Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Shulman back to her old tricks again

Crain’s New York Business has an eye-opening article, reproduced below, questioning the propriety of Claire Shulman’s local development corporation (LDC) instigating the re-zoning of 60 acres of Flushing waterfront property, and the LDC hiring the NYC Department of City Planning as a subcontractor.

However, nowhere does Crain’s mention that this isn’t the first time that Shulman’s LDC has attempted to influence a re-zoning – and its prior attempt was deemed unlawful by the NYS Attorney General.

Crains 6-29-15

You wouldn’t know it from the Crain’s article, but Shulman’s LDC has already illegally attempted to influence the re-zoning of Willets Point property. Re-zoning is legislation, and all local development corporations are prohibited by law from attempting to influence legislation. After a 3-year investigation, NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced in 2012 that Shulman’s LDC had “flouted the law” in the Willets Point re-zoning, and Shulman’s LDC signed a stipulation that it would never do it again. The NY Times reported that Shulman’s LDC admitted its illegal activity, as did the NY Daily News:

NYDN 7-3-12

Crain’s does not report that history, or mention AG Schneiderman's prior finding of illegality by the LDC – instead giving the mistaken impression that the LDC’s rezoning of Flushing waterfront property is an isolated case. But it isn’t. It’s the LDC’s second re-zoning attempt – after the first has already been deemed illegal.

If, as AG Schneiderman has already determined, it was unlawful for Shulman’s LDC to attempt to influence the re-zoning of Willets Point, then it must be no less unlawful for Shulman’s LDC to now attempt to influence the re-zoning of the Flushing waterfront.

All of which begs the question: If AG Schneiderman was satisfied in 2012 with a wrist-slap for Shulman’s LDC, what will he do now if he finds a repeat offense? As the saying goes: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Big Bad Bill doesn't impress anyone in Albany

From AM-NY:

Who's afraid of Mayor Bill de Blasio in Albany?

Not state Senate Republicans, who denied his request for permanent mayoral control of New York City schools, granting him one year instead.

Not Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who didn't deny he and his team were the unnamed officials in news reports who belittled the mayor as "incompetent" and clueless on influencing the legislative process.

Not advocates for charter schools, who won a lifting of a cap for new schools over de Blasio's opposition in the three-way agreement last week among Cuomo, state Senate Republicans and the Democrat-led state Assembly.

"There isn't a fear factor with Bill. There is a fear factor with Andrew," political consultant George Arzt said.

After the legislature went home, mayoral aides who spoke on condition of anonymity sought to paint a more positive picture of how de Blasio fared, saying they secured the affordable housing requirement he had championed in the real estate tax abatement known as 421-a.

Aides also indicated they had no plans to rethink their approach in Albany. The mayor said he didn't regret campaigning aggressively, albeit unsuccessfully, against state Senate Republicans last year.

Elmhurst perv alert

From CBS New York:

Police are looking for a man who they said flashed two young girls in Elmhurst, Queens.

The man exposed himself to a 10-year-old girl who was sitting in a parked car on Grand Avenue and 79th Street around 3 p.m. on May 28, police said.

Around 7 a.m. last Wednesday, police said the same man exposed himself to a 12-year-old girl sitting in a parked car near Calamus and Grand avenues.

Flag vandalism suspected in Rockaway

From CBS New York:

It’s a mystery in Rockaway Park – someone or something is making a mockery of the American flag, and residents want to know what is causing it.

Old Glory waves prominently along Rockaway Beach Boulevard, mounted on angular poles that are attached to utility posts between Beach 110th and Beach 116th streets.

...over the weekend, some American flags on the strip disappeared. Poles were bent, and some flags were left dangling.

Many residents said given that the damage was done just before Independence Day, it is disgraceful.

A representative of the local community board said the main concern right now is safety. The board is looking to have the poles taken down before someone gets hurt.

The Rockaway Civic Association put up most of the flags right after Superstorm Sandy. Others, including the now-damaged ones, went up around Memorial Day.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Baby seal causes a stir in Bayside

From Eyewitness News:

Don't let the emergency service unit, or crime scene tape around the boat slip at the Queens Bayside Marina fool you.

A baby seal stranded on the boat slip gathered quite the audience on Sunday afternoon, many pulling out cameras to get a shot.

"I saw Eyewitness News, I stopped to see what was happening, and then I heard it was a baby seal," says Suann Dugan.

Park services believe the seal may have become stranded after the tide went back out, leaving it about 100 feet from the water. At one point the baby seal started to moved towards the water, but took a break right at the edge.

de Blasio: Tweeding is just fine

From the Observer:

In May of last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio was blunt.

“I do think it’s time to end member items. I think that’s the smart path going forward,” the mayor, a Democrat, told reporters. He added that he respected the City Council’s desire to keep them.

“But I think this may just be one of the areas of respective disagreement,” he said.

Since then, Mr. de Blasio has done nothing to abolish so-called member items–and appears to have lost any desire to take up the fight in the future, sources say. The quiet decision to back away from a pitched battle with the City Council represents another win for the body, and may also be evidence that Mr. de Blasio’s quest to end member items was little more than a talking point.

Mr. de Blasio’s office did not return a request for comment.

In the city’s $78.5 billion budget for the 2016 fiscal year, just under $50 million was allotted for discretionary funding. The cash includes a $16 million pot of money that goes to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, with the rest of the money being split up roughly evenly among the members of the City Council. It can then be dispensed at the individual council member’s discretion to various nonprofits, charities and pet projects.

These member items, though representing a very small slice of the hefty budget, have drawn scrutiny from good government groups, reporters and some elected officials. The system, critics say, can breed corruption by giving politicians the ability to reward allies with taxpayer money and patronage. Used in the worst way, member items can be a vehicle to buy votes.

Mr. de Blasio may be done trying to fight this battle with the Council, sources say. The reforms to member items put in place last year—a more equal distribution of funding based on poverty levels of the 51 districts—appeared to placate the mayor. Previously, the speaker had sole discretion to award member items as he or she saw fit, and members close to the speaker often brought home the most cash.

Transit infrastructure can't keep up with population

From the Daily News:

New projections show the New York region’s population should reach 20.5 million people by 2020, further taxing the region’s already overcrowded and cash-strapped subway, bus and train systems.

The projections — calculated by the mapping service ESRI for The Associated Press — estimate the region is growing at a clip of almost 100,000 people annually. Long Island, Westchester County and much of northern New Jersey are included in the metro area.

The importance of these systems can’t be overstated: 31% of metro area commuters use transit to get to work, the U.S. Census estimates.

As the region’s population booms, the strains on mass transit are increasingly evident.

Overcrowding was the single biggest cause of delays on the New York subway system during the last year, MTA stats show. Ridership has also grown on NJ Transit and the PATH trains.

Yet politicians display little appetite for funding transit, while fare hikes have riders digging deeper.

Bird strikes up despite goose slaughter

From CBS New York:

Bird strikes affecting flights are on the rise in the Tri-State area.

As WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported, a new report suggests the problem keeps getting worse.

There were 175 bird strikes last year at LaGuardia Airport — the most since the FAA started tracking the incidents in 1990.

So the millions of dollars that taxpayers have spent to kill birds in NYC parks that the government deemed a threat to aircraft were actually thrown down the toilet? When is that waste of a program going to end as it has just been proven to be ineffective and unnecessary?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Richards to take over zoning committee

From the Daily News:

Queens City Councilman Donovan Richards was named the new head of the Council’s zoning committee on Friday.

The influential panel has authority over all zoning changes in the city — including a slew of neighborhood rezonings that Mayor de Blasio is soon expected to start pushing to make way for his affordable housing plan.

Richards, a Democrat who represents Far Rockaway, takes over from longtime chairman Mark Weprin, who quit his seat to take a post in the Cuomo administration.

City disapproves of FEMA's flood maps

From the Daily News:

In a move to help homeowners who face the risk of drowning in huge insurance bills, the city is appealing new FEMA maps that nearly double the number of city properties in flood zones.

Officials say up to 35% of the area the feds designated as flood-prone is labeled inaccurately.

The FEMA maps, which came out in January, placed about 400,000 city residents in flood zones, up from 218,000 under the old ones. The feds’ huge flood zone included 71,500 buildings, nearly twice the 36,000 that the old FEMA maps had.

Many of the homes affected are in Canarsie, Brooklyn, and Howard Beach and the Rockaways in Queens.

Speaker gives lulu to council member accused of sexual harassment

From the Observer:

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has appointed Bronx Councilman Andy King—the subject of a $1.25 million sexual harassment and wrongful dismissal claim against the city—chairman of the Committee on Libraries.

Ms. Mark-Viverito, an outspoken feminist and advocate for women’s issues, picked Mr. King to replace Queens Councilman Costa Constantinides as part of a re-shuffling to fill a vacancy left by former Councilman Mark Weprin, who left office to work for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The new position will grant the Bronx legislator an $8,000 bonus—known in the Council as a “lulu”—on top of his regular $112,500 salary, and give him access to roughly one dozen new staffers.

The claim lodged with Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office, first reported by Capital New York, alleges Mr. King made untoward comments and advances and created a “hostile work environment” for a staffer of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, which he currently co-chairs. The staffer’s complaint also alleges that she was not the sole recipient of unwanted sexual attention from the lawmaker.

The claim asserts that when she rebuffed his advances, Mr. King had her fired—without a full caucus vote, which the Council by-laws require.

Fraudulent contractor busted

From the Queens Courier:

A Flushing contractor has been charged with scamming $10,000 in down payments from Queens homeowners for work he never performed, according to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown.

Alfred Lakas, 57, allegedly took money from three homeowners for air-conditioning and other work to be done at their residences which he failed to do, and did not return any of the money. Lakas, who operates Al’s Heating on 172nd Street in Flushing, is also being charged with misrepresenting himself as being licensed to do the work, although he is not.

Lakas was arraigned on Tuesday before Queens Criminal Court Judge John Zoll on ten counts, charging him with grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and scheme to defraud, among other offenses.

He was ordered to be held on $5,000 bail, and will return to court on Sept. 15. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.

According to Brown, Lakas is accused of misrepresenting himself as a licensed professional to perform air-conditioning, heating, and other contracting work from February 2012 to June 2015. His complaining victims are three homeowners respectively from South Ozone Park, Douglaston-Little Neck and Kew Gardens.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Big Bush Park getting big upgrade

From Sunnyside Post:

The plans to revamp a worn-down Woodside park were presented Wednesday night at a Community Board 2 committee meeting.

The Parks Department is currently in the design phase to upgrade a section of Big Bush Park that many say is in need of repair and new equipment.

The park, located between 61st and 64th Streets—near Queens Blvd, is about 2.5 acres in size. The revamp will apply to .9 acres of it, which is the section best known for the children’s playground and handball courts.

Steven Whitesell, who represented the Parks Department, said the children’s play equipment has not been upgraded since the 1980s, the swings no long meet Americans with Disabilities standards, and the .9 acres of space was not being fully utilized.

The upgrade will cost $2.2 million, with the funds secured by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.

Albany allows 421-A changes

From Crains:

The de Blasio administration secured significant, last-minute changes Thursday to a bill outlining a revamped tax-exemption program known as 421-a, which has been hotly debated in Albany as the state legislative session went into overtime, officials told Crain’s.

The final bill, which was still being reviewed Thursday evening, would need to be approved by the Senate and the Assembly and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been feuding with Mayor Bill de Blasio recently.

According to city officials, the bill includes a six-month extension of the current 421-a program—which provides the developers of both condo and rental buildings with a property-tax exemption lasting up to 25 years. In Manhattan and some of the pricier neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, though, builders have had to set aside 20% of their units for low-income households, while in about 83% of the city, the exemption came with no obligation to include affordable housing.

The new 421-a program will last four years. Instead of relying on geographic boundaries, which allowed many lucrative developments to receive the tax exemption unconditionally, it will adopt a three-tiered system that was proposed by the mayor last month. The idea is to let the market influence which option developers pick, but to lock in at least 25% of the units as affordable in each case.

In a late twist, the administration prevailed on Albany lawmakers to remove one of the three options for developments in Manhattan below 96th Street. The removed option would have allowed units for households earning 130% of area median income to qualify as affordable, thus meeting the mandate for the market-rate units to get a 25-year tax break. The administration wanted to ensure that some units in those projects are set aside for significantly poorer families.

Mr. de Blasio did not, however, get the mansion tax he proposed. And his plan to nix condo developments from the 421-a program was only partially granted. The new program would allow some lower-priced buildings in the outer boroughs to receive the tax break, provided that buyers agree to make the condo their primary residence for at least five years.

Illegal park party bust

From the Queens Tribune:

The NYPD shut down plans for a massive outdoor party that was allegedly planned at Charles Park in Howard Beach, the 106th Precinct announced Saturday.

According to Deputy Inspector Jeffrey Schiff, commanding officer of the 106th Precinct, an outdoor dance party called “Sex On The Beach 5” was planned for Friday night “on a real beach.”

In a Facebook post Saturday, Schiff said police officers were monitoring plans for the party on social media, which advised people to take the A train to the 88th Street station in Ozone Park, then call a cell phone number to be picked up by van and taken to “a secret location” where the party was to take place.

Schiff confirmed that the location was Charles Park, which has a small beachfront facing Jamaica Bay. He explained how the NYPD, along with National Park Police, which oversees Gateway National Recreation Area, a national park that includes Charles Park, worked together to bust the Friday night event.

“The 106th Precinct came up with a plan that involved our Harbor Unit who would search our shore line and the Federal Park Police who would patrol the park and the weeds to discover the location and stop it before the party took root,” Schiff said in the Facebook post. “As it turned out, the 106th Precinct followed that van and discovered the secret location within Charles Park at around 11 p.m.. We contacted the Federal Park Police who then issued a federal summons to the DJ for assembly with no permit.”

Blissville ready for its first park

From the Queens Chronicle:

Residents of Blissville, a section of Long Island City bordered by the Long Island Expressway to the north, Laurel Hill Boulevard to the east and Newtown Creek to the south and west, say they are due for some green space, and are collecting signatures to support their effort.

Miguel Cavanzos, a Blissville resident and the main organizer of the petition, said the children in the neighborhood must resort to playing in the street. He has stressed to members of Community Board 2 that the enclave, home to more families as main parts of Long Island City become more developed and expensive, also lacks any benches for workers to sit on at lunch and that residents must cross busy corridors for any public park.

Blissville, an industrial and commercial area, contains a few hundred residents.

“We don’t have anything, we’re isolated,” Cavanzos told CB 2 in June. “We need a public park. There’s kids that need green space to play.”

Since early June, Cavanzos has spearheaded an effort to drum up support; as of press time, he collected more than 160 petition signatures over the course of a week. Area business owners also expressed support. Cavanzos plans to present them to CB 2 when meetings resume in the fall.

Cavanzos said that as soon as children come home from school, they play in the street or stay inside. He stresses that the area is forgotten amid the development blossoming to the west.

Friday, June 26, 2015

You'll just have to hold it

From the Queens Chronicle:

Eight years and holding. That’s a long time to wait for a bathroom, but that’s just what’s happening in Downtown Flushing.

In 2007, the city signed an agreement with Cemusa, a Spanish company, to build and maintain 20 automatic public toilets around the city. Flushing was to get one of two planned for Queens.

The other one for the borough, in Corona Plaza, was erected in 2008. Nothing was heard again about the Flushing site, in Lippman Plaza, a pedestrian connector for Roosevelt Avenue and 39th Avenue.

Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of Community Board 7, said she had received no updates on the project since CB 7 and then-Councilman John Liu requested it in 2007.

The public facility was also lobbied for by the Flushing Business Improvement District. Current BID Executive Director Dian Yu, when contacted by the Chronicle, had never heard of the toilet and was interested in more information. “I would like to know more about it because we do need a public facility in Downtown Flushing,” Yu said. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

According to officials at the Department of Transportation, which handles all street furniture such as toilets, newsstands and bus shelters, the Flushing site was approved but there have been delays, though no specifics were given by the DOT.

Borough hall garage is a-comin' down

Photo by Domenick Rafter
From the Queens Tribune:

Since the parking garage at Borough Hall abruptly closed down last September, there has not been any action by the city on demolishing and replacing the structure – until now.

The city Department of Transportation has planned a project that will last a total of seven months, in which demolition will occur for the first three. Michael Cohen, a spokesman for Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), indicated in an email that the project to demolish and replace the garage was originally supposed to encompass a total of 18 months.

Already, demolition work is beginning on the garage and plans are to replace it with a parking lot at ground level.

What a victory!

From the Queens Chronicle:

The Department of Environmental Protection finally gave in to Maspeth residents on Monday after months of calls for the agency to allow the construction of a sports field on a meadow next to a proposed aeration facility along Newtown Creek.

At a hearing of the City Council’s Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses on Monday, DEP Associate Commissioner for the Bureau of Public Affairs Eric Landau said the agency is willing to compromise with the Ridgewood-based Blau Weiss Gottschee soccer group over the space.

“DEP is willing to further entertain the idea of entering into a memorandum of understanding with the community organization that will be responsible for building and maintaining the space for athletic purposes,” Landau said.

The soccer club will be responsible for the costs pertaining to the construction and maintenance of the athletic field, according to Landau.

Hmmm...this is a brownfield site that sits next to a superfund site. Sounds like an ideal place for local kids to play! And a not-for-profit will spend its money, which probably will come via a taxpayer funded city council member item, to maintain it.

And the tweeding continues...

From the Daily News:

The City Council doled out more than $50 million in taxpayer cash to favored nonprofits in a list of “member items” released Thursday.

The $52.6 million in discretionary cash — which Mayor de Blasio vowed to abolish, but quickly gave up and let the Council keep giving out — is part of the $78.5 billion budget set to be voted on Friday.

The biggest winner was the Hispanic Federation, which brought in $666,000 in grants, mostly from Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, as well as Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan). Next up was Catholic Charities, which took home $550,500.

Also in the top 10 was the sprawling nonprofit founded by disgraced ex-Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council. It got $324,400.

Willets Point business owners got nothing but broken promises

Photo from WilletsPoint.org
From the Times Ledger:

A group of auto-shop owners in Willets Point led an unsuccessful hunger strike protesting the eviction.

The strike ended on June 5, just four days after almost a dozen auto shop owners swore off food. The strike was led by the coop’s president Marco Neira. Since then, Molina and others in the area are being barraged with tickets for working on cars on the street that they cannot pay for as the city increases pressure for the mechanics to leave the area.

In March, the city gave the group about $5.8 million to relocate their operations from Willets Point to the Hunts Point Section in the Bronx.

But according to Neira, the 17-auto repair shops were supposed to have been fully constructed in Hunts Point by July 1, but so far nothing has been built. According to the city Department of Buildings, construction has not started because the Sunrise Coop has not filled out the necessary paperwork to get things moving.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. at a meeting of editors for Community News Group, parent of the TimesLedger, said the Bronx could not proceed with the Hunts Point project until Queens completed the certificate of occupancy application and other requirements.

But none of this really matters – or makes any sense – for the dozens of auto shop owners who were forced to close down their businesses June 5.

The agreement specified that the EDC would pay $4.8 million and the Queens Development Group, the site developers, would provide $960,000. The Sunrise Co-op was expected to contribute $143,000 and the group would have to leave the site by June 1.

“The group got a raw deal,” Diaz said. “The city should have given them more resources—sizable subsidies.”

Now members of the Sunrise Coop will move to Hunts Point early next year, according to Neira but for the time being, the mechanics have nowhere to go nor do they have any place to store their hefty equipment.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Excavation continues at the Steinway Mansion

Video from George the Atheist

CB7 gives ok to tow pound

From the Queens Courier:

Community Board 7 gave the NYPD its blessing Monday night to sign a 20-year lease on a tow pound previously under a temporary agreement to operate at 31-22 College Point Blvd.

After hearing both sides of the debate, the board voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the tow pound stay, with 29 votes supporting the long-term arrangement and 14 votes against.

The tow pound appeared on the lot in 2013 to the chagrin of College Point residents, who feared that the facility would increase traffic and weaken streets already riddled with potholes and deteriorating roads. The area also hosts a new police training academy which opened in January.

With an average of 40 to 50 cars towed into the facility daily, the tow pound is estimated to generate additional traffic of around 60 cars per day including cars towed and employee vehicles. The location has on-site parking for employees, and can accommodate 157 cars.

Despite area residents’ initial reservations, police say they have not received any complaints in the two years of the tow pound’s operation in College Point.

Owners Jerry and George Filippidis, brothers who are both residents of the area, assured board members that they were trying to consider the good of the neighborhood by choosing the relatively lower traffic tow pound than a big box retailer.

Astoria or LIC may get a pool in the East River

From the Queens Courier:

The Long Island City or Astoria waterfront might become the home of a floating pool that will filter water from the East River to become safe and swimmable water.

The designers behind +POOL, the world’s first water-filtering, floating pool, has reached the next step into making their design into reality as they announced they will be looking at 10 locations across the city as potential homes for their pool, first reported by Curbed.

+POOL, which brings collaborators from design offices Family and PlayLab, plans a pool area “for everyone” as it brings four pools into one plus-sign-shaped complex, including a kid’s pool, sports pool, lap pool and lounge pool.

Described “like a giant strainer,” according to the +Pool official website, the floating pool will filter the river water within its walls, removing bacteria, contaminants and odors.

Of the 10 locations being looked at, one is the Hunters Point in Long Island City, while the other is Hallets Point in Astoria.

According to a +POOL representative, they will look into the water conditions at both Queens sites to understand the depth, access points, navigable channels, 100-year flood wave heights, current speeds, tidal elevation and harbor conditions.

Water quality testing for sites that might be able to accommodate +POOL will include testing various parameters to understand how +POOL’s filtration system will support the site, the representative said.

Tons of NYCHA apartments sit empty

From the Daily News:

NYCHA is “sitting on” more than 2,000 vacant apartments even as hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in need of housing languish for years on waiting lists, City Controller Scott Stringer said in a new audit released Wednesday.

The audit found NYCHA had 2,342 empty apartments as of late last year — and 312 of those, which were removed from the rolls for major repairs, had been vacant an average of seven years.

“It’s shameful, totally unacceptable that they’re been empty for so long,” Stringer said. “People are desperate for homes. You cannot keep vacant apartments off the market for years and years with no explanation.”

He said 80 apartments were vacant for over a decade, another 79 were empty at least seven years — and one apartment in the Harlem River Houses had been left vacant since 1994.

The cash-strapped agency lost out on almost $8 million in rent from apartments vacant for at least three years, according to the audit. “The bill for this incompetence is huge,” he said.

NYCHA had a waiting list of 273,391 people as of December, the reports says.

The agency says it had 2,196 vacant apartments last month, a 39% decrease from the beginning of 2013.

College Point being overdeveloped into oblivion

From Crains:

A sign that reads "Rough Road" at the entrance of a new 36-acre police academy in College Point could serve as a metaphor for the neighborhood, not just as a warning to motorists of the many potholed streets laid across former swampland.

"The more development you add to the community, the harder it is to get in and out," said state Sen. Tony Avella, who represents the area. "It's like putting 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5-pound bag—you can only stretch the bag so much. How much more can the College Point community [accommodate] in terms of traffic and congestion?”

Not much, some residents say. On a peninsula cut off from much of the rest of Queens by the 10-lane Whitestone Expressway and accessible only by car or bus, College Point has long had a reputation as a quiet, almost timeless hamlet across Flushing Bay from LaGuardia Airport.

That began to change four years ago, when the city started construction on the $750 million police training academy in the College Point Corporate Park. (The first class of 800 recruits entered in January.) When completed, the complex will feature indoor shooting ranges, training fields, parking and even a 100,000-square-foot mock-up city for practice simulations.

As many as 5,000 visitors will likely stream in and out each day. Such comings and goings—coupled with a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus depot across 28th Avenue from the academy, an NYPD vehicle impound lot nearby and several industrial plants—could wreak havoc on an already overtaxed infrastructure that has failed to keep up with the accelerating pace of development in recent years.

Adding to the challenge, the area has begun attracting young professionals and growing families eager to be near thriving Flushing—and to pay College Point's cheaper rents. Song Chen, a 35-year-old lawyer who works in Flushing, said he has seen the neighborhood's population skyrocket since he moved in five years ago. He often drives to work because waiting for overcrowded buses takes longer.

Another draw for both tourists and locals in recent years has been Spa Castle, a glitzy complex of pools, hot tubs, fountains and hydrotherapy baths on 11th Avenue in the northern end of the neighborhood.

Chris Androne, who owns a sheet-metal company nearby, said the traffic from the spa can be horrendous. He complains that it often takes him more than 15 minutes to drive three miles to his home in the more posh precincts of Whitestone to the north. His wife, Angie, who runs a lip-gloss manufacturing business above her husband's firm, said traffic has increased appreciably in the past three years alone.

“It's getting worse and worse,” she said, noting that many single-family homes have been converted to house multiple families.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

City wants to further upzone LIC

From Crains:

Despite a flurry of new construction in Long Island City that will most likely shift housing in the Queens neighborhood from rental to luxury condominiums, the de Blasio administration is pushing for greater density and more affordable units there, a planning official said at a Tuesday panel discussion

“Everybody understands the opportunity to put density where you have transit," said John Young, director of the Queens office of the Department of City Planning, referring to the number of subway lines that run through the rapidly changing industrial area across the East River from Manhattan. "It is what we call a smart growth strategy."

The administration is studying the possibility of allowing taller buildings in a portion of Long Island City, according to Mr. Young, who was speaking at an annual event sponsored by the local nonprofit Long Island City Partnership. Developers also weighed in on on a change taking place in the neighborhood regarding the new housing that will be built. Since the recession, most residential projects near the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge and mass transit lines have been rental units.

"With current land prices and construction costs ... doing rental at this point doesn’t make sense,” said Frank Monterisi Jr., an executive at the Related Cos., which built a large affordable-housing complex at Hunters Point South, a section of Long Island City along the waterfront. "Going forward, the [plans] that work will be [those] where you are selling condos at a pretty high value," he added.

City to try to move people out of illegal "3/4 homes"

From the NY Times:

New York City will dedicate $5 million of its budget for next year to inspect and fix illegal boarding homes, known as “three-quarter” houses, and to relocate tenants living in them, city officials said.

The spending is part of a budget deal for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins July 1, announced on Monday by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, who are both Democrats. It is the latest in a series of actions by the city after an article published by The New York Times last month on the flophouses, which are paid for with government money and cater to addicts and others with nowhere else to live.

Three-quarter homes, so described because they are seen as being between regulated halfway houses and actual homes, often cram four to eight people in a room and sometimes have blocked exits and squalid conditions. The article focused on one unscrupulous operator, Yury Baumblit, accused of taking illicit payments on Medicaid fees for drug treatment while forcing people to sleep in bunk beds squeezed into tiny rooms.

A day after the article was published, Mr. de Blasio formed an emergency task force to inspect the homes and try to fix the problem. The city comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, a Democat, has also demanded that city agencies take steps to ensure that people in need of housing are not sent to three-quarter homes.

The task force has now inspected 63 three-quarter homes identified by the city’s Human Resources Administration, said Commissioner Steven Banks, a member of the task force. Nobody knows how many of the homes exist in the city because they are not legal and no registry exists. Officials have estimated that there are hundreds.

Mr. Banks said on Tuesday that the $5 million in next year’s budget will be used to pay for temporary housing for people who need to be moved and security for that housing; case-management services for people being moved; help connecting people to permanent housing; repairs to houses, such as removing bars from windows and unblocking exits; and “fire guards” — workers assigned around the clock to homes deemed to have fire hazards.

Illegal gas hookup found at Astoria complex

From DNA Info:

Elected officials and residents rallied outside the Acropolis Gardens co-ops Monday, where tenants have been living without cooking gas and hot water for nearly two months — despite management's initial promise that the service would be restored by June 19.

Con Edison shut gas off at eight buildings at the development on April 29 because of "unauthorized, improper hookups," according to a spokesman. As of yet, only two of those buildings have had service restored.

The co-ops are managed by Metropolitan Pacific Properties, whose president Steve Osman previously told DNAinfo that Con Edison made an error in shutting off the gas after coming to inspect the properties following a small fire.

A Con Edison spokesman, however, said the service was cut because of "unauthorized, improper hook ups that violate building codes."

"Building management has been made fully aware of what they need to do. Gas was shut off for the safety of the residents," the rep said. "We'll continue working with the city to make restorations as proper repairs are made.”

An attorney for the buildings' co-op board, which contracts Metropolitan Pacific Properties, said Con Edison told them they need to replace the meters at the buildings, but that the utility company were out of the replacement meters.

Con Edison, however, disputes this claim, saying they have not run out of meters.

The attorney, Michael Maio, said the repair process has also been drawn out because workers have to check every individual apartment for gas leaks — none have been found, he said — which requires that tenants be home.

Subway crime is on the rise

From the Daily News:

More cops are riding the rails — collecting overtime along the way — to combat a spike in subway crime, Transit Chief Joe Fox said Monday.

There were 61 robberies in the transit system in May, an increase of 30 cases from the previous year. Overall, there were 47 additional major felonies, hitting 216 for May, from 169 the prior year — a 27.8% increase.

Fox said cops were stepping up enforcement on trains when about 70% of transit crime began to occur on the rails in April — instead of on platforms or in station mezzanines — up from the typical 60%.

“We want them on the trains to be present and visible,” Fox told MTA board members.

To hit back against a spate of felonies, Fox said more transit officers were on patrol and shifts were extended. “We’ve been deploying a lot of overtime in the last couple of months,” Fox said.

The show of force also followed an uptick in felony assaults. There were 99 attacks this year through May, a nearly 27% spike from 78 in the same period in 2014.

Robberies this year are also outpacing 2014 by 4.8%, with 196 cases through May compared with 187 during the first five months of last year. Fox noted robberies in the subway in 2014 reached “historic lows.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pols promote app that violates zoning regulations

I'd like to share part of a press release I received yesterday:
"SpotPog – an innovative new app that allows drivers to find free and paid spots – launched in Brooklyn today with the support of elected officials and local organizations. Leaders praised SpotPog as a smart way to address the city’s parking problem, and to help improve the environment and street safety in high-traffic neighborhoods.

“Brooklyn has a serious parking problem,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “We need an innovative approach to help residents find spots in their own neighborhoods, or when running errands and attending local events. SpotPog has the potential to meet this mission, employing our smartphones in a smart way to help reduce traffic congestion, decrease street-level pollution, and allow for more drivers to visit our local business districts.”

“New York drivers are constantly wasting time, money and energy hunting for parking spaces,” said New York City Council Environmental Chair Donovan Richards. “Circling for parking also causes tons of preventable street-level pollution a year, creating health risks in our neighborhoods. SpotPog will help alleviate New York's parking-related problems with a free, innovative app designed to drive our communities into a healthier, safer future.”

Starting today, SpotPog users will be able to swap public street spots for free, enabling those who have downloaded the app to save time by not hunting for spots. Drivers earn credits (“Pogs”) every time they give away a free spot to another user, and those credits can then be used to claim a free space later on.

SpotPog users who own driveways will also be able to post their driveways for rent on the app. Driveway owners can set their own hourly prices and availability, creating a new parking option for the millions of city drivers who have trouble finding a space while running errands, attending events or parking in their own neighborhood. SpotPog’s technology allows driveway owners to complete transactions without even being home."

Ok, so what this basically does is

- privatize a public resource. Individual drivers will be benefiting off of something that is supposed to be available to the public. Not to mention the chaos this thing will likely cause when you have people racing to the scene of a parking space that just opened up. Plus, do we really want to encourage people to fiddle with their phones while they are driving?

- create commercial enterprises in residential zones. This app is basically an AirBnB type system for driveways. I doubt anyone wants a commercial parking lot opening up on their residential street. Believe it or not, it is illegal for a homeowner to rent out their garage or driveway to someone else. Were the Department of Finance, the IRS and NYS Department of Taxation and Finance notified of this?

Why are elected officials promoting this garbage put forth by a private company? Don't they have attorneys advising them on what's kosher and what isn't?

I think it's time for an investigation by the AG.

Squeaky wheel in Brooklyn gets DOB attention

From Brooklyn Daily:

The Department of Buildings has at last stepped up enforcement against illegally converted homes in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, residents say. Locals have long battled the practice of dicing one-and two-family homes into multi-family apartments without city permits and contrary to building codes — now residents and the city are advancing the line of scrimmage, according to local leaders.

“We seem to be making some progress,” said Bob Cassara, who heads the Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance. “Out of the last four or five complaints, we’ve gotten four stop-work orders.”

The alliance filed the complaints less than a month ago, and the quick turnaround suggests that the buildings department is starting to take the issue more seriously, he said.

Another civic leader echoed the sentiment, crediting the city’s swift response to complaints.

“You would hardly ever hear about a stop-work order being issued before — now it’s constant,” said Fran Vella-Marrone, who heads the Dyker Heights Civic Association. “That’s because we have been diligent in reporting them, and they’re being good about getting out there as soon as they can.”

The Brooklyn Housing Preservation Alliance and the Dyker Heights Civic Association held a joint meeting with the Department of Buildings and the fire department in March that drew hundreds of concerned residents. During the town hall, pols promised legislation to increase penalties for shady landlords, and buildings department honchos pledged more resources to Southern Brooklyn and announced a task force to meet with concerned citizens.

The legislation is still pending, but in the meantime, the task force is working, Cassara said.

“The big difference is that we have our community task force going with the DOB, fire department, building marshals, and [the Department of Housing Preservation and Developmen­t],” he said.

Indeed, overall enforcement appears to be up in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights this year, according to city data.

New law makes it easier to feed meters

From CBS New York:

A new city law allows drivers to prepay one hour before muni-meters go into effect so that they don’t have to sit in their cars watching the clock tick.

“Let’s say you’re going to a doctor’s appointment or you’re taking your kid to school and the meter starts at 8:30 in the morning and you get there at 8:15, well, up until now, you have to wait until 8:30 to actually get the receipt,” said Councilman David Greenfield, who sponsored the legislation passed in June 2013. “What my law does is it allows you to get the receipt an hour before to prepay that muni-meter.”

The new law also requires parking meters to shut themselves off at the end of their posted hours of service and when they run out of receipt paper.

More police in new budget

From the Daily News:

The mayor and the City Council are close to announcing a budget deal that will include funding for more cops, sources told the Daily News.

The final number will likely be smaller than the 1,000 that the council — over the objections of Mayor de Blasio — had been pushing for, said one source.

"It's not going to be the thousand, but we believe it's going to be a good number," the source said.

The issue of increasing headcount in the department, which the council believes is needed to combat a rise in shootings, was one of the major sticking points in tense budget talks, said the source.

Although the mayor had repeatedly said he was happy with the NYPD headcount as it is, the council wouldn’t budge on the issue in budget talks, said sources.

A separate source said the mayor's decision to add more cops came after negotiations with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who also wanted more officers.

Bratton agreed to cost-cutting measures the mayor had been calling for - like reducing overtime - in order to pay for more staff, the source said.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Queens women to be honored with a planted ruin

City ignores public, proceeds with plan previously rejected by Helen Marshall

[This summarizes prior events concerning the Civic Virtue statue and the Queens Boulevard plaza site, then presents new information concerning a bidding process that closed on May 18, 2015 for work at the plaza site.]

2015 DDC Planted Fountain Specifications

I am Robert LoScalzo, the media producer/activist who sued the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (“DCAS”) in 2013 to force it to comply with the Freedom of Information Law and turn over records pertaining to the controversial removal of the colossal 22-ton artwork statue “Triumph of Civic Virtue” from the Queens Boulevard public plaza site where it had stood since 1941, to a private Brooklyn graveyard. DCAS had removed the statue without consulting Queens Community Board 9 and against the will of area residents and officials, who did not want the statue removed.

As you may recall, I am also the one who discovered and exposed that City taxpayers paid $49,464.00 for a fine art conservator to provide “all labor, materials and equipment necessary for the conservation of the Civic Virtue sculpture,” plus another $49,801.00 for a fine art handling company to provide “all labor, equipment and material necessary and required to design and fabricate a custom armature [cage] to support and lift the Civic Virtue statue for its relocation to the Green-Wood Cemetery.” Contrary to what the City led the public to believe at the time, it was unnecessary to relocate the Civic Virtue statue to Green-Wood Cemetery in order to repair and restore it – and taxpayers need not have incurred the additional $49,801.00 expense to do so. Queens lost a valuable art asset, although taxpayers footed the bill to restore it.

After the Civic Virtue statue was removed and the public wondered what would happen to the Queens Boulevard plaza site, I am also the one who unearthed the disappointing plan devised by DCAS to convert the statue’s fountain base into a “planted ruin.” According to plans dated April 2, 2013 (PDF attached), "DCAS wishes to keep the original fountain as a planted ruin, a scenic backdrop to a busy and important intersection in the borough. … [T]he fountain, although left as a 'ruin', will be planted with grades and groundcovers and act as a landscape folly to enhance this prominent corner."

2013 DCAS Planted Ruin Plan

DCAS’s “planted ruin” plan was ridiculed on the popular QueensCrap web site, which declared: “Planned ‘Civic Virtue’ replacement a total embarrassment.

DCAS’s “planted ruin” plan was also rejected by Helen Marshall, then Queens Borough President. Marshall’s spokesman Dan Andrews said “renderings that were presented to Marshall ‘were not acceptable to the borough president.’ ‘She would like to see it as a place where people can sit and reflect on the contributions of different women whose names she had wanted engraved there,’ Andrews said. The proposed renderings, Andrews said, did not include the women's memorial. Marshall would also like the fountain to be restored at the site, but the renderings did not include it. They called for flower plantings instead.” DNA Info

Concerned about the lack of any public process to plan the use of the Queens Boulevard plaza site and to consider the potential return of the newly-restored Civic Virtue statue, on April 8, 2014 the Civic Virtue Task Force met with Barry Grodenchik, a top aide to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz (and now candidate for City Council District 23), and Nayelli Valencia Turrent, Katz’s Director of Cultural Affairs and Tourism, to discuss those issues. When Grodenchik asked if the Task Force had a “Plan B” in the event the statue would not be returned, the Task Force replied: “Institute a legitimate public process to plan the future use of the plaza site.” Grodenchik said he would discuss that with Katz and then get back to the Task Force. He never did.

On July 3, 2014 the Civic Virtue Task Force wrote to DCAS Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch about those same issues, asking (among other questions): “What opportunities are there for community input and planning, regarding the future use of the Plaza site and the potential return of Civic Virtue?” DCAS never answered the question, and never instituted any public planning process for the plaza site.

2015 DDC Planted Fountain Drawings

Which brings us to the news: My most recent Freedom of Information Law request to the Office of the Queens Borough President reveals that the NYC Department of Design and Construction (“DDC”) has already solicited bids for a project called “Planted Fountain Restoration” at the Queens Boulevard plaza site, the centerpiece of which is essentially the 2013 “planted ruin” plan devised by DCAS which Helen Marshall rejected. The deadline for contractors to submit bids for this work was May 18, 2015. As far as I am aware, this has not been reported anywhere.

According to the bid solicitation documents: “The project consists of creating a sitting area around the existing historic fountain. The fountain basin will be stabilized and waterproofed and turned into a planter, and the fountain steps will be reconstructed. Benches, lighting and pavement will be added to create an accessible plaza.”

2015 DDC Planted Fountain Plaque

The bid specifications also require a 9” x 18” bronze plaque displaying the inscription: “THIS FOUNTAIN PLAZA IS DEDICATED TO THE WOMEN OF QUEENS.”

A few observations:

• The bronze plaque refers to “this fountain plaza” – however, there won’t be any actual functioning fountain. What is left of the fountain will be buried under the flowers and plants. It is wrong to call this a “fountain plaza” when the fountain is in fact eliminated under this plan.

• The City is proceeding with this plan, despite not addressing reasons it was rejected by Helen Marshall. She had wanted the fountain to be restored, not planted over; and she had wanted the names of women engraved at the site.

• From the very beginning, the City’s plans to remove the Civic Virtue statue and to determine the future use of the plaza site have been secretly made by powers-that-be who have refused to implement any public planning process or to consider what the community and taxpayers actually want. DCAS Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch, DDC, Melinda Katz, Barry Grodenchik and Nayelli Valencia Turrent apparently are continuing this imperious policy of dictating the use of the plaza site and abandoning the newly-restored Civic Virtue statue in a private Brooklyn graveyard, contrary to what constituents and taxpayers want.

• The public has never asked for any planted ruin or dedication to women at the plaza site. On the other hand, the public has requested the return of the newly-restored Civic Virtue statue from its temporary loan to Green-Wood Cemetery.

• To be very clear: We could have had the newly-restored Civic Virtue statue returned to Queens Boulevard, standing on top of a newly-restored fountain base, with its waterworks turned on every day and fully operational – think mini “Trevi Fountain” on Queens Boulevard, and you get the idea. Instead, we’ll get a “planted ruin” and a bronze plaque, while the Civic Virtue statue – newly restored at taxpayer expense – remains abandoned in a private Brooklyn graveyard. That is lunacy, and an utter failure of Queens leadership.

Melinda Katz laments the fact that Queens receives the lowest per capita Department of Cultural Affairs support among the boroughs. But by allowing a unique and colossal artwork such as Civic Virtue to be taken from the borough to a graveyard, to be replaced by a mediocre “planted ruin,” Queens only proves the borough’s true status as the laughingstock of this City’s cultural affairs.

The NYC Public Design Commission (PDC) may still have to approve any plan for the plaza site. A cursory review of all PDC agendas at the PDC web site from the year 2012 to the present time did not show any Queens Boulevard plaza site renovation on any PDC meeting agenda.

Questions Raised:

(1) If Helen Marshall rejected the “planted ruin” concept, and DCAS and DDC are now proceeding with essentially that plan, has Melinda Katz approved it? Or are DCAS and DDC doing whatever they want at the plaza site?

(2) Which contractor firm is the winning bidder for the “Planted Fountain” work at the plaza site? What is the total price of the winning bid? Has a contract actually been awarded and executed yet?

(3) Has the Public Design Commission approved the plans for the fountain/plaza? If not, when will it?

(4) Presuming that the PDC must approve any plan for the plaza site but has not yet done so, why would DCAS and DDC solicit bids for a specific plan for the plaza site, without first obtaining PDC’s approval of that plan?

Huge development in the works for downtown Jamaica

From the Real Deal:

BRP Companies paid $19.5 million to purchase a Downtown Jamaica development site where it plans to build a pair of mixed-use towers with 580 rental apartments. The Midtown-based developer, which specializes in affordable housing, bought the site at the corner of Sutphin Boulevard and Archer Avenue from the nonprofit Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, which spent years assembling the site. BRP plans to break ground in December on the $300 million, 737,000-square-foot project dubbed the Crossing at Jamaica Station, which will include 580 mixed-income apartments and 100,000 square feet of retail across three floors. FXFOWLE is serving as the architect.

Future Darwin Award Winner

From the NY Post:

A straphanger filmed a numbskull with a death wish “surfing” an E train at a Queens station last week.

The unidentified subway surfer clings to the back of the train as it pulls out of the Van Wyck Boulevard station in Jamaica, balanced precariously on one leg.

“I should take the bus home after witnessing this cuz if he die you know that’s a 2 hour delay,” posted Instagram user remember24getme, along with the video.

An MTA spokesman said the agency was unaware of the incident and the image would be forwarded to the NYPD.

DOT hogging up municipal parking spaces

From the Times Ledger:

Dozens of angry Court Square residents joined City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) to call on the Department of Transportation to restore nearly 190 public parking permits that were withdrawn from the neighborhood. After a policy change, DOT officials significantly decreased the number of monthly parking permits and began using the public spaces to house agency vehicles and materials.

“Parking is precious in Long Island City and to take away these much-needed spaces is dead wrong,” Van Bramer said. “What has been done can be undone. We are calling on the agency to give back these parking spaces to the hardworking residents of Long Island City who deserve it.”

Piledriver perched perilously close to Steinway Mansion

More photos available from George the Atheist.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Realtor pushing for hotel by Newtown Creek

From the Queens Courier:

Today Newtown Creek stands as one of the “nation’s most polluted waterways,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as a result of industrial contamination from nearby factories and raw sewage dumping that dates back to the 1800s.

But listed as a Superfund site since 2010 and with an ongoing remedial process, brokers at Greiner-Maltz Investment Properties are marketing a site across from a section of the infamously contaminated body of water that could be in high demand after the grimy, toxic 3.8 mile creek is cleaned up.

The site sits at the edge of Ridgewood near the border of East Williamsburg and Maspeth to the north. It begins where Metropolitan and Onderdonk avenues intersect, and is surrounded by various factories in the neighborhood.

An existing 4,225-square-foot building with the address 46-00 Metropolitan Ave. is on the site, which is being used as an auto junk yard. The property has up to 40,720 square feet of buildable space zoned for manufacturing, but an investor could redevelop it into a hotel with — views of the now-mucky creek — brokers said.

See that off-color section of water? That's poop, folks.

MTA encourages illegal parking

"I'm alerting you to an "app" which allows easy complaints to NYC Agencies (not all, but enough). It is: NYC 311.
It very simply allows one to file complaints about various issues within the city of NY.

I have used this to complain about Sidewalk parking outside the Jamaica Center Subway station on Archer Avenue. Additionally, I've filed complaints on the MTA Web Site, and the Parks Department Web site (Why Parks, well these idiot parkers park in the TREE PIT...).
Initial complaints were indicated as resolved by the NYPD, because they observed NO PARKING Issue when they checked after 11:15PM. Subsequent complaints indicated that location should be checked DURING the day, Rush Hour - both Morning and Evening.

All complaints emphasized Illegality of Parking, Safety and Problems with Accessibility (ADA Complaints).

Complaints were also filed on MTA web site (mta.info, http://web.mta.info/faqs.htm, email...) to file complaints.

I believe that sidewalks BLOCKED with DREK (Cars, Garbage, whatever,...) constitute ADA violations which get taken more seriously than just a blocked sidewalk. While I am a HUGE Former Division I Football Player, I was seriously disabled in 2013 and confined to a wheelchair, the walker, then cane(s) and personally felt the problem of DREK blocked sidewalks, including the ILLEGAL cars parked at Jamaica Center.
This eveining, on my way home, there wer only 2 cars parked, both "Official" (but why does the MTA need them parked outside ALL DAY LONG). Both were parked on the sidewalk near the bogus sign that indicated MTA PARKING only (Since when does the MTA have the ability to "grab" public sidewalk and turn it into their own private parking?). This is a far cry from the cars that overflowed and even parked in the tree pit. Photos attached." - anonymous

Taking matters into their own hands

From Cleanup Jamaica Queens:

Fathers Day weekend and yet another Saturday where Jamaica residents who are fed up with inaction by local elected officials (like Senator Leroy Comrie) and unanswered calls by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and staff, take matters in their own hands and take over the abandoned park/empty lot at 109th Ave & 171st Street in Jamaica, which has become an eyesore of overgrown weeds, garbage, broken down rusted playground equipment, remnants of what were once benches in the first phase of cleaning up this lot which is owned by a real estate company David Landau-Crown Realty of Brooklyn, who refuses to take care of this property.

So Jamaica resident & community advocate Pamela Hazel along with other activists like Gene Sassine, Larry Love, Lyle Braxton, a man who goes by OK and a couple other residents took matters into their own hands and did the first phase of this cleanup by cutting weeds and branches that are going out into the sidewalk. Other clean-up phases will follow.