Sunday, September 30, 2018

Forest Hills is a ghost town

From the Queens Chronicle:

The recent disappearance of several Forest Hills fixtures continues an apparent trend in the neighborhood: the closing of businesses that its residents depend on.

Yellowstone Hardware & Supply Corp., founded in 1954, sold its last nuts and bolts back in November. As of Aug. 28, the venerable branch of Sterling National Bank, a cornerstone of the intersection of Continental Avenue and 108th Street, would offer no more interest or loans. This past spring, Key Food, which for decades stood at the corner of Queens and Yellowstone boulevards, closed its automatic doors forever.

A one-block stretch on Austin Street between 71st Road and 72nd Avenue reveals five deserted retail spaces, including those formerly occupied by New York & Company, a women’s clothing retailer, and a grocery store. A bridal shop is gone, too, along with the building that housed it. According to a hairdresser who declined to give his name but who indicated he has worked in the salon across the street for the past 14 years, the building was demolished about six years ago. The space remains an abandoned construction site.

Even a casual walk through the neighborhood offers plenty of other examples of properties that remain vacant. Continuing down Austin Street, one finds the window-covered remains of Sky Cafe, which served up tasty treats at the corner of 70th Road. A nearby AT&T Authorized Retailer is out of business, too, as is Barnes and Noble, one of the last remaining bookstores in the borough.

Toward the end of the street, where it meets Yellowstone Boulevard, Austin Wellness Pharmacy is but an empty shell behind a gated door.

The S&B Clothing Showroom for Men, which adjoined Key Food on Yellowstone, has been gone for years, perhaps a decade, some speculate. It was recently joined by the shuttered Aron’s Bakery, on the far side of the Long Island Rail Road trestle.

On the service road of Queens Boulevard, opposite MacDonald Park, an entire row of mom-and-pop businesses is gone: Party World, Urban Cuts & Color Salon & Spa, Yuriy’s Shoe Repair, Liz Cleaners, Worldwide Postal & Parcel Services and the corner Piu Bella restaurant.

The Queens real estate frenzy

From Brick Underground:

A new market report from StreetEasy shows that Queens continues to be the borough on the rise, in more ways than one, as buyers cast a wider net in search of more affordable housing.

The August 2018 report indicates prices for houses in the borough reached an all-time high of $536,028, with a 7.1 percent annual increase. Prices in the borough are now 23 percent higher than they were in 2013. Houses are also changing hands in Queens faster than in Manhattan; houses in Queens moved off the market a month faster than Manhattan listings.

A bright spot for buyers looking to Queens: It also experienced the highest share of price cuts in the city, growing 3.4 percentage points to 10.2 percent. And rents in the borough, while seeing the first annual increase since September 2017 with a modest .5 percent growth, reached $2,164—still significantly less than Manhattan and Brooklyn rents.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Civic punishes anti-Machine candidate

From the Times Ledger:

Oster Bryan, the former candidate who ran for an Assembly seat in southeast Queens against incumbent Clyde Vanel (D-Queens Village) in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary was asked to resign from his post as the president of the St. Albans Improvement Association.

Bryan believes that an $8,000 grant sent to the civic association before the Sept. 13 primary by Vanel was at the heart of the decision of him getting booted from organization.

“They are trying to remove as president, and they are saying it’s because I ran for public office, but that makes no sense to me,” said Bryan. “There is no such rule on our books that says I can’t.”

The eight-page bylaws from the civic association did not indicate a member or leader of the organization could not run for office; however, a letter sent to the former candidate said that he knew of the funds that were sent to the civic association before he decided to run and put the needs of the nonprofit at risk.

“It appears that you had no interest nor respect for the welfare of this organization and its members. Instead you choose to join the race for the Assembly seat after already knowing Assemblyman Clyde Vanel gave the Civic a grant,” said the letter that was sent out by the organization’s Vice President Martha Oliver.

Vanel implied he had nothing to do with Bryan being asked to resign and that funds were sent to the civic association long before the primary race; however, he did not have records on hand as to when exactly he offered the grant as of Wednesday night.

"For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil." - 1 Timothy 6:10

Major World seeks major rezoning

From The Real Deal:

A disgraced car dealer from Queens who recently pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud is now looking to rezone one of his auto lots in Long Island City under the city’s affordable housing program.

Bruce Bendell, a former senior manager at the Major World family of dealerships, is looking to upzone the site of a shuttered Kia dealership on Northern Boulevard to make way for an 11-story mixed-use building with 244 apartments.

But the 64-year-old is facing up to three years in prison after he pleaded guilty in July for failing to report $3.5 million in receipts and payroll expenses on Major World’s 2009 tax forms with the Internal Revenue Service.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Business owners harassed over size of signs

From AMNY:

A number of store owners along Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven have received violations for their signs in recent months.

Others, hoping to ward off future fines, are pulling down their storefront signs.

The result is a streetscape pockmarked with blank spaces above shop fronts and merchants who said they were struggling before being hit with an unexpected fee.

“I was told there was a complaint about my sign, and I find that hard to believe,” said Vasiliadis, who heard about the violation in August. “I’ve been here nine years. Where would the complaint come from?”

Buildings Department officials confirmed they examined the sign at Avenue Diner after receiving a call about it through the 311 line.

Similarly, city personnel inspected Caridad Restaurant across the street, after the agency received a 311 call about its awning in June. Officials said owner Bruno Taveras’ 14-foot sign was illegal and anchored to the facade without a permit.

“We are here almost 20 years, and I never heard anything about the sign,” said Tavares. “They also said I need insurance. But I already have insurance for the establishment. Nobody in court wants to hear that.”

Andrew Rudansky, a spokesman for the Buildings Department, said signs under six-square-feet do not need a permit.

I'm glad to see that DOB has taken care of the illegal conversion problems and now has time to go after this menace.

Crazy big development to replace NYPD garage

From GlobeSt:

Construction has begun on the conversion of a former New York City Police Department parking garage in Jamaica, Queens into a mixed-use development that will feature more than 380 affordable housing units.

A host of city officials were on hand for the groundbreaking for the Archer Green Apartments project on Friday, including New York City Economic Development Corporation president and CEO James Patchett; Housing Development Corporation EVP of real estate Paula Roy Carethers, Department of Housing Preservation and Development; Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilmember I. Daneek Miller, State Senator Leroy Comrie, Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, representatives with construction manager Omni New York LLC and community leaders.

The redevelopment of the NYPD parking garage is the first major milestone to arise from the Jamaica NOW Action Plan, a $153-million neighborhood revitalization initiative announced in 2015 by the de Blasio Administration, Queens Borough President Katz and the NYCEDC.

In addition to the 100% affordable housing units, the Archer Green Apartments will also feature approximately 15,000 square feet of community facility space and 68,800 square feet of retail and commercial space. The project is expected to create nearly 350 construction jobs and more than 300 permanent jobs upon completion.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Roof collapse in Astoria

From PIX11:

Crews are on scene after a building partially collapsed in Queens early Wednesday.

Fire officials received a call shortly after 4 a.m. about a partial roof collapse at a mixed occupancy one-story building on 48-15 25th Ave. in Astoria.

Authorities arrived to find the marble business' roof and front exterior wall partially collapsed.

City lost an awful lot of affordable housing

From The Real Deal:

More than 1 million affordable apartments have vanished from New York City since 2005, according to a new report from Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office.

The study found that the city has lost more than 1 million units that rented for $900 or less since 2005, while the number of apartments that rent for $2,700 or more has quadrupled over that same time period. Apartments going for $900 or less made up 20 percent of all rentals in 2017, down from 74 percent in 2005, while apartments going for more than $2,700 increased from 2.7 to 13.9 percent of the total market.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

JFK reno will happen without a new runway

From the Wall Street Journal:

In the coming weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce details of a $10 billion face-lift for one of America’s busiest airports.

The plan is expected to provide upgrades to John F. Kennedy International Airport, in Queens, including new roads for motorists, improved taxiways for aircraft and a modern, more consolidated terminal layout.

But it won’t include one element that planners say is essential to handling rising demand in the coming decades: a new runway.

Bleeding hearts are actually in favor of cash bail

From the NY Times:

City officials are scrambling to prepare for a human rights organization’s mass effort to bail out 500 women and teenagers from the Rikers Island jail complex, despite strong resistance from the police and prosecutors.

Across the city, prosecutors are identifying cases that might be affected by the bailout, and calling hundreds of crime victims and witnesses in those cases to let them know that defendants who they thought were in custody might soon be released on bail.

Prosecutors in the Bronx said they were working to safeguard as many people who might be vulnerable through measures like orders of protection.

“We are doing all we can to protect our victims and witnesses in the event the defendants accused of violence against them are released from jail,” Darcel D. Clark, the Bronx district attorney, said in a statement.

The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group is raising up to $5 million for the bailout, and will enlist 200 volunteers to help identify and free female prisoners at the Rose M. Singer Center, and 16- and 17-year-olds at the Robert N. Davoren Complex, starting Oct. 1.

Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, says the plan, which organizers believe could be one of the largest so-called mass bailouts in the country, will move forward despite the city’s concerns.

The bailout is designed to support an end to cash bail, which activists say discriminates against minorities and the poor, and to push the city to close the dangerous Rikers jail complex more quickly than the current 10-year timeline. Approximately 87 percent of the jail population is black and Latino.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Parkway Hospital rezoning underway

From Crains:

A rezoning application to convert the former Parkway Hospital in Queens into 351 units of affordable and market-rate housing entered the public review process Monday.

The Manhattan-based Jasper Venture Group is seeking city approval to add two stories to the former medical facility, which was forced to close after losing a court case a decade ago. The revamped building would have about 135 units of affordable housing, according to application documents, and some of them would be set aside for seniors. In addition, the developer seeks permission to construct a 14-story rental building with about 216 market-rate apartments elsewhere on the site, which abuts both 113th Street and a Grand Central Parkway service road between 70th Road and 71st Avenue in Forest Hills.

The application ends years of intrigue about what would become of the property.

Far Rockaway firehouse & police station landmarked

From the Times Ledger:

A fire house and a police station both built in Far Rockaway in the early 20th century have officially been approved for landmark status following a unanimous 47-0 vote last week, according to City Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton).

After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, much of Far Rockaway was in need of redevelopment and surveyors from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission researched the history of buildings in the area.

In 2017, Far Rockaway was rezoned and the 101st Precinct — formerly the 53rd Precinct — and the Engine Companies 264 & 328/Ladder 134 were seen as worthy for designation, according to the councilman’s office and the LPC.

“They carry history and have housed some of our most precious civil servants,” Richards said. “These sites will carry on the character that was set when the modern version of our community was first being shaped.”

The precinct — located at 16-12 Mott Ave. — and the fire station — located at 16-15 Central Ave. — publicly came under consideration as landmarks in March and the LPC held a hearing with members of the community in Manhattan one month later.

Boy, the LPC sure loves to designate Queens' unremarkable municipal buildings...and little else.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Glendale RV extravaganza, part 3

Along Woodhaven Blvd just outside Home Depot in Glendale sits a makeshift trailer park.
One of the vehicles is for sale. Now if that happens, where will the inhabitants live? And here we thought this was going to become a school.
Hey, why not extend out into traffic? Anything goes!

The problem with CEQR

From City Limits:

The city’s environmental review method overlooks the residential displacement impact of development on New York neighborhoods, where socio-economic demographics are rapidly shifting through private and public rezonings, a new report finds.

During a city-initiated rezoning or project, the city must do an environmental review to understand and assess the impact a proposed project may have in the neighborhood. The review follows a Technical Manual as a guide—and the new report from Pratt Center for Community Development raises important questions about the manual.

The Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination is charged assisting city agencies to carry out environmental reviews in accordance with state and federal law and advises the mayor on environmental policies, according to its website. The City Environmental Quality Review or CEQR is mandated by the State Environmental Quality Review Act. According to the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination website, CEQR is a disclosure process and not an approval process. It helps support decisions made by agencies such as approvals of rezoning or variance applications, funding, or issuance of discretionary permits.

The Pratt report says, “Despite community groups vocalizing concerns and despite quantifying large numbers of vulnerable residents, recent Environmental Impact Statements have concluded that rezonings will not displace residents at a significant level.”

It refers to four problematic points in the CEQR Technical Manual. First, the technical manual dismisses the potential for inequitable impacts by race and ethnicity by not making a review of the impacts on race/ethnicity a requirement. Second, only low-income tenants living in one- to four-unit buildings are considered vulnerable to displacement because the technical manual does not consider rent-regulated units as vulnerable. Third, the potential for displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods is dismissed because, the Pratt report says, “…if rents are increasing in an area and presumably displacement is occurring, Environmental Impact Statement authors are to conclude it is not possible that a proposed action could make the situation any worse…”

And fourth, Environmental Impact Statement authors use their own discretion in determining a finding of significant impact. Says Pratt: “The Technical Manual provides specific guidance to analysts in some areas but when it comes to the most important aspect—the final determination—the manual is noticeably open to analysts’ subjective conclusions.”

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Flushing Meadows still flooding

Hey Crappy:

The City just spent months and millions fixing this road and area in Flushing Meadows Parks. The result: it still floods!


"Birth tourism house" is quite illegal

From PIX11:

An unlicensed day care facility where three infants and two adults were stabbed allegedly catered to Asian mothers lured to the United States by laws granting citizenship to anyone born on American soil, a New York law enforcement official said Saturday.

Investigators believe the foreign women would give birth at the facility before returning to their home country and applying for US citizenship, the law enforcement official said. The return allows them to remain in good standing with authorities back home and, at the same time, claim to have a direct relative in need of care in the United States.

"If they're playing it right, they go back so that they don't get a negative status," the official said. "Then they come back."

An underground "birth tourism" network stretching from the United States to China has sprung up in recent years to cater to growing numbers of Chinese mothers who travel stateside to give birth, according to affidavits filed by federal law enforcement officers.

Federal agents have carried out "birth tourism" raids as part of larger criminal investigations targeting US companies that have netted millions helping pregnant Chinese women fraudulently secure visas and other services.

The residential facility in the Flushing section of Queens was used mostly by Chinese women who give birth and stayed there before returning to China, a law enforcement source said Friday.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

HPD targeting zombie homes

From The Real Deal:

The city is taking on lenders of “zombie homes” — decrepit, vacant, distressed houses with unpaid mortgages, which have forced the city to conduct emergency repairs and maintenance.

The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development is seeking more than $1 million from CitiMortgage, Wells Fargo and other home lenders who have allegedly failed to maintain houses on the brink of foreclosure, the department announced.

The cases target five Brooklyn properties and their lenders including Rushmore Loan Management Services LLC at 581 Saratoga Avenue, Ocwen Financial Corporation at 31 Essex Street, Seterus, Inc., at 1554 Dumont Avenue, CitiMortgage at 1889 Bergen Street and Wells Fargo at 1831 Park Place.

HPD partnered with the New York City Law Department bring the cases under the 2016 New York State Zombie Property and Foreclosure Prevention Act.

The city said it had identified as many as 4,000 zombie homes in the five boroughs since the act was introduced and sends warning letters to lenders and mortgage servicers that failed to maintain properties.

Cost of housing homeless skyrockets

From the Wall Street Journal:

New York City has increased spending on housing homeless people in shelters in recent years, but the population continues to hover at more than 60,000 despite efforts to move many into permanent housing, a new city report shows.

During the 2017 fiscal year, the city spent an average of $99 a day to house single adults in facilities in New York City, according to a management report released Monday by Mayor Bill de Blasio. In fiscal year 2018, that number grew to $117 a day.

The increased cost reflects a larger investment in service providers, repairs and security at shelters, according to New York City’s Department of Homeless Services.

The cost of housing homeless families was also more expensive in fiscal year 2018, when more than 22,340 children were living in shelters. During that time, the cost to house families with children averaged $192 a day, up from $171 in fiscal year 2017. In fiscal year 2014, it cost the city an average of $102 each day to house shelter families with children.

Meanwhile, the cost to house adult families rose in fiscal year 2018 to $147 each day, compared with $138 a day during the same period a year earlier, according to the report.

The total budget for the Department of Homeless Services is more than $2 billion, with $172 million added in fiscal year 2018 for shelter operations, according to New York City’s Office of Management and Budget.

A spokesman for Homeless Services said the increased costs reflect a greater investment in the department’s shelter system and more services provided at these shelters.

Friday, September 21, 2018

What the hell?

From NBC:

A 52-year-old day care worker allegedly stabbed five people, including three baby girls no more than a month old, at an overnight facility in Queens early Friday, and cops say they found a butcher knife and meat cleaver at the scene.

A 3-day-old girl and a 1-month-old girl were stabbed in the stomach; a 20-day-old girl had a laceration to her ear, chin and lip. All are in critical but stable condition, authorities said. Two other people, a father of a child at the day care and another woman who worked there, were also stabbed at the Flushing center just before 4 a.m. Friday. The woman was stabbed eight times.

Police say the 52-year-old woman was found unconscious on the basement floor of the day care center on 161st Street with her left wrist slashed in what police say was a self-inflicted wound. She is in police custody at an area hospital.

End of summer caption contest

It's Friday and Danny and Karen are ready for bed. So go ahead and caption this photo!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Group forms to resist Kew Gardens jail

From Forest Hills Post:

A number of Kew Gardens residents have come together to launch a campaign to block the reopening and expansion of the Queens House of Detention.

About 25 residents have formed the Community Preservation Coalition, a group that aims to stop the Mayor’s plan to reopen the shuttered 126-01 82nd Ave. facility.

The group is comprised of many of the same people who led the successful effort to the save the Lefferts Boulevard Bridge, according to coalition member Dominick Pistone, who also heads the Kew Gardens Civic Association.

The coalition argues that the mayor’s proposal for a 1,500 inmate jail at the Kew Gardens site— adjacent to Queens Borough Hall and the District Attorney’s Office— would be out of scale with the surrounding buildings and exacerbate traffic in the neighborhood.

Pistone said the mayor is calling for a “monster facility that’s totally out of scale with the neighborhood.”

The coalition intends to launch a public awareness campaign after the City holds a public hearing on the project next week, Pistone said.

The hearing, which will be held at Queens Borough Hall at 6 p.m. on Sept. 26, is part of the Environmental Review Process that is required for the site to be rezoned. The public will have the opportunity to hear more about the project and to ask questions.

The City needs to rezone the site for the jail expansion to move forward.

The group launched a petition against the jail on Sept. 18, and Pistone said the group and will begin to distribute fliers about the group’s concerns in coming weeks. He said the coalition knew that the City was considering reopening the jail, but was shocked as to the scale of the expansion.

While the existing structure is 497,600 square feet and housed about 500 inmates, the new facility would be 1,910,000 square feet and house 1,510 inmates.

Rezoning of LIC is happening regardless

From City Limits:

Despite the city’s slow-moving plan to study Long Island City for a possible rezoning, real-estate developers are moving their residential and commercial development proposals for individual sites through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the city’s review process for zoning changes, while community members gear up to testify against the new developments this month.

The idea of a neighborhood-wide rezoning in Long Island City has some community members and small business owners—all concerned by what some have called “overdevelopment”—wondering how long it will be before they are pushed out.

Long Island City and its residents are all too familiar with rezonings. Over the last few decades the neighborhood, including Hunters Point, Queens Plaza and Dutch Kills, has transformed from an industrial neighborhood to one hosting a mix of commercial and residential development under an ever-expanding skyline.

In 2017, Mayor de Blasio announced Long Island City as one of the dozen or so neighborhoods the city planned to rezone as part of his plan to create an estimated 300,000 affordable units. The area boasts extensive transit access with with eight subway stations, 13 bus lines, two LIRR stations and the East River ferry terminal, and its proximity to both Manhattan and the new Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island make it an ideal location for a “economically diverse, 24/7, mixed-use community,” according to the Department of City Planning website.

The study launched by the de Blasio administration overlaps with the 2001 Queens Plaza study area and parts of the 2008 Dutch Kills study area. It encompasses the Special Long Island City Mixed Use District, a special-purpose zoning district that has a mix of residential, commercial, and light industrial uses and includes the Queens Plaza, Court Square, Hunter’s Point and Dutch Kills neighborhoods. Thirty‐seven blocks of the study area fall within the Queens Plaza and Court Square sub‐districts. According to the DCP, the majority of new completed or under-construction developments are located on those 37 blocks, including an estimated 10,100 housing units, more than 1.5 million square feet of office space and 600 hotel rooms. DCP has not scheduled any public engagement events yet for this study process.

According to residents, developers are not waiting for the city’s study or the possible city-sponsored rezoning and are avoiding the community by going through “spot-rezoning,” which means changing the zoning of a single property and not including any community engagement during the planning process.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

City files lawsuit against illegal hotel operators

From Curbed:

New York City is continuing its crackdown on illegal hotel operators and has announced a new lawsuit against three illegal hotel operators in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens that are accused of using multiple host accounts with false identities to advertise at least 15 apartments in in seven different buildings. This is the first suit to be filed against illegal operators in multiple boroughs.

Defendants Alexandra Pavlenok, Ekaterina Plotnikova, and Stepan Solovyev were identified by the city’s Office of Special Enforcement as illegal hotel operators and in the suit, the city alleges that defendants misled guests about the legality of the listings by using addresses and deceptive explanations. They reportedly operated out of seven buildings in three boroughs and generated nearly $1 million from roughly 5,000 visitors. The seven buildings identified in the lawsuit are 12 John Street, 40 Water Street, 151 Stanton Street, 153 Stanton Street, 159 Bleecker Street, 238 Gates Avenue, 17-12 Menahan Street.

Sunnyside bike lanes are a nightmare for small businesses

From Sunnyside Post:

Community Board 2 members and area residents are criticizing the city’s protected bike lane implementation on Skillman and 43rd Avenues, claiming the roll out has been unorganized and done in a “haphazard” way.

Several business owners, community leaders, and board members spoke to their frustrations during the Sept. 6 Community Board 2 meeting, the first full meeting since the board voted down the controversial DOT project in June.

Many were angry that the Department of Transportation went ahead with the project despite the board’s rejection of it. In addition, many claimed that the DOT’s actual implementation of the redesign–which began last month– was being done “hastily,” with little communication and poor planning.

“While the project is only partially complete, many of our worst fears have already come to fruition,” said Roque Rodriguez, co-owner of Suryaside Yoga on Skillman Avenue, speaking on behalf of Queens Streets For All, a group that opposes the city’s plans for the avenues.

Rodriguez claimed that there’s been “massive confusion” for cyclists and drivers, along with more traffic backups. Some areas of the corridor, according to people he’s spoken to, also feel less safe than before, he said.

Gary O’Neil, owner of Aubergine Cafe on Skillman Avenue, echoed Rodriguez’ statement and claimed the unfinished rollout has caused “even more danger to pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.”

For Melissa Orlando, president of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, the implementation was done too rapidly and in a “haphazard way.” She said “no standing” and other signs have gone up without notice, and that cars have been towed and ticketed as a result. She was also disappointed that the project had yet to be finished despite the start of school.

Her biggest concern, she said, is lack of information.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Crowley re-elected party boss

From Sunnyside Post:

Outgoing Congressman Joseph Crowley has retained the chairmanship of the Queens Democratic Party–despite losing his primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in June.

The Queens Democratic Party voted 60 to four to reelect Crowley during a meeting at the Georgia Diner this morning, reported the New York Post.

Crowley, who has been the party’s chair since 2006, has been long known as a Queens “kingmaker” with powerful influence on party endorsements and appointments.

Although he lost by a wide margin to Ocasio-Cortez in June, his victory this morning suggests that he has managed to hold on to sway within the party, analysts said.

Among the four dissenting voters was Hiram Monserrate, who was elected a Democratic district leader for the 35th district last week, reported the New York Post.

Willets Point may become giant parking lot

From Crains:

The justification for razing a collection of small businesses in Willets Point, Queens, as part of an economic development project a decade in the making was that the land needed to be cleaned of its toxic soil and would better serve as a mixed-use site.

Earlier this year, however, the city and a development team that included the owners of the New York Mets drew up plans to use publicly owned Willets Point property for parking lots that would appear to benefit the Wilpon family's baseball team and an unrelated renovation project at LaGuardia Airport. But the proposal would leave the contaminated ground beneath it untouched, official documents show.

The parking plan was never acted upon, although officials left open the possibility of pursuing it. Doing so would raise questions about the city's priorities for the site, and it would mark a shift in what the land was supposed to be used for when it was rezoned in 2008.

In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would go back to the drawing board after the state's Court of Appeals struck down an earlier version of the Willets Point plan that involved building a shopping mall on parkland. The development team—The Related Cos. and Sterling Equities, the real estate arm of the Wilpon family—would build a 1,100-unit affordable-housing complex on 6 acres of city-owned property. A task force of elected officials and community stakeholders would come up with suggestions on what to build on the remaining 17 acres of public land.

"It's time to jump-start Willets Point, and we are doing that by building more than a thousand homes for seniors and families struggling to make ends meet," the mayor said in a statement accompanying the announcement.

But just a month later, the developers notified a state agency overseeing soil remediation at Willets Point that they planned to build parking within the area delegated to the task force, according to documents obtained by Queens filmmaker Robert LoScalzo through a Freedom of Information Law request and provided to Crain's. A roughly 6.5-acre swath of city-owned land would be paved over with three lots housing 665 parking spots and a large open space.

The notification suggested that the lots would be used by Delta Air Lines, which is launching a massive undertaking to replace its terminal at LaGuardia. Finding a place for the airline's contractors to park has been an issue ever since Delta's terminal project was announced.

While Delta said in a public document last year that it had reached an agreement with the Mets to use Citi Field parking to fill the need, paving new lots in Willets Point would serve the same purpose. It would leave parking at the Amazins stadium untouched—a win for the franchise—and would corroborate reports from 2016 that officials were eyeing space in the Iron Triangle to aid the airport's redevelopment.

"It is heartbreaking that hundreds of businesses were ejected from these 23 acres, and yet none of the promised benefits of doing that have come to pass after 10 years," said LoScalzo, who is working on a documentary about Willets Point. "Instead it seems the city has drifted over to other priorities."

Monday, September 17, 2018

City using strongarm tactics at Willets Point

From the Queens Chronicle:

Wais Mohibi doesn’t like to go down without a fight.

With his partner Jamie Sabeti, he owns A&B Repair Shop & Discount Muffler at 38th Avenue and 126th Street, the lone holdout in an otherwise barren section of Willets Point.

The Bloomberg administration made deals with other businesses in the area, so the properties could be cleared to make way for a since-killed plan to build a 1.4 million-square-foot mega-mall. Many of the businesses were given money and moved to the Bronx but ended up evicted from their new home.

Mohibi and his partner didn’t end up taking an offer.

“I fought with the city,” he told the Chronicle. “They wanted me out.”

Because the business stayed, its lease with the previous owner of their lot was still in effect and they had to start paying their rent to the city.

Mohibi said he doesn’t regret the decision to stay, and not take a relocation deal, but noted that it hasn’t been painless.

“We had a loss of business,” he said.

Not helping his company is its lack of accessible water — which is often a necessary part of auto work.

“[The city] cut off the water,” Mohibi explained. The issue is compounded by the fact that there is no meter the business can use to gauge its electricity usage, a problem he said was also created after the city took over the lease.

Because of the lack of services, Mohibi and Sabeti stopped paying rent to the city about a year ago, according to Ira Cooper, their attorney.

The de Blasio administration is suing them.

A subway signal malfunctions just about every day

From PIX11:

There were subway delays on all but one day during August 2018 because of signal problems, a Riders Alliance analysis released Sunday showed.

The Alliance said it reviewed MTA delay alerts for the month of August from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. They reported delays due to signal problems for every day except Aug. 23.

"It's just painful," said Joe Hetterly of Bay Ridge, about his commutes.

The Riders Alliance said signal delays caused problems on every subway line except the L, which has already received signal upgrades.

The analysis showed the worst delays were on the D and R lines.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Schneps now owns the Times Ledger, too

From Brooklyn Paper:

The three leading local media companies serving the five boroughs of New York City along with Long Island and Westchester have now become one.

Schneps Communications, a family-run business owned by Victoria and Joshua Schneps, has acquired Community News Group and NYC Community Media, one of the largest publishers of community newspapers, niche publications, websites and events in New York State.

Together, Schneps, CNG, and NYCCM offer unmatched reach in the five boroughs of New York City, as well as Long Island and Westchester. The newly combined company will be known as Schneps Community News Group and will have a total printed weekly circulation of more than 300,000 copies, a digital reach of more than 2.5 million page views per month, and host more than 40 events every year.

Ozone Park protests homeless shelter for mentally ill men

Saturday, September 15, 2018

NYPD officers ran prostitution and gambling ring

From AM NY:

A retired police detective and his wife are accused of running a massive prostitution ring and illicit gambling business with the help of seven active NYPD members and 40 civilians, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said on Thursday.

Ludwig Paz, 51, a retired detective from the NYPD’s Vice unit, allegedly ran the day-to-day operations at seven of eight brothels spread out across Queens, Brooklyn and Nassau County. Using his knowledge of the department’s vice protocols when investigating prostitution cases, Paz set up new policies for accepting clients in order to help root out possible undercover cops, according to Brown’s office, and paid his contacts within the NYPD for information that enabled him to thwart raids.

Among the active NYPD members who are accused of helping Paz and his wife, Arelis Peralta, are Brooklyn South Vice Det. Rene Samaniego, 43; Sgt. Carlos Cruz, 41; Det. Giovanny Rojas-Acosta, 40; Sgt. Cliff Nieves, 37; Sgt. Steven Nieves, 32; Officer Giancarlo Raspanti, 43; and Sgt. Louis Failla, 49.

NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said the officers “tarnished the NYPD shields they wore,” and betrayed the trust of all 8.6 million New Yorkers.

Between August 2016 through September 2018, the prostitution ring — with brothels located on Gates, Foster and Fourth avenues and 42nd Street in Brooklyn; on Liberty and Onderdonk avenues in Queens; and on Front Street in Hempstead — netted over $2 million in revenue, per the district attorney’s office.

Stop work order issued over zoning at controversial Elmhurst site

From the Times Ledger:

The city Department of Buildings issued a stop work order as of Aug. 29 on the controversial development at 82nd Street and Baxter Avenue in Elmhurst after the application to have the plot rezoned was challenged in City Council.

Anti-gentrification group Queens Neighborhoods United and City Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) praised the challenge, claiming the Target slated for the location was no different than any other proposal brought forward by the developers, Sun Equity and Heskel Group, which would only drive residents and business out of the community.

The area is zoned R6/C1-3 which allows for businesses that serve “local consumer needs,” such as laundromats and bodegas. The challenge through the DOB labels the development at 40-31 82nd St. as a “department store,” which is not allowed under the zoning.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Paladino, Sullivan, Barnwell, Cruz win primaries

These numbers come from NY1:

• Precincts Reported: 82/82

Brian 5,214

Melissa 2,902

• Precincts Reported: 56/56

Catalina 3,736

Ari 3,016

Yonel 225


• Precincts Reported: 224/224
Vickie 1,640

Simon 1,220

• Precincts Reported: 223/224

Thomas 3,188

Slawomir 1,508

Avella, Peralta defeated in anti-IDC votes

From the Queens Chronicle:

New York State is a different place today. It's littered with the wreckage of what once was the Independent Democratic Conference.

And nowhere was the rubble deeper than in Queens, where a pair of state Senators were ousted in Tuesday's Democratic primaries by challengers who dubbed them traitors to their party.

In District 13, it was four-term state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) who lost his re-election bid to former mayoral aide Jessica Ramos — a fierce critic of her "turncoat" opponent's IDC membership.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Ramos had won 12,181 vote to Peralta's 10,021 — good for a 10-percentage point margin.

In District 11, fellow four-term incumbent state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) was defeated by former city Comptroller John Liu in a rematch of 2014's Democratic primary — a race Avella won by a mere 568 votes.

This time around, it was Liu who came out victorious, defeating the incumbent 12,133 ballots to 10,846 — a 6-point margin.

The funny thing is unless there's a flip in the Senate then there won't be any "progressive legislation" getting passed in Albany because Simcha Felder won re-election easily. Basically all that happened is that the greater Bayside area voted for overdevelopment and corruption. Smart move!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Coming soon to Queens?

From PIX11:

It's a crisis that's left thousands of New Yorkers on the brink of death in the past couple of years, and now it's happened again.

Mass overdoses of the synthetic marijuana called K2 continue in New York City, and one intersection, on the border of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick, has been hit particularly hard.

The corner of Broadway and Myrtle Avenue has been the scene of mass overdoses at least twice in the last two years. Over the past weekend, five more people overdosed near the intersection. It is clearly a problem. However, the local council member said, five overdoses is an improvement.

Brooklyn & Staten Island buildings collapse

From NBC 4:

Emergency crews are sifting through rubble in search of any possible victims after a wall collapse in Brooklyn, authorities say.

Fire officials got a call about the collapse at the one-story building on 39th Street in Sunset Park around 1:45 p.m. It's not clear what caused the collapse, nor was it immediately clear if anyone had been inside at the time.

Crews are searching the rubble to be sure no one was caught; the FDNY tweeted photos that showed more than a dozen firefighters at the scene.

From PIX11:

A home partially collapsed in Staten Island early Wednesday, causing neighboring homes to be evacuated, fire officials said.

Authorities received a call at about 5:13 a.m. after a three-story home partially collapsed at 109 Sherman Ave. in St. George.

The three floors collapsed onto the first floor of the vacant home, according to fire chief Phil Solimeo.

Following the incident, two neighboring houses have been evacuated, said authorities.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Oh, poor Jimmy!

From the Commercial Observer:

City councilman Jimmy Van Bramer presides over one of New York City’s hottest real estate markets: western Queens. And one of its submarkets, Long Island City, is on track to get 6,200 new residential units by next year and sits at the heart of crucial zoning, infrastructure, transportation and urban planning issues that affect much of the city.

The 49-year-old councilman, who represents LIC, part of Astoria, Sunnyside and Woodside, was raised in his district by a printer father and painter mother, both union members. Since taking office in 2009, he has found himself facing down developers and community activists alike, while trying to stay true to both his core principles and his working-class neighborhood roots.

Over the past few years, he’s netted some victories for his district, like a new modern library for Hunters Point South in LIC and protected bike and bus lanes along Queens Boulevard. He’s also run into controversy over development and transit issues, like when he refused to greenlight a 2016 rezoning for a 200-unit affordable apartment building developed by Phipps Houses in Sunnyside. And last year he clashed with neighbors and businesses along Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside for proposing protected bike lanes there and along 43rd Avenue after two cyclists were killed by motorists. (After getting pushback from local merchants and the community board over bike lanes replacing parking spots, he abandoned the plan. Congressman Joe Crowley—recently unseated in a surprise victory by democratic socialist candidate Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez—even weighed in on Twitter to oppose the bike lanes.)

If this is high tide, I'd hate to see a storm

From LIC Talk:

IT wasn’t the wind and rain that made Hurricane Sandy so destructive to LIC and NYC, but the unusual surge of the coastal waters, which in our case meant the East River. In a small redux, we got a taste of that yesterday around 11am in Gantry Park per the photo above. Unlike Sandy, this flooding occurred when the moon phase was not full, which traditionally causes higher tides. Not to be alarmist, but you may want to get the rafts ready, or at least the skim boards.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Remembering a most tragic day

Volunteers from the 9/11 Tribute Center reflect on the importance of sharing their stories of 9/11 with future generations.

I think we know the answer

Great piece over at City Limits.

That which benefits the NYC general fund doesn't necessarily benefit Queens neighborhoods.

Monday, September 10, 2018

When you rush to open a bridge before an election

From NBC 4:

Officials plan to open the second span of the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge after delays caused by concerns over the stability of the old Tappan Zee Bridge, officials said Sunday.

The Tappan Zee is damaged but stable with "certain key components highly stressed," said Terry Towle, president of Tappan Zee Constructors.

Even if the bridge does fall, it won't affect boat traffic in the water or the new bridge, Towle said.

The span is scheduled to open Tuesday evening, weather permitting, Towle said. That means the bridge will effectively be open for the Wednesday morning commute.

"Even if the bridge does fall"... Alrighty!

Well that sure backfired

From the NY Post:

Eleventh-hour campaign mailings from the New York State Democratic Committee imply Cynthia Nixon is anti-Semitic — prompting an online maelstrom of outrage and denials Saturday night, with Gov. Cuomo and the state party calling the mailer a “mistake.”

“With anti-Semitism and bigotry on the rise, we can’t take a chance with inexperienced Cynthia Nixon,” reads the mailer, which says it was paid for by the New York State Democratic Committee.
It goes on to accuse Nixon of being against the funding of yeshivas — a topic she’s actually dodged — and falsely accuses her of being “silent on the rise of anti-Semitism” and of supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Teachers’ union head Randi Weingarten, and her wife, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum — whose LGBT-friendly synagogue, Congregation Beth Simhat Torah, on W. 30th Street, Nixon attends — issued a joint Facebook posting at 9 p.m. calling the mailing “beyond the pale.”

“How dare you, @nydems?!” tweeted NYC Council Member Brad Lander.

“Smearing @CynthiaNixon (whose kids are being raised Jewish, BTW) as soft on anti-Semitism & lying about her position on Israel in order to fearmonger and shill for votes is a shameful dead-end for our party,” he tweeted.

When you're supposedly 30 points up on your opponent, there's really no need to sink to this level. Maybe the polls are off...

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Progress at Farley, but what about Penn?

From PIX11:

The 106-year-old Farley Post Office Building is across the avenue from the busy transit center. New entrances have opened in the facility that lead to railroads.

A big project has been underway since 2016 and it is scheduled to open in 2020.

The new train hall will feature new platforms and tracks for LIRR and Amtrak and there will be commercial space.

From The Real Deal:

The City Council and James Dolan’s Madison Square Garden Company appear to be headed toward another clash over plans to relocate the iconic sports stadium.

Madison Square Garden is now at the midway point of the 10-year timetable the city laid out in 2013 for the stadium to relocate and make way for a modern Penn Station.

But with five years left on its special operating permit, MSG appears to have taken no significant steps toward what would be a years-long process of acquiring a new site and constructing a new stadium.

“We have not provided any public information” on the matter, MSG spokesperson Kimberly Kerns told The Real Deal.

Stakeholders such as the Regional Plan Association and the Municipal Arts Society that have called for the Garden to move said they have not been informed of any plans to do so. Madison Square Garden has not filed an application with the City Planning Commission to extend its special permit, and sources said the City Council hasn’t been made aware of the stadium’s future plans.

The City Council made it clear five years ago that it expected MSG to be gone by 2023, but a Council spokesperson would not say whether the legislative body expected the Garden to stick to the deadline.

Why LLCs dominate real estate

From The Real Deal:

Since becoming legal in New York State in 1994, LLCs — hybrid entities that provide a shield against liability and offer several tax advantages — have become one of the most dominant ways to buy property in the city.

A new analysis of recorded sales by The Real Deal shows that 7,319 real estate deals in the five boroughs in 2018’s first half involved an LLC. Among commercial properties, that accounts for 65 percent of all sales across the city and 71 percent in Manhattan, up from 30 percent and 49 percent in 2003. And in Manhattan’s luxury residential market, 72 percent of condominium sales over $10 million involved an LLC in the same time span — up from 20 percent 15 years ago.

The overall share of LLCs in New York property deals, meanwhile, has steadily risen for more than two decades, as they’ve ascended to become the real estate industry’s favorite investment vehicle.

Though the use of these shell companies is mostly driven by legal and tax benefits in the commercial realm, a common motivator in New York’s posh residential sector is invisibility. Anonymous ownership allows wealthy foreign buyers, celebrities and now even embroiled politicos like Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort to fly under the radar when buying luxury homes.

But while LLCs let investors safely accumulate more assets and block creditors and others from going after their holdings, that has come with some notable social costs.

Among other red flags, federal law enforcement is increasingly tying international money laundering to the use of shell companies and real estate. And anonymous spending on elections has increased over the years, particularly in New York, where a campaign finance loophole allows real estate and other business owners to make virtually unlimited political contributions by using LLCs.

Friday, September 7, 2018

A very entertaining debate

From NY1:

Errol Louis moderated a debate between challenger John Liu and incumbent Tony Avella, in a fierce state Senate race for the 11th district in Queens. The candidates debate their fundraising ethics, and discuss if they would support congestion pricing.

A deeply flawed candidate

From The Forum:

Let’s start with that old adage “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.” If you buy that then we can make our case very simply.

Platta’s buddy, and campaign consultant, is none other than former City Councilman Dennis Gallagher. You remember him: In the middle of his second term he was forced out of office because in a drunken rage he sexually assaulted a woman he had coaxed into his district office after which he burned her body with a cigarette.

But okay, let’s say it’s not fair to judge Platta on the basis of who his good buddy is.

In May 2017, Platta was arrested and charged with aggravated harassment after a female doctor threatened to expose his marital infidelity.

“If you tell anyone about my cheating, I will kill you and your family and ruin your life; I will send a patient to your practice to make false reports against you and ruin your career.”

That’s a direct quote from Platta straight from an official court document: The People of the State of New York, Plaintiff, v. Platta, Slawomir, Defendant.

In order to get on the ballot for the upcoming primary, Platta circulated a petition for a third party line called the No Homeless Shelter Party at a homeless shelter rally. The problem is that Platta told unsuspecting rally attendees that they were signing a petition to speak out about stopping Mayor de Blasio from creating any more homeless shelters.

When one such signer, Scott Jordan, realized he had been duped, he decided to become an objector to the petition at the NYC Board of Elections because the signatures were obtained through fraud and misrepresentation. Platta’s answer to that was to put out a media hit piece against an innocent constituent of the district and muddy his good name by circulating it through the district and on social media.

By the way, did we mention that Platta was collecting signatures personally, yet when the volume was submitted to the BOE, none of the sheets he carried were witnessed by him—a fatal flaw in the petition process.

These revelations are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Mr. Platta, who was kicked off his bogus "No Homeless Shelter" party line by the BOE yesterday. Naturally, he was endorsed by the Queens Ledge.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Glendale RV extravaganza, part 2

Back in late June, the above video was produced by Reena Roy of CBS 2 news and featured here a couple of days later.

We have an update:
"While riding to work on Friday morning, I passed by that road where
that trailer and rental truck were parked by that guy who claimed he
was running some film and art school bullshit while riding over the
bridge over the rail line. Well you will never guess what it looks
like there now although you will not at all be surprised because this
city doesn't enforce any laws anymore. There are at least 2 or 3 new
trailers there and another box truck by the parking lot there. And
another trailer is even brazenly parked in front of Bob's Furniture
I don't have any pics because traffic was flowing at the time, but I
will make a better effort next time. I have to be cautious because one
of those trailers has a security cam and I don't want to be hounded by
these creeps.
I don't know if any of the Queens weeklies did an update report, but
I suggest that you or any of your allies or acquaintances go there and
check it out yourselves. Really, it's become an actual trailer park.
It's obvious people are living full time there." - JQ LLC

Great job, NYPD!

Property taxes go up but salaries don't

From the NY Post:

The city’s property-tax rate has grown at triple the rate of New Yorkers’ incomes over the past decade, making it tough for residents at the lower end of the economic scale to make ends meet, Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office said Wednesday.

Property taxes are eating up ever larger portions of homeowners’ income — particularly for households making less than $50,000 a year, Stringer’s office found.

That group saw its average property-tax burden nearly double between 2005 and 2016, growing from 6.6 percent to 12.7 percent of income.

“Property taxes are rising too fast and incomes are rising too slow — and it’s becoming harder than ever for already struggling New Yorkers to get ahead,” said Stringer.

In 2005, homeowners making less than $50,000 paid an average property tax of $1,940. By 2016, they were shelling out $3,849 — while median salaries for the group stayed relatively flat at just under $33,000 per year.

Higher-earning families also had nothing to cheer about.

Those making between $50,000 and $100,000 annually devoted 3.4 percent of their earnings to property taxes in 2005 and 5.4 percent by 2016.

The tax burden on households in the $100,000- to $250,000-a-year bracket had less to complain about, with the portion of their paychecks that went to property taxes rising from 2.4 percent to 3.7 percent.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

New hotel planned for Flushing

From Queens Beans:

A new mixed-use, 19-story tower will be occupying the site addressed at 133-25 37th Avenue in Flushing, Queens, soon. The corresponding permits have already been filed and the responsible for the project is Yihai Property, a company based in China. The design will be handled by Raymond Chan Architects. The site is very close to the Flushing Main Street subway station, where the 7 train line ends. There is also a large commercial center in the area.

Once completed, the building will span over 300k square feet, dedicating a third to the residential area. Another third will be used to install a commercial space. Developers will also include a medical facility, parking for bikes and -maybe- a garage with room for 198 vehicles.

A hotel will function in the building and developers will create two separate lobbies: one for hotel guests and one for residents. The hotel will have 360 keys and there will be 146 apartments.

Heavy fines levied against illegal hotels

From Commercial Observer:

City Hall has continued its crusade against illegal short-term rentals by slapping landlords who illegally convert residential buildings and rent them out on a nightly basis with nearly $300,000 in penalties during the month of July alone.

The New York City Department of Buildings issued 43 violations and $285,375 in penalties against landlords for illegal transient use of 11 different buildings, the agency announced last week. The biggest offender was Hank Freid‘s Branic International Realty Co., which racked up $55,000 in violations for illegally converting a residential building at 2690 Broadway on the Upper West Side into the Marrakech Hotel. The city is already suing Freid, the owner of the Marrakech and two other walkups in the neighborhood, for illegally operating his single-room-occupancy buildings as hotels, as Commercial Observer previously reported. Freid’s lawyer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Although the city has long prohibited renting out apartments and homes as hotels, the rise of vacation rental sites like Airbnb and have driven a corresponding increase in enforcement against illegal short-term sublets from city agencies.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Clearing the land for...what?

From George the Atheist:

All traces of the former owner, the late Armin Urban, now removed from the properties immediately south of the Steinway Mansion.

What next?

China in talks to buy Steinway company

From Bloomberg News:

Steinway Musical Instruments Inc., the legendary piano maker controlled by U.S. hedge fund billionaire John Paulson, has attracted takeover interest from China Poly Group Corp., people familiar with the matter said.

The state-owned conglomerate is holding preliminary talks about a purchase of Steinway, according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. The company, whose iconic pianos have been used by virtuosos such as Lang Lang, could fetch about $1 billion in a sale, the people said.

Poly Group is doing due diligence work on Steinway as well as seeking financing and government approvals for an offer, the people said. The piano maker has also attracted other potential buyers such as private-equity firms and companies, the people said.

Steinway should be able to fetch a high valuation given that the company may reach 30 percent to 40 percent annual sales growth in China, according to Shaun Rein, founder and managing director of the China Market Research Group. A Chinese company like Poly Group could help improve Steinway’s distribution network in the country, which has been weak so far, he said.