated task, made more difficult by a judgment day that will arrive this summer, when the federal government sets new flood standards. If a home sits in Zone A — and much of the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens; Coney Island and Red Hook in Brooklyn; and Staten Island will — homeowners’ insurance rates could jump crazily, to perhaps $10,000 a year from less than $500. There is a deceptively simple way to sidestep this increase: homeowners can raise homes on stilts, and some have set out to do this. But the cost is great, extending into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for some homes.

At Dayton Towers, the chief executive, Jeff Goldstein, had installed new boilers, elevators, lobbies and laundry rooms. His tab ran into the millions of dollars. Then Hurricane Sandy blew in. Swells washed across the shore road and turned his boiler room into a briny aquarium.

Mr. Goldstein’s men restored electricity and heat within two weeks. And now? Commissioner Wambua stood in the well of Dayton Towers, yelling against the roar of the boilers. “Where do you put these?” he asked. “On the roof?”

You could encapsulate the boilers, making the basement watertight, much as a battleship safeguards its engine room, but the cost is terrific.

For many decades, the federal government rebuilt Southern cities lashed by storms. Now Congressional Republicans want to change course. Talk of storms intensified by global warming sounds suspiciously like science; they insist that New York and New Jersey not use a lot of federal money to armor their coastlines.

New York has traveled this road alone before. In the early 2000s, a developer built Arverne by the Sea, a middle-income housing development in the Rockaways.

City officials told him to take account of rising seas levels. So he trucked in landfill, raising the entire development above flood level. He buried electrical lines and put in catch basins, dunes and black pines. In late October, this neighborhood was one of the few in the area that did not flood.

The trick is to extend that sleight of hand to miles and miles of coastline, and so preserve a necklace of neighborhoods.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Stumped in Flushing

"Does anyone else have this situation? On 2 blocks on 149 Street between Bayside Ave and 33 Ave there are 13 stumps, most of which are 1 to 2 yrs old.
Stump Removal
All stumps remaining from tree removal operations performed by Parks are recorded and registered. Stump removals are dependent on the availability of funding. We currently have a backlog of stumps awaiting removal. If you are a property owner who would like a City-owned stump removed, we have two options for you to consider:
1) You can request a new tree via 311 or our tree service request system, and if the stump is less than approximately 30 inches in diameter, our planting contractors will remove the stump during a new tree planting process.
2) You can obtain a tree work permit from Parks and hire a contractor to remove the stump at your own expense. If you prefer this option, permit applications and instructions are available on our Working On or Near Trees page.
But what if some old tree locations do not get a new tree?
How may years will it take for the Parks Dept to plant them?
It's laughable that they suggest each homeowner pay to remove all these stumps. Or are we to have to look at them indefinitely until they've rotted and disappeared?

They say stump removal is based on money available, but they have the money to inspect & cut the trees down & new tree planting if we ask for one?" - Concerned in Flushing

Quaker Meeting House update

"Issues still exist, but building behind graveyard is going up. A very old maple tree had to be removed after damage to porch." - The Flushing Phantom

It's time to take action, Astoria!

Take 15 Minutes to Send a Letter to the BSA by

I'm surprised these good folks didn't show up for Peter Vallone's rally against the developer.

Oh...I'm sorry, that didn't and won't happen. My bad!

Lots of wanted people out there

From the Daily News:

There are now more than 1 million open bench warrants against loiterers, boozers and other petty scofflaws in New York, court records show. And while it’s unclear how many offenders are deceased or carry multiple offenses, the number of outlaws here nearly matches the population of Dallas.

Many may never get pinched for a forgotten or ignored pink slip. But a legal nightmare looms uncomfortably close for countless others.

There were 299,555 open bench warrants in Manhattan alone and another 245,000 in the Bronx at the beginning of May 2012, the latest available tally shows. Brooklyn and Queens had 237,000 and 218,000 respectively, while a mere 30,500 warrants hover above the heads of petty criminals on Staten Island.

The idea of locking so many people up is preposterous to some.

“All of this is a tremendous amount of city resources being spent chasing people for conduct that a reasonable person would hardly view as criminal,” said Stephen Banks, the chief attorney for the Legal Aid Society. “It would make more sense to review the outstanding warrants and clear them - particularly when the underlying alleged conduct is hardly a threat to public safety.”

The NYPD disagrees.

“The Warrant Division pursues individuals wanted for crimes and will arrest a person wanted on a bench warrant during the course of an investigation,” a department spokeswoman said.

“Clearly, we see the police department doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” said Bookstaver. “They’re following up on warrants and having people get their day in court. It’s a civics lesson. A good civics lesson.”

Remembering Adventurers' Inn

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lots of taxis being towed

From the Daily News:

City taxi inspectors seized a record-high 5,776 illegal livery cars last year, more than triple the number confiscated the prior year, authorities said Thursday.

The record could be smashed again this year because inspectors already hauled 849 vehicles off the road in January — up from 276 the prior January.

Nearly all of the busts are gypsy drivers, who poach riders from licensed livery services and yellow cabs.

TLC-authorized livery drivers must take a defensive driving course, get drug tested and clear a criminal background check. The TLC also sets minimum insurance levels for any accidents involving passenger injuries and inspects livery cars for defects.

Gypsy drivers bypass all those requirements.

Inspectors confiscated 1,737 cars in 2011. The increase in 2012 is partly due to the TLC’s hiring of 100 additional inspectors last year.

A new class of recruits hit the streets last month and another group just began training.

Turning beauty to blight on SI

From SI Live:

The builder of the controversial Port Richmond “skinny house” has taken ownership of an even smaller property in Midland Beach and clear-cut it, with no apparent future plans to build.

For more than 40 years, an undeveloped parcel of land at the corner of Adams and Haven avenues — next to Mark and Carol Meyer’s home in Midland Beach — was a blossoming, tree-lined garden.

“I had cancer, and it helped me to be in the garden,” Mrs. Meyer said.

The property is 15.5 feet wide by 75 feet long, according to city tax maps. It has changed hands at least four times, but because of its size, nothing was ever built there.

“For 42 years it was empty, and I used it,” Mrs. Meyer said. “People were throwing stuff all over, and I made it beautiful. And [the developer] just chopped everything down. I don’t know for what.”

The couple had inquired about purchasing the land in the past, but they were assured by the city Department of Buildings that nobody would ever want it because there isn’t much anyone could do with it, Meyer said.

After Cee-Jay Real Estate Development Corp. bought the land, the parcel was cleared of all foliage.

Last week, the new owner had the tiny parcel clear-cut, removing about 40 trees nearly 40 years old, which Mrs. Meyer had planted.

Now the Meyers look out on a muddy patch of land.

Sadly, I look at the "blame-the-victim" comments on the site and see a familiar line: "They should have bought the property when they had the chance." Rather, the City shouldn't allow the utterly ridiculous practice of building too-skinny houses, and we wouldn't have to worry about who owns the property. It actually already doesn't allow houses on narrow parcels. But this developer will no doubt go to the BSA and get approval, just as he did last time. If it wasn't already a slam dunk that he will get such approval, he wouldn't have purchased the property to begin with, and the little forest that the cancer survivor planted would still be there.

Why is NY's Medicaid so damn expensive?

From the NY Post:

State Senate Republicans plan to investigate New York’s costliest-in-the-nation Medicaid system and echoed congressional calls for an independent audit of the $54 billion annual program.

The Senate GOP said it will particularly target accusations of “complacency and inaction” by the state Office of the Medicaid Inspector General under Gov. Cuomo.

The Republicans also said yesterday that New York’s Medicaid program generally needs more continual monitoring and evaluation from outside auditors.

A recent congressional report contended that New York overbilled the federal government by billions of dollars over 20 years.

Beach islands coming to Rockaway

From the Daily News:

The beaches in storm-battered Rockaway will be dotted with a series of new and revamped bathrooms, lifeguard facilities and concession areas this summer, city officials said Thursday.

The new landscape includes modernistic comfort stations, raised high off the sand to ward off future damage from raging storm waters.

Decades-old concession buildings that weathered Superstorm Sandy will be freshened up with shaded outdoor seating areas.

And food vendors are planning to create pop-up sites in shore-front areas, including the iconic concrete bus shelters on Shore Front Parkway, to feed hungry beachgoers until the buildings are up and running.

But three miles of boardwalk, destroyed by the storm, remain missing until longer-term plans are hashed out.

Meanwhile, boardwalk “islands” will be built around the bathrooms and concession areas.

Chilly nights in Hamilton Beach

From the Daily News:

Many southern Queens homeowners whose belongings and houses were destroyed by the wrath of Superstorm Sandy are still living without heat.

Some residents of Hamilton Beach, a community of one- and two-story homes bordering Howard Beach and JFK Airport, said Wednesday that water gets into their National Grid gas lines every few days — knocking out the service they need for heat, hot water and cooking.

“We’re very frustrated,” said New Hamilton Beach Civic Association President Roger Gendron. “We just feel that after all of these months, a solution should have been reached by now.”

Gary Robertson, 36, said that since the storm he often wakes up in the middle of night “freezing.”

“Every two or three days, I have water in my gas line and my heat kicks off,” said Robertson, whose home flooded with about five feet of water during Sandy. “I’ve had days where my house was 35 degrees.”

He said he calls National Grid several times a week, is on hold for 15 to 20 minutes and then someone is sent to his home to confirm there is a problem.

But it can take days before the utility sends a truck out to pump bottled gas flush into his line to flush the water out of it, he said.

“It’s disgusting,” he said. “I’ve had so many hardships from this storm ... and to have to deal with this, as well as everything else, is extremely frustrating.”

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Spotted on a sidewalk in Downtown Flushing

Shady shuttle buses parking at Queens Botanical Garden

You may recall that a few months ago, the Flushing Phantom sent in a photo series depicting Downtown Flushing that showed the buses lining up there illegally to shuttle patrons out of the BID and off to Woodbury Commons and Tanger Outlets.

Quite accidentally, I stumbled upon their parking the Queens Botanical Gardens.

The 45 degree view from Google Maps shows that this has been going on for quite some time.

Interestingly, the Queens Botanical Garden says that it charges the following:

"From November 1 to March 31, the Parking Garden is open for special events only. Fee: $5 per vehicle."

Is the Garden renting out parking spaces to these buses in a special arrangement?

Astoria Pool "Theater" to be crapper-less

From the Daily News:

An ambitious project to transform a defunct Astoria Park diving pool into an amphitheater could begin in 18 months, with a pricetag more than four times originally envisioned.

The long-neglected pool will be paved with concrete to create a 37,000-square-foot performance space that will hold 500 people, Parks Department officials said Wednesday at a community board meeting.

When the project was initially unveiled in December 2011, its pricetag was estimated at $1 million, with hopes that shovels would be in the ground by 2012.

Despite the quadrupled pricetag, there won’t be enough money to create permanent bathrooms there initially — a fact that concerned some stakeholders.

Parks Department officials said they would instead provide portable bathrooms in the interim due to a tight budget.

Liu audit finds DOB lax on illegal conversions

From the Daily News:

Years after the city promised to crack down on illegal firetraps, a new audit has found the problem has become much worse in Queens — the borough where the chopped-up apartments are most prevalent.

In a report to be released Friday, Controller John Liu’s auditors charge the city Buildings Department has done a poor job of going after Queens landlords who ignore fire safety rules and divide up apartments to increase profits.

And statistics show this is a citywide trend, with inspectors’ success at gaining access to suspected illegal units diminishing. The rate of gaining access dipped from about 50% in 2010 to 46% last year.

“The Buildings Department is just dysfunctional and incapable of improving itself,” Liu said. “Its inability to perform basic tasks like these bode poorly not just for the department, but for residents and neighborhoods too.”

Liu said the problem got worse since a 2009 audit uncovered lax enforcement: “DOB has made little progress in improving its response to quality-of-life complaints.”

Liu’s auditors found the two-knock rule got much worse in Queens between 2009 and 2011 — the year a fire tore through illegal apartments in a Woodside building, killing one tenant and severely injuring three others.

In a response to Liu’s audit, DOB blamed landlords, who the department said have become “more vigilant in barring DOB inspectors access to their properties.”

Auditors noted that DOB can obtain warrants from a judge to force landlords to open up, and the buildings department did hike the number of warrant requests from 13 in 2008 to 80 in 2011. But that was still only 1.4% of the 5,577 cases where inspectors responding to complaints couldn’t get inside in 2010-11.

In three cases, DOB gave up even after obtaining warrants. Although they can call in cops to enforce the warrant, DOB officials said they chose not to.

Auditors also noted that when DOB was able to gain access and cited a landlord for an illegal unit, the agency inconsistently followed up to see if that apartment was later reoccupied.

Rapid Repairs did more harm than good

From NBC:

A Staten Island family was devastated after a contractor hired by the city to make repairs in their Sandy-damaged home left a giant hole on the side of their house.

The contractor was hired by the city's Rapid Repairs program to fix a bathroom pipe and the heat in the home where Kathy Barzal lived with her husband and son in South Beach before Sandy left the home uninhabitable. The family has been living in a small apartment for the last four months.

Barzal said initially she was thrilled when the contractor showed up at the home Wednesday.

But Barzal's excitement was short-lived. The contractor did make the necessary repairs to the pipe, but in the process created a massive hole, approximately 8 feet wide and 3 feet tall, leaving the home exposed to the elements.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Avella requests landmarking for Flushing Meadows

From Capital New York:

State Senator Tony Avella has asked the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the site where Major League Soccer would like to build an arena, Related Companies and Sterling Equities would like to build a mall, and the United States Tennis Association would like to expand its National Tennis Center.

On February 20, Avella sent a letter to Robert Tierney, the chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, requesting the park be added to the city's list of scenic landmarks, like Central, Fort Tryon, and Morningside parks.

"The Park is a valuable asset for the city not only because of its green space and natural areas, but also due to its embodiment of historical structures and leading cultural and educational institutions," he wrote.

The park is home to a number of World's Fair relics that have fallen into disrepair, including the Philip Johnson-designed New York City Pavilion, the New York City Building, which for several years housed the United Nations, the Queens Museum of Art, and the Unisphere, which was granted landmark status in 1995.

"We’ve long felt that Flushing Meadows Corona Park is of historic significance for many different reasons, and while I'm not ready to say should the whole thing be landmarked, but goddamn, obviously, there are areas of the park that are historically significant and deserve to be protected," said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council.

Welcome to Vallonia

From Astoria Ugly:

I’m OK with infill, I really am. But does it have to be so damn ugly?

Why the hell are you ok with infill? It's probably the one loophole that developers have used to destroy Queens more than any other. If a block is made up of predominantly attached homes, then feel free to tear down whatever one- and two-families remain and put up walls of 6-families in their place. It used to be nice to find a "diamond-in-the-rough" house filled with character, and every neighborhood had them, but the last decade of development has dramatically reduced your chances of finding them anywhere, especially in Astoria.

Malcolm lived high life off campaign donors

From the Times Ledger:

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) received more than 86,000 votes in November, which was more than enough to secure him another term in office considering the fact he ran unopposed in 2012.

But the lack of competition did not stop the senator from spending more than $100,000 worth of donor’s dollars last year on miscellaneous campaign expenses, including travel, meals and hotel stays, according to state finance records.

Lodging in cities such as Philadelphia and West Palm Beach, Fla., meals at swanky Manhattan restaurants and tens of thousands of dollars spent on airfare are just some of the items that showed up on the political heavyweight’s financial disclosure forms.

In all the categories specified by the state Campaign Finance Board, Smith spent a total of $270,000 throughout the year, with a little more than $6,000 as listed going to printing costs and another $105,000 for professional services.

In the “other” category, the southeast Queens politician spent $110,088 on expenses such as $1,270 billed to the Hilton Hotel in West Palm beach, $175 for a meeting at an Italian restaurant in Tampa and thousands in payments to American Airlines and Jet Blue.

Smith also documented nearly $30,000 in fund-raising expenses, including $23,378 for an annual golf outing at the Cold Springs Country Club in Huntington, L.I.

A spokeswoman for Smith declined to comment on his expenditures beyond the golf outing and a car expense.

And the winner is?????

From the Times Ledger:

Despite the fact that two City Council candidates had each claimed victory in southeast Queens’ special election, by the next night the city Board of Elections had yet to count the votes on a missing memory stick, and it may be weeks before an official winner is declared.

By Wednesday night Donovan Richards had a 26-vote lead over Pesach Osina, according to the board’s preliminary results, with paper and absentee ballots yet to be counted, as well as the votes on a missing, mystery memory stick used in electronic voting machines.

Both Richards and Osina had already declared themselves the winner by the early hours Wednesday morning and did not lay off throughout the day. Richards said the missing votes would come in from outside Osina’s Orthodox Jewish community and tweeted that his closest opponent “ran a hell of a campaign.”

Osina released a statement saying he expected to be the winner when the votes were counted.

“I’m confident that when all the votes are final, we will be victorious!” he said.

According to election law, however, the board will not begin counting affidavits and absentee ballots until Wednesday, and with such a scant margin separating the top two candidates, next week’s results could trigger an automatic recount.

A spokeswoman at the BOE said that if the margin of victory is less than 0.5 percent, a manual recount is automatically triggered, a process that could take weeks.

Richards was leading Osina by 0.3 percent.

They might not build it union

From DNA Info:

A new luxury hotel and condo tower at the gleaming Brooklyn Bridge Park will likely not be built or run by union workers.

The labor organizations representing hotel staffers and construction workers say they have been stonewalled by the developers selected for the controversial Pier 1 complex--Toll Brothers City Living and Starwood Capital Group.

At stake are an estimated 210 permanent jobs and 300 construction jobs at the waterfront park.

Last year, there were seven bids for the project from different developers, according to records. Five of those proposals would likely have included using union workers, union officials said.

Park officials promised to give preference to developers with a good labor history.

At issue is a state law passed in 2009.

The Public Authority Reform Act requires developers on public land sign a "labor peace" agreement, which typically leads to union workers being hired.
Union officials and pols say that law applies to the parks project too.

Brooklyn Bridge officials insist the law doesn’t apply to the park becauseof its unique financing situation.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The more things change...

From Crains:

A Queens attorney who has been at the center of high-profile controversy in southeast Queens in planning to run for the New York City Council.

Joan Flowers, who has worked for Gov. David Paterson, Rep. Gregory Meeks and state Sen. Malcolm Smith, confirmed to The Insider that she is running for the council seat being vacated by term-limited Councilman Leroy Comrie. Ms. Flowers was at one point reportedly the target of a federal probe into the New Direction Local Development Corp., a charity founded by Mr. Smith and Mr. Meeks in 2000 that used the same address as Ms. Flowers' law office. No charges were filed.

A 2010 profile in the Post described Ms. Flowers as the "Zelig of Queens political scandal," though it also described her as "coerced into doing questionable things by her so-called friends because she's such a nice person." The race for Mr. Comrie's seat has so far attracted few other candidates.

Atlantic Yards destruction not yet over

From the Daily News:

Forest City Ratner is chopping down 20 trees on Pacific St. between Carlton and 6th avenues to clear the path for more construction at Atlantic Yards - but has no plans to replace them anytime soon.

Residents are up in arms over losing the foliage.

“There's already not enough green space,” said Christine Schmidt, 59, who lives in the Newswalk building, which overlooks the trees.

In 2008, the Parks Department gave FCR permission to remove the trees as well as 66 others in the area around the Barclays Center and housing development footprint.

FCR officials have vowed to replace the trees, which will be chopped down in the next few days.

But critics note it could take decades before the final project is completed, and the trees can be placed anywhere in the development, leaving Pacific St. bare.

Dead end press conference

State Senator Tony Avella is planning to hold a press conference this Friday, February 22 at 12 noon at 149th Street bet 41st Ave and Roosevelt Ave at the LIRR Bridge "dead end" barricade.  Please contact his office if you can attend at 718-357-3094.

There's no "there" there

From the NY Observer:

Is Long Island City the next Murray Hill? Or the next Williamburg? Or has it gone straight from being like the old industrial before-it-was-cool Williamsburg to the future no-longer-cool because it’s all I-bankers living in luxury towers Williamsburg?

Will the neighborhood that has long felt like the middle of nowhere, despite being close to everywhere, finally feel like somewhere? And most importantly, what will that somewhere be like?
The problem with Long Island City is that it isn’t the industrial, taxi-cab, commercial-bakery filled hub that it used to be, but it can’t figure out who it wants to be. It is neither cheap, nor charming, nor particularly gritty anymore, which means that no one is willing, or able, to claim it as their own.

Its “rebirth” at the hands of developers, rather than the usual artists and creative types, has put the neighborhood in a strange position. Unlike nearly every other patch of ground in New York, whose identity is constant battleground between the old-timers and the new-comers, Long Island City is a no man’s land.

But in a larger sense, yes, it really does matter. A safe neighborhood with abundant housing and an easy commute that is grudgingly accepted because it offers “value” is, if not a total failure, then at least a huge disappointment. It’s wasted potential, a missed opportunity and something that, from an urban planning perspective, we should look to avoid.

As a recent editorial in the Architect’s Newspaper argued, the mega-projects rising around the city lack quality of place; their scales are vast, their public spaces uninviting, their surfaces too sleek. The city cedes control to developers with the resources to build these neighborhoods from scratch, willfully ignoring that while developers know how to physically transform a landscape and make money doing it, they know almost nothing about building a community or a sense of place.

The beetle patrol is back

The Woodhaven Residents' Block Association would like to inform residents that state and federal agencies have sent inspectors to Woodhaven to conduct searches for the Asian long-horned beetle.

The beetle is an invasive species that devastates trees. Official inspectors are going door-to-door, requesting access to the area around residences -- especially backyards -- to determine whether nearby vegetation is harboring any Asian long-horned beetles. Unfortunately, many residents have been unaware that the these surveys are taking place, leading them to be understandably suspicious of individuals seeking access to their property.

"These inspectors are doing important work to protect trees in Woodhaven and across Queens," said WRBA President Edward K. Wendell. "If someone claims they're from an official agency and asks for access to your property, request to see their identification and make sure they are dressed appropriately."

There are two kinds of inspectors conducting the surveys: state and federal, the latter being from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). New York State inspectors do not have a uniform but should always be wearing an official orange vest with lettering. Federal inspectors should be dressed in either green pants or blue jeans, and should have on a black coat with USDA lettering. In all cases, inspectors have official badges and/or official IDs and will produce them on request.

If, however, someone claiming to be an inspector does not produce identification, is not dressed properly, or does not properly identify themselves, do not grant them access to your property. Residents who feel uncomfortable or suspicious should call the police.

The WRBA has received calls from residents who were concerned about purported inspectors. Some of this confusion arose from those personnel identifying themselves incorrectly or not wearing the proper attire.

The WRBA has spoken with an inspection field manager and has expressed concern about some of the reports we have received. The Block Association hopes that the USDA takes steps to make sure that their inspectors properly identify themselves. The WRBA also hopes that improved openness and communication with residents will help inspectors keep Woodhaven free of this destructive pest.

If they experience any problems with inspectors, residents should feel free to notify the WRBA at or (718) 296-3735.

Residents who suspect an Asian long-horned beetle infestation should collect an adult beetle in a jar, place the jar in a freezer, and immediately notify the USDA by calling (866) 265-0301.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Medical Mess going to the BSA

There's now a whole website dedicated to the Medical Monstrosity just a few doors down from Peter Vallone, Jr.'s office on 31st Street in Astoria.

Attend the special permit hearing for #315-12-BZ scheduled for Feb 26, at 1:30PM
Spector Hall 22 Reade St. in Manhattan

The NY BSA is voting to permit the 8-story monstrosity to be built 10 feet too close to the rear neighbors homes by changing the rear yard zoning requirements.

Endorse Quinn - or else!

From DNA Info:

Many City Council members are wary of endorsing candidates in the 2013 mayoral race until after budget season because they're afraid a vengeful Speaker Christine Quinn will cut their share of $50 million in discretionary funds, New York has learned.

The funds, which are controlled by the speaker, are dished out to members each summer to fund constituent-pleasing services, such as community centers and seniors programs. While Quinn’s office has long insisted that the money is allocated based on districts' needs, it’s no secret that members on Quinn’s good side tend to profit — while those who cross her get their budgets slashed.

And many Council members now worry that endorsing a rival in the mayor's race, where Quinn is widely perceived as the front-runner, will result in the same fate.

“I definitely think that discretionary funds will be wielded as a weapon in the fight for endorsements,” said one Democratic Council member, who, like nearly a dozen others who spoke to New York, asked for anonymity to avoid angering Quinn.

“Certainly, that is the elephant in the room,” another member said.

“It’s a legal form of blackmail," still another member said.

To avoid retribution, some Council members are weighing postponing their endorsements until July, after the budget is adopted and Quinn no longer has sway over the money.

Have landmarking advocates gone too far?

From the NY Post:

In their frenzy to derail the decades-overdue rezoning of the Grand Central district, three esteemed preservationist groups are making utter fools of themselves.

Altogether, The Municipal Art Society, the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Historic District Council are asking the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to prohibit four dozen East Midtown buildings from ever being demolished or altered.

Worse, the groups can’t agree on which properties are worth immortalizing. In fact, their most recent wish-lists are laughably at odds.

“Save the masterpieces from the bulldozers!” is the rallying cry. We’re told that allowing larger new office buildings in the 78-block area will mean wholesale demolition of supposedly architecturally distinguished structures — or even, God forbid, cast shadows over them.

But the incoherence of the wish-lists exposes the truth: This campaign is really about thwarting zoning changes needed to reverse the Grand Central district’s slide into obsolescence. (Buildings there average 60-plus years old and are increasingly unsuited to modern office use).

The preservationist hysteria is a just handy tool to spook the City Council into voting down the rezoning later this year. That’s clear when you examine the three groups’ recommendations.

Together, they call for 48 total buildings to be landmarked. But of the “inviolable” 48, the organizations agree on just six — that’s how many show up on all three lists.

Sure, we all have our favorites, but wouldn’t you expect somewhat more of a consensus? Landmarking even a single site has profound, permanent consequences and shouldn’t be taken lightly — which is why the Landmarks Commission sometimes takes years to act.

In fact, the all-over-the-map choices illustrate how treacherously subjective landmark-worthiness can be.

A look inside the 7 train extension

Queens Trib headscratcher

Front Cover
Back Cover
Hello Crapper: Did you see the full page ad on the back cover of the current issue of the Tribune? - "The Development of Nanjing and Jianye District" Commie Chinese $ at work? I ask again, just what is going on at the Tribune?

Regards GtheA

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

They want to build WHAT in Flushing Meadows?

Check this out from A Walk in the Park:

Queens Community Board 7's Parks Committee convened forty-eight hours after a lively full-board meeting where more than a dozen members of the public came out to testify in opposition to the USTA's controversial $ 500 million dollar plan to expand again into Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

The Parks Committee expected the Parks Department and the USTA to come back with concrete financial numbers to be spent on "park improvements," in exchange for being allowed to build on almost an acre of parkland.

That did not happen.

Instead, officials spent a good portion of the night avoiding questions and answering in half-truths.

Board members brought up a host of issues - the loss of parkland, destruction of trees, increased traffic and pollution, high prices of playing at the National Tennis Center, and the city's lack of commitment to take care of the park among others. Despite repeated requests from the board the USTA has still refused to put its expansion presentation on-line for all to see.

Parks and USTA officials said they have already lined up State Assembly Member Jeffrion L. Aubry and State Senator Jose Peralta to introduce the alienation bill, which does not require park replacement. They did not identify the City Council member who will sponsor a Home Rule message that is also required.

"And yes, the Parks Department really need to do a better job of paying attention to the largest green space in the largest borough instead of spending so much damn attention to Central Park and Prospect Park," said Parks Chair Kim Ohanian closing the meeting. "And we are sick and tired of getting short changed. You guys treat us like crap and we're tired of it. Ok?" she continued.

"You spend very little money on this park. You have neglected it, you have treated it like garbage and it's not right.

You don't spend enough money to take care of it. You don't have enough help, and don't spend enough money and you don't treat it right.

There's no reason why the Fountain of the Planets looks the way that it does. You've neglected it, you've neglected a lot of that park and shame on you."

"Please be prepared have answers to the questions that were presented to you tonight."

We ask questions we deserve answers. We don't get them they don't get theirs."

The meeting was adjourned until the first week in March.

(When CB7 will vote yes anyway...)

From The Fairness Coalition:

2) Power Plant in the Park?
The plan calls for building a dirty diesel fuel power plant inside the park. Hidden inside the most recent DEIS report, the USTA seeks to build an 8 Megawatt, 20 foot high diesel-fueled power plant. Surrounding communities already suffer from air quality and asthma rates at epidemic levels. This power plant will emit a massive amount of air pollution into the park and surrounding communities. (page 11-17 DEIS Jan 2013)

So Hevesi, Koslowitz, Peralta and Aubry think a power plant inside Flushing Meadows is a great idea? How much payoff did these morons get from the USTA?

In defense of pigs

From Eyewitness News:

They're not your usual family pet, but a growing number of families are choosing to have pigs as pets.

But now New York City is cracking down.

The city health department says they are simply enforcing the law and a state senator who lives around here asks why then things have been different for the mayor.

"It begs the question where was this enforcement when there was a pet pig in Gracie Mansion the mayor's daughter brought in? Where was that same enforcement," asks Tony Avella.

He wants the law revisited, and promises the city has bigger fish to fry.

From CBS New York:

WCBS 880′s Alex Silverman first spoke with disabled Navy veteran Nadine Darsanlal last month about her pet pig named Wilbur.

At the time, Wilbur was a therapy pig in training, being taught how to help others.

“I’ve had no issues legally, no,” Darsanlal told Silverman.

But she said in the past month she has faced “complete harassment.” Darsanlal said someone complained about Wilbur.

“The pig has not bothered them, hasn’t hurt anybody,” she told Silverman.

The Health Department served her a notice.

“I have to have him certified in Suffolk to live there in order for me to have him as my pet,” Darsanlal said.

“As of now, Wilbur lives in Suffolk until further notice. He’s registered under Suffolk with his microchips, so he’s technically ok,” Darsanlal told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera.

Since they're doing it anyway...

From Crains:

...facing similar shortages of affordable housing, several other cities, including Santa Cruz, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., in recent years have moved to modify their building, housing and zoning codes to legalize a greater number of such [illegal] dwellings. A number of states have also passed laws that address the issue. In New York, it's an effort that has long been championed by the Immigrant Housing Collaborative, a Manhattan-based coalition of housing groups. More recently, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer endorsed the concept.

A report released by Mr. Stringer's office in December predicted that such changes would bring these dwellings "out of the shadows." Doing so, the report concluded, would add tens of thousands of affordable units to the city's legal housing stock and would spur economic growth by accommodating more young workers.

But some people insist that merely making more ADUs legal would actually accomplish little. Mary Ann Tighe, chief executive of the New York tristate region for real estate services giant CBRE, pointed out that the effect on the supply of housing would be limited.

"Legalizing [dwellings] alone will not materially increase the housing stock since these illegal units are already occupied," Ms. Tighe said. As an alternative, she suggested that converting buildings in manufacturing districts to residential use would have a greater effect. "The city has embarked on rezoning these areas, but there are still more that are underutilized," she said.

Many others agree that any moves to legalize more units must be done on a case-by-case basis, and that some of the apartments are simply unsuitable. Meanwhile, Mr. Stringer's backing for such proposed legalizations marks an important step, but any such measure would have to be approved by the City Council, where support is uncertain.

Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn councilman who sits on the Housing and Buildings Committee, supported the idea but assayed its chances of becoming law as hazy at best.
"I've been doing this long enough to know that sometimes being right is not enough," Mr. Williams said.

Nonetheless, Jerilyn Perine, executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council and the city's former housing commissioner, insisted that something must be done. "This is ... about accepting the reality that this is how people are living, and about creating a path to legalization, so we are improving the quality of life and safety," she said.

So are you going to then rezone the entire city again to reflect the illegal units that are now legal? How are you going to get homeowners to fess up that they have illegal conversions in their homes when they are getting tax-free income now? If everyone in an area now has a right to house someone in their basement, what will happen with schools, sewers, sanitation?


Building more towers on top of schools

From CBS New York:

The city reportedly has plans to knock down two Upper West Side elementary schools to allow high-rise apartment buildings to go up in their place.

The Department of Education’s Educational Construction Fund listed the sites, on 61st Street and 70th Street, in Crain’s New York last fall, calling for interested developers to come forward.

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer is up in arms over selling P.S. 191 and 199 to developers, WCBS 880′s Rich Lamb reported. Brewer said millions of dollars that have been plowed into improvements into those schools will go down the drain.

“Do we want more tall towers in our neighborhood? We have Riverside South, we have three tall towers, some of which are 60 stories going up on Amsterdam Ave. and 69th Street and I could go on and on about the development on the West Side,” Brewer told Lamb.

But Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott noted that any new construction would require the developers to build cutting-edge schools for free on the lower floors of whatever structure they put up.

“We have several projects out there like that. There’s a project up in the 90s East Side where there’s a building with condominiums and below that is a great school at no cost to the taxpayers,” Walcott told reporters including Lamb on Monday.

Walcott added he would never sacrifice a school.

Brewer said taller towers mean more families with kids and bigger schools. Though there will be hearings, Brewer added that knocking down schools “to build more towers is being foisted upon us.”

Flooding bill too little, too late

From the Times Ledger:

A bill that would help prevent flooding after intense storms — an increasingly common scourge of many homeowners in some areas of Queens — was passed by the City Council last week to the applause of a Queens councilman.

The legislation, passed Feb. 6, requires the city Parks Department to identify types of vegetation it could plant that would help absorb stormwater before it could overwhelm storm sewers, causing a mix of polluted rainwater and sewage to overflow.

Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), chairman of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection who drafted the legislation, applauded the bill’s passage Monday.

“In Queens, we know the challenges of managing stormwater all too well,” Gennaro said. “Several areas in our borough, and in the rest of our city, are prone to flooding with rainwater after heavy storms.”

Areas of Fresh Meadows, Forest Hills and other parts of the borough are particularly vulnerable to flooding, with many area residents saying their homes become inundated by a mixture of stormwater and sewage during intense storms. Some have complained that as soon as they fix the damage from flooding the next storm will hit and they will be deluged again.

Flooding is also occurring more often in recent years as intense storms happen more frequently than in the past, a development that Gennaro has attributed to climate change.

Gennaro said the flooding is also due in large part to the urban transformation of the city, with large portions of the previous natural vegetated landscape morphed into swaths of concrete, which does not absorb rainwater.

Oh? And who allowed that to happen?