Tag Archives: Astoria

An overview: Multi-family buildings in Astoria and Long Island City


| sweiner@gmipny.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

BY SWAIN WEINER 

For a long time, Queens has had the reputation of being the go-to borough if you want to buy tires or surround yourself with the elderly.

That being said, this generalization is quickly becoming antiquated as neighborhoods in Queens are experiencing revitalization through the renovation of 1950s and pre-war era apartment buildings as well as the addition of new, modern buildings that have attracted the attention of young families.

Combine these new living spaces with sites like MoMA PS1, four restaurants that were just granted a Michelin star rating, and reasonable rates, and the stage is set for Queens to become a primary option for families looking to make an investment in themselves.

Though this trend is throughout the borough, the areas most impacted and evident of this change are Astoria and Long Island City. The New York Times reports that over 10,000 apartments are being planned over the next three years, ranging from “amenity-laden rentals to family-sized condos.” These condos are especially attractive to younger, up-and-coming families.

Last summer, I listed a 32-unit building in Long Island City. The asking price was just over $6 million, average rents for each unit were around $1,300 a month and 28 of the 32 units were one-bedrooms. This location was not more than a 90-second stroll from Queensboro Plaza.

Consider that the same station has stops for the N, Q and 7 trains, as well as the E, M and R a block away. That’s six trains with accessibility to almost every area in the city. For people looking for a chance to have the space and extra cash to expand their families, the location alone is reason enough to invest in properties like those 32 units. From its rooftop, a very large portion of visible real estate is in some kind of development, just further evidence of the opportunity provided in this part of town. It’s buildings like these that already have provoked the attention of potential investors and residents who have pushed along the progress of Astoria and LIC.

Families see a place where they can have their cake and eat it, too. The amenities offered in a luxury rental are not exclusive to the condos, as the Times reports these buildings will often have gyms, play areas for children, cafes and green roofs. All of these offerings, plus the space required to house a family, plus accessibility to other areas of New York City have bred a common mindset among this demographic.

The New York Times quotes one recent resident as saying that the amount of new people “asking directions and taking photographs” of what was once a very untouched area in the city feels very “cosmopolitan,” a word that would never have been used in reference to Queens until recently.

The question remains: where will the occupants come from? As Bloomberg reported, Cornell University has just been granted 12 acres on Roosevelt Island to build a graduate and applied sciences campus.

The people who populate that campus will populate Long Island City and Astoria. Not only is Roosevelt Island next door to these neighborhoods, but Queens is by far the most affordable of all the areas surrounding it. People feel that the low price they are paying is not reflective of some lack of character the neighborhood has; instead, they feel like they’re getting in at the ground floor of an exciting new investment.

The families that move in, like those that will attend the future Cornell Campus, will bring others similar, and what was once simply a reasonable place to live will remain reasonable with the added benefit of camaraderie and popularity. The new, “cosmopolitan” view of this area is now the generalized view.

What Williamsburg was to hipsters is what Astoria will become for young families, and the discrepancy between low prices and quality of the areas and residents absolutely screams investment opportunities. The allure of Astoria and LIC will only become greater, increasing the already high demand for renovated multi-family housing.

Astoria might still have some of the highest rent prices in the borough, though families moving in feel they are still getting a bargain. A New York Times piece on the area references a couple who recently moved to Astoria who pay $3,720 a month for a two-bed, two-bath with use of a “two-story gym, squash and basketball courts, a coffee lounge, three roof decks with barbecues and wet bars, and a children’s playroom.”

The family states that anywhere in Manhattan the same environment would cost more than $5,000 a month. This is the case with much of Astoria. Prices are comparatively higher than the rest of Queens, though lower than anywhere else in the city. But what the cost does not show is the value for these families’ purchases — the list just goes on and on for recreation and opportunities that these condos will provide to their families.

Last year, a developer in Astoria had a goal of selling 23 of 58 available condos in six months; every condo of the 58 was spoken for within four months. Another development group has followed suit and started 33-unit and 77-unit condos that will likely be taken in a similar amount of time. Though these are just two groups, they are not the only ones. These are the types of living spaces that will start popping up all over the neighborhood — condos tailored for families, complete with skyline views of Manhattan.

The growth of Astoria and LIC will be characterized by the addition of more than just the 10,000 apartments the New York Times mentioned. These additions will be tailored to suit the needs of families, spreading the popularity of multi-family housing by creating an environment where people raising children can have the best cost-benefit ratio offered anywhere in the city.

The 32-unit I listed last summer is far from the last time I dealt with a multi-family building in Astoria and LIC. In fact, I suspect that in the near future many more buildings cut from the same cloth will come out of the woodwork, primed for investment. Queens is in high demand, Queens is up-and-coming, and Queens is affordable. This new possibility of having enough room and means for families will continue to be a driving force in how these neighborhoods flourish.

Swain Weiner is president, partner and founder of Greiner Maltz Investment Properties, which specializes in all types of commercial investment sales throughout the five boroughs and Long Island. Before Greiner Maltz Investment Properties, Weiner sold more than $215,000,000 in aggregate sales with more than 1,300 residential units.

Swain Official Headshot

Swain Weiner

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Homeless Queens woman sentenced for 2010 Astoria Park beating, strangulation


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com


A 33-year-old homeless woman has been sentenced to 17 years to life in prison for her role in the 2010 fatal beating and strangulation of a 32-year-old man in Astoria Park, according to the Queens district attorney.

Kelly Harnett, whose last known address was in Astoria, was convicted of second-degree murder and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon and sentenced on Thursday at the Queens Supreme Court.

“The defendant, along with a male co-defendant, brutally attacked a 32-year-old man in the park. The victim was robbed of his wallet and viciously beaten and choked to death,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “This willful act of violence warranted a lengthy prison term.”

According to Brown, on July 7, 2010, at about 4 a.m. Harnett, together with Thomas Donovan, attacked the victim, Ruben Angel Vargas, by choking him manually and also with a shoelace from Harnett’s sneaker. Vargas was then kicked repeatedly in the head and torso and his wallet was taken while he lay motionless on the ground.

Donovan pleaded guilty in 2010 to first-degree manslaughter and is currently serving 15 years in prison.

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Astoria band wants to rock Queens with first EP


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos by Susan DiBello

Some things are just meant to be and are destined to come together — and in the case of Megan DiBello and Colin Clough, one encounter over a bummed cigarette has transformed into a perfect musical match.

DiBello and Clough are the creative minds behind the Astoria-based band Rocco & Lizzie, which is set to release its first EP titled “#SOMETHINGFOREVERYONE” on April 1 at the LIC Bar.

The two Astoria residents and poets met three years ago in Manhattan when DiBello asked for a cigarette from Clough. This led to a next-day brunch invite and a 7-hour phone call, and although Clough returned to his home in Virginia, by mid-2014 he made the move to New York.

Since then, the two have come together to create music. DiBello is the main lyricist of the duo and Clough composes the music on various instruments.

The name of the band comes from DiBello’s middle name, Elizabeth (“Lizzie”), which she said is the “sweet and nice” part of the group, while the name “Rocco” represents Clough and his more intense nature.

“They’re our personalities,” DiBello said of the names. “They are the driving forces of this album.”

Although their Facebook page categorizes them in the post-punk and rock genres, DiBello added that their music differs from song to song.

With the band’s heavy community involvement – writing the music in Queens, recording the EP at the Continental Recording Studio in Long Island City and constantly supporting the local music and literary community – she said she would call their music “Queens Rock.”

“I never heard of it, but I think it would be really cool,” she said of the new genre. “We’re a rock band but there are so many different levels, every song is very different.”

At the moment, the band consists of primarily DiBello and Clough, with contributions on the EP by guitarist and bassist Shako and drummer Tony Shing Siu Sze. However, the duo hopes to soon find a permanent bassist and drummer. 

DiBello added that the music on the EP, which will consist of five tracks, shares their personal stories. For example, a song called “Jonsey Boy” talks about the transition of a boy making a move, just like Clough made the move from Virginia to New York. 

“If you want people to buy it, you have to give them the reason why,” DiBello said. “We’re really living the story. [The music] is unique and completely community driven. And for myself, it’s some of the best poetry I’ve written in my life. They’re all stories about how we live.”

After the debut of their EP, plans are to release 14 more tracks by the end of the summer while also trying to play a lot of shows. They hope to perform during musical festivals and even have ideas of potentially starting their own music label to help others share their passion.

“We have a message. We want to show people that you can overcome any adversity in life as long as you’re passionate,” DiBello added.

Rocco & Lizzie’s EP release show will be at the LIC Bar, located at 45-58 Vernon Blvd., on April 1 at 7 p.m. Admission is free.

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Queens native starts campaign to fund Dennis Hopper’s final film


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of "The Last Film Festival"

One filmmaker is turning to Kickstarter and the Queens community she grew up in to help put the finishing touches on what will be known as the late Dennis Hopper’s last movie, filmed completely in the “World’s Borough.”

Linda Yellen is one of the creative minds behind the comedy “The Last Film Festival,” which began filming in 2009 with a cast including Hopper, known for the classic film “Easy Rider,” Golden Globe-winner Jacqueline Bisset, JoBeth Williams, Chris Kattan, Donnell Rawlings, Katrina Bowden, Joseph Cross and Leelee Sobieski.

The film, written by Yellen and Michael Leeds, follows a Hollywood producer, played by Hopper, whose recent film was rejected by every film festival except a small town festival named the O’Hi Film Festival.

Although the movie surrounds a small town, it was actually filmed in Queens, some parts in Astoria and others in Forest Hills, the neighborhood Yellen grew up in.

“I loved growing up in Queens. It was so accessible to Manhattan but it also had the feeling of small town and community. It was always so friendly,” Yellen said. “It was a wonderful thing to sort of return home.”

The majority of the film was shot in Forest Hills, with scenes taking place at Forest Hills High School, where Yellen attended school. During the 2009 spring break, the actors were housed in the high school classrooms, which replaced the use of dressing rooms and trailers.

“There was always a great appreciation for the arts and culture in Forest Hills,” Yellen said. “I learned about the art of filming and directing in Forest Hills.”

The cast of "The Last Film Festival."

The cast of “The Last Film Festival.”

Although Yellen no longer lives in the borough, she said she is constantly traveling back to visit her mother, who still lives in the same building Yellen grew up in and who had a small part in the film as a “biker chick.”

During the filming, Yellen recalls walking the streets of Forest Hills during lunch with Hopper, who would take pictures of everywhere he went in the borough.

“A lot of those early experiences helped shape my identity and it gave a special pleasure to Dennis Hopper. He got to learn a lot about me as we took a lot of those walks,” Yellen said. “He loved [Queens].”

Tragedy then struck when, just a few scenes short of finishing the film, Hopper became ill and later died of cancer at the age of 74 in May of 2010.

“He was a picture of health and vitality and he just gives a multilevel comedic act [in the film],” Yellen said. “He had no idea he was sick; we had no idea he was sick.”

Hopper’s passing left a hole in the hearts of the cast and crew, and the film was set aside for a while until Yellen decided to pick it back up this year, which will mark the fifth anniversary of Hopper’s death.

However, in order to finish the film, Yellen made the decision to turn to Kickstarter, with a goal of $90,000, because she felt it was a way to get to the fans directly. The crowdfunding site also followed Hopper’s idea of “always looking for ways to go around the system.” As of March 25, $64,174 had been pledged.

The funds raised by the campaign will go toward all post-production aspects that are required to finish the film, including using movie clips to replace Hopper in scenes.

“This is a way of [the fans] saying we want this and we want to say we support this film and this comedy,” Yellen said. “This picture was made as a labor of love. Just the pleasure of doing good work and wanting it out there and wanting people to laugh a lot.”

The Kickstarter’s deadline is on April 9. To donate click here.

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‘Mad Men’ creator discusses show influences, exhibit at Astoria museum


| kmedoff@queenscourier.com

Photo by Thanassi Karageorgiou/Museum of the Moving Image

As “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner walked around the Museum of the Moving Image’s exhibit on his show for the first time, it was “a little bit like having someone come up and pants you,” he joked.

“I was like, ‘Wow, I agreed to put all this stuff out here, like my notes and my thoughts,’ and then I had some feeling…like it all happened to someone else,” he said.

Museum members, “Mad Men” fans and movie buffs packed the Sumner M. Redstone Theater on March 20 as the showrunner of the popular TV series, which comes to a close in May, visited the museum for “Inside Mad Men: An Evening with Matthew Weiner.”

“Huge fan” of the show Mark Kramer, 26, of Astoria, snagged a front-row seat.

“I heard [Weiner] speak a lot about the show on podcasts and interviews,” he said. “It’ll be great to hear him in person.”

In a conversation on stage with host Anthony Mason of CBS News, Weiner talked about his creative process, the film series “Required Viewing: Mad Men’s Movie Influences” and the exhibit, which Weiner called “the most expensive scrapbook ever made.”

Also in the audience was Andrea Basora, 50, a former resident of western Queens and a self-described “longtime movie buff,” who came to the event hoping to get an insight into the “Required Viewing” film series.

“I’m really interested in the whole series and what he has to say about how the films influenced ‘Mad Men,’” Basora said. Some of the film choices were self-explanatory to her, but “some choices, like ‘Blue Velvet,’ are interesting,” she said, and she wanted to know why Weiner chose them.

Mason guided Weiner through topics such as the inspiration behind the show, the casting of relatively unknown actors, the challenges of filming the pilot and how the creative team brought the time period to life.

Weiner also talked about the strange experience of seeing the “Mad Men” sets, costumes, props and more in a museum setting.

“I feel the sort of ghostliness going to a museum and seeing these things that are usually very old. These were recently inhabited. These chairs are still warm,” he said. “And the sets — the actors were just there.”

The exhibit, which remains open through June 14, features two large-scale sets (Draper’s office and the Draper family kitchen from their Ossining home), a recreation of the writers’ room, 33 costumes, a section contrasting the lifestyles and personalities of Megan and Betty, hundreds of props and a music listening station.

“I can’t imagine that 20 years ago when you took the first notes that would lead to this show you ever thought it would end up in a museum,” Mason said.

“No,” Weiner laughed. “I have had some lofty ambitions in my life that are completely unrelated to reality, and they’ve all been exceeded by this experience.”

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Not your average KFC


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

BY BRADLEY HAWKS

Yes, it is official. There is a new KFC on Broadway in Astoria. And by KFC, of course we mean Korean Fried Chicken. Specifically, fried chicken wings glazed in spicy Korean garlic sauce. But the fried chicken is such a miniscule part of what is being offered at the new Korean eatery, we focused on a whole selection of other dishes to share. The former 1-800-Flowers shop has now officially blossomed into Mokja.

“It’s a friendly way of saying, ‘Let’s Eat,’” explains one server.

Mokja is the sister to Korean Express, the more informal takeout restaurant in Manhattan. The Mokja menu features well over 50 items, covering a broader spectrum of Korea’s deliciously colorful cuisine.

While K-Pop bounces joyously overhead, don’t expect everything to follow tradition. The banchan—or side dishes—have been judiciously edited. A tandem ramekin will arrive at the table holding a delicate stack of kimchi and golden medallions of danmuji, better known as pickled daikon radish. These are intended to simply whet the palate and prepare you for the meal to come.

IMG_1674

So why not order something small to get the meal started? Like a pile of fries topped with kimchi, gochujang mayo and cilantro. Or perhaps Mokja’s intensely delicious version of steamed dumplings—or order them fried. In Korean, these little potstickers are called mandoo, and they make them at Mokja from scratch. A generous meatball of minced pork with vegetables and spices is wrapped in a thin pasta skin, pinched together into a half moon, and plopped in the steamer.

Soups and stews are also plentiful. One of the most robust versions is their Army Stew, a spicy bowl of kimchi, pork, tofu, spam, sausage, rice cakes and ramen noodles. Other classic dishes include versions of pajeon (scallion pancakes) and ddukboki (spicy rice cakes). And of course they serve a few tasty versions of bibimbap—the popular egg-topped Korean rice medley—which is even available in a stone bowl.

IMG_1604

The barbecue seems to be where the chef shines, and some of the most popular dishes include the kalbi (short ribs), pork bulbogi (thinly shaved marinated pork shoulder), pork belly and baby back ribs. Fried rice reigns supreme in a variety of combos as well. But we recommend trying the bulgogi sliders. Bulgogi literally translates to “fire meat” in Korean.

If you want to stay on the healthier side, perhaps you should try some of their fantastic japchae. Glass noodles made from sweet potatoes are sautéed with a blend of vegetables and your choice of meat. Hearty mushrooms and sprouts provide contrasting textures, and a scrambled egg is playfully laid across the top.

IMG_1582

For the time being, desserts are minimal (mochi and crème brûlée), and the restaurant is still awaiting a liquor license. The minimalistic décor includes several lovingly decorated chalkboard menus—one of which previews coming drinks (including soju), and another which maps out the architecture of a bibimbap burger, which will soon be on the menu in a new burger section.

Apparently, there are several things still to come. But in the meantime, there is plenty already there that will make you want to say, “Mokja!”

35-19 Broadway, Astoria
718-721-0654

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Community feedback leads to permanent bus service expansion along Vernon Boulevard


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

As they say, ask and you shall receive. Due to an immense amount of support from community members, it will now be easier to access the western Queens waterfront.

The MTA announced on Friday that weekend and increased weeknight service on the Q103 route, which runs down Vernon Boulevard between Astoria and Long Island City, will be permanently added after a successful pilot program started last June.

The service additions made during the experimental program include extending weeknight hours from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., and adding service on Saturdays and Sundays from about 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

During a public hearing in December on the increased service, community support was unanimous, according to the MTA.

Local leaders and business owners saw the need to expand the Q103’s service as crucial to the growing neighborhoods, which have seen a rise in new residential developments and expanded cultural attractions.

Some of the cultural spots that the bus serves include the Noguchi Museum and Socrates Sculpture Park.

“I am thrilled the MTA heeded my call to make Q103 service expansion permanent. Western Queens has long needed better bus service, so it is gratifying that the MTA responded to our concerns,” state Senator Michael Gianaris said. “There is so much happening throughout western Queens that our need for better methods of traveling between our neighborhoods has never been more pressing. This service expansion represents a hard-fought victory, but I will never stop fighting for improved transit service in our community.”

The Q103 bus line also serves as the public’s only option to connect areas to subway stations such as the F line at 21 St–Queensbridge and the 7 line at Vernon Blvd–Jackson Av.

During the pilot program, ridership levels increased by 6.8 percent on weekdays compared to the five-month period before the trial, and by 30 percent compared to average weekday use in 2012, the MTA said. Currently weekday ridership is 1,100 customers, the average Saturday ridership is about 300, and on Sundays it is about 250.

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Sussex Bank opens first NYC branch in Astoria


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Sussex Fat Cap Right picture

Sussex Bank held a grand opening on March 14 at its first New York City branch, located at 28-21 Astoria Blvd. in Astoria.

On hand for the festivities were Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, City Councilman Costa Constantinides and Vito Giannola, Sussex Bank’s executive vice president and chief retail officer.

The bank was founded in 1975 and has a strong foothold in the northern New Jersey marketplace. Sussex Bank President and CEO Tony Labozzetta said Astoria residents can expect a “high-tech, high touch” experience at the new branch, adding that “for me, the holy grail is finding that efficiency while maintaining a personal touch—combining the tools someone may need to bank anywhere, at any time—but you also have to be able to reach out to them so they know they are appreciated.”

Labozzetta is pictured with Dominick Pinto, owner of Ferrari Driving School; Joseph Giannola, local owner, developer, and real estate manager; Vito Giannola and Domenick Loccisano, Sussex vice president and business development sales manager.

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Two men wanted in series of burglaries at Astoria community center


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Video courtesy of NYPD

Two men burglarized an Astoria community center over several days, getting away with pricey electronic items, according to authorities.

The burglaries occurred at the HANAC Community Services Center at 23-16 30th Ave. starting on March 6.

At about 10:30 a.m. that day, police said, the suspects — who are both described as being in their 20s — entered an office at the center and took an iPad 2.


The same two suspects returned to the center on March 8 at about 9 a.m. and stole a Sony camera and two more iPad 2s.

The following day, just after 8 a.m., according to police, the pair then broke into the center by prying open a rear window and grabbed some gift cards and assorted tools.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.  

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Queens World Film Festival celebrates fifth year’s opening night


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

With the luck of the Irish, the Queens World Film Festival kicked off its fifth year of helping bring independent films to the big screen.

The six-day festival, which gives international and local filmmakers the opportunity to screen their films in Queens, celebrated its opening night on St. Patrick’s Day at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.

Opening night featured five films, including two from local Queens filmmakers Jamil Lahham and Lisa Melodia. The films ranged from animation to short narratives. The night also included a bonus screening of Sundance Film Festival-winning film “World of Tomorrow,” which filled the room with laughter.

“I love this film festival because I love Queens, and everything and anything that is good starts right here in my home borough of Queens County. We do it right,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. “I admire and respect and really have come to love Don and Katha Cato because you can tell they pour everything, their heart and soul, into this festival.”

The Queens World Film Festival, which will run through March 22, is organized by husband-and-wife duo of Don and Katha Cato, and this year will feature a total of 117 films, with 19 works from Queens. The films include feature narratives, documentaries and LGBT pieces.

Through the week, the films will be sorted out into different blocks based on subject and will be shown at venues such as The Secret Theatre in Long Island City, P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights and the Museum of the Moving Image.

“[Katha and Don] have literally catapulted this festival to heights that not many folks could have foreseen when they first started this,” said Borough President Melinda Katz. “Katha and Don and all the folks that are involved in the arts have truly been using the diversity that we bring to this borough to catapult us in tourism.”

Opening night also recognized director Leon Ichaso, known for movies such as “El Cantante,” “Ali” and “Hendrix,” as a “Spirit of Queens” honoree. Don Cato said Ichaso, who has been called the “poet of Latin New York,” was receiving the awards for his artistry, integrity and humanity.

The festival will also present Ichaso’s film “Bitter Sugar” on Wednesday at the Museum of the Moving Image.

“To all the filmmakers that are here please don’t lose the hope, it’s a hard world making movies,[but] it’s worth it,” Ichaso said. “It is festivals like this that in that journey we can take a rest, we can show what we do, we can meet each other and thank God they exist and thank God for the Queens World Film Festival.”

Closing night of the festival will feature a screening of the film “Dukhtar (Daughter)” by Afia Nathaniel, followed by an award ceremony at the Museum of the Moving Image.

“Experience these films during our festival, talk about them,” said Don at the end of the night. “The films are the stars of this festival.”

For a full schedule of the festival and to purchase tickets, visit www.queensworldfilmfestival.com.

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Suspect arrested in string of LIC, Astoria restaurant break-ins


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Screenshot via NYPD

One man’s burglary spree has come to an end, as officers of the 114th and 108th precincts worked together to arrest him for allegedly breaking into businesses overnight in Long Island City and Astoria dating back to last June.

According to court records, each time 40-year-old Shameek Dunbar would break into the establishments through either a door or window, and once inside would take money, ranging from $20 to $1,000, from cash registers.

Dunbar was arrested on Feb. 25 at his home in Queensbridge when forensics evidence linked him to one of four burglaries in the confines of the 114th Precinct, a police source said.

Subsequent investigation linked him to seven more burglaries, these in the confines of the 108th Precinct.

“This was fantastic detective work,” said Capt. John Travaglia, commanding officer of the 108th Precinct. “It was good working together from both precincts.”

Criminal complaints detailed nine of the 11 incidents:

  • Between June 10, 2014, at 9 p.m. and June 11 at 9:30 a.m., Dunbar broke into Andres Pizza located at 25-19 40th Ave. through a glass door. He is observed through surveillance footage cutting wires on a cash register, worth about $450. The store owner alleges that $20 was taken from the register.
  • On Oct. 24, 2014, Dunbar broke into Tequila Sunrise located at 40-01 Northern Blvd. through a side window. The owner alleged $350 was taken from a cash register.
  • Between Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 9 at 3:12 a.m., the suspect entered Barista at 11-11 44th Rd. through a front glass door. Surveillance footage shows Dunbar throwing a rock at the door. He later took money.
  • On Jan. 2 between 3:04 and 4:18 a.m. Dunbar entered Hu Department Store located at 47-09 Northern Blvd. through the front door. Although the store owner alleged $1,000 was missing from the register, Dunbar said he tried to open the register but couldn’t and then left.
  • Between Jan. 18 at 11 p.m. and Jan. 19 at 4 a.m. Dunbar entered a business at 47-29 Vernon Blvd. through a window and surveillance shows him trying to pry open a register.
  • On Jan. 24 between 3:35 a.m. and 4:05 a.m. Dunbar broke into Pachanga Patterson located at 33-17 31st Ave. The store owner alleges $200 was missing from a cash register.
  • Between Jan. 31 at 10 p.m. and Feb. 1 at 3:17 a.m. the suspect broke into Petey’s Burger at 46-46 Vernon Blvd. through a side window. Surveillance footage shows him prying open a register and taking money.
  • Between Feb. 12 at 8:30 a.m. and Feb. 13 at 11:45 a.m., the suspect entered Breadbox Café at 47-11 11th St. through a door. He the used a screwdriver to pry open a register and took $300.
  • Between Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 22 at 3:45 a.m. the suspect entered Mix Nail Salon at 44-68 21st St. through the glass front door. Surveillance video shows the suspect entering the location, prying open a register and taking money.

Dunbar is facing charges of burglary, criminal mischief, possession of burglar tools, petit larceny, and for one of the incidents a charge of grand larceny.

He is due back in Queens Criminal Court on April 9. 

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Astoria community farm brings fresh, organic produce to backyards and roofs


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy Anna Poaster/Rob McGrath

What in front looks like a regular apartment building off 21st Street in Astoria is actually home to a backyard community farm looking to grow beyond its original space and help educate others about growing their own food.

Hellgate Farm started in 2011 after Rob McGarth, an engineer by trade, purchased a building with a very large backyard. Once he started to grow his own food, he realized he was growing more than he could use.

For the first couple of seasons, McGarth managed the farm on his own and later teamed up with The Queens Kickshaw, located at 40-17 Broadway, to set up a pop-up farm stand in front of the store. 

What began as a side project for him then turned into something he wanted to focus more attention on and, by the fall of 2012, Anna Poaster came in as manager of the farm with a focus on growing vegetables. 

HellgateFood

The following year, a neighbor allowed the farm to expand into his yard. This got the team thinking about finding landowners in the Astoria and Long Island City area willing to allow them to go in and use backyard space to grow produce. In 2014, another neighbor around the block from the farm offered their space.

Now, Hellgate Farm has a total of four sites, including the original in McGrath’s backyard. One is on a rooftop of a Long Island City business. The growing of the sites then pushed the team to become a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), meaning landowners or “members” who offer their land to grow a farm/garden would receive a share of produce every week.

In its first year as a CSA, Hellgate Farm will work with landowners to grow organic vegetables and fruits and turn their underutilized backyards and rooftops into valuable garden space. In exchange for the work and care of the spaces, Hellgate Farm just asks landowners to pay for materials such as soil.

“I think people are really removed from their food, people don’t know what broccoli looks like when it grows,” Poaster said. “People are really into local foods. We are able to engage all these building owners who maybe have an interest in food, green space, and just making their space better for tenants and they really end up gaining a lot of education of what it is like to grow a garden.”

This year, Hellgate Farm plans to expand to two or three more gardens, with an emphasis on continuing to have open and personal communication with landowners.

Together with growing vegetables at the original site, Hellgate Farm also raises chickens, houses bees on the rooftop working with local beekeeper Tom Wilk, and has a garden on the roof as well. They have also partnered with local shops such as Astor Bake Shop and Vesta Trattoria and Wine Bar to provide them with local fresh produce.

Manager Anna Poaster, Hellgate Farm Founder Rob McGrath, and intern Eric Dittmore. (Photo by Paul Miller)

Manager Anna Poaster, Hellgate Farm Founder Rob McGrath, and intern Eric Dittmore. (Photo by Paul Miller)

As the Hellgate Farm team, now consisting of volunteers and a live-in intern, gets ready for the 2015 season they have also turned to Kickstarter in hopes of raising a goal of $1,500 to purchase an electric wood chipper. The campaign has raised $420 since Monday.

The wood chipper would be used to turn the leaves and branches they remove during trimming and pruning the spaces into mulch that would be used on all the sites.

“It feels awesome. It really has been humbling to see how many people care about this thing,” Poaster said. “To see a lot of supporters is really touching.”

A lot goes into finding a site to convert into a farm or garden, according to Poaster, but they are open to finding more locations in the Astoria and LIC area. Hellgate Farm’s season goes from the beginning of June until the last week of October.

For more information visit hellgatefarm.com or email eric@hellgatefarm.com. To donate to the Kickstarter campaign, click here.

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Career criminal busted for stealing airbags, hybrid battery pack in Queens


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons/Shoreline

A 48-year-old man, with more than 20 arrests in about two decades on his record, is now being charged with breaking into several cars and stealing airbags, and in one case a hybrid vehicle battery pack, according to authorities.

Peter C. Ali, an Astoria resident, was arraigned on March 5 and charged with third-degree grand larceny, third-degree criminal mischief, third-degree unauthorized use of a vehicle, fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, possession of burglar’s tools, petit larceny and resisting arrest.

According to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, on Dec. 28, 2014, Ali broke into a late model Toyota Camry yellow taxi parked on Queens Boulevard and 52nd Street in Woodside and removed the car’s hybrid battery pack, valued at about $4,000.

Later, on Feb. 25, Ali was allegedly seen using a flashlight to look into the interior of a silver Toyota Camry on the corner of 21st Street and 29th Avenue in Astoria before stealing the car’s airbag. The next day, Ali allegedly took another airbag from a 2010 Toyota minivan parked near Austin Street and Union Turnpike in Forest Hills.

Ali was caught on March 5 as officers of the Grand Larceny Unit witnessed him stealing an airbag from a car in Astoria , according to a police source.

The incident with the hybrid battery was one of 11 that have occurred in the confines of the 108th Precinct since November. During those incidents, car thieves walked away with the expensive batteries from the trunks of the vehicles. The investigation for the remaining 10 cases is ongoing.

Ali is currently being held on $100,000 bail and his next court date is scheduled for March 18. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison.

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Five sought in Astoria nightclub fight


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of NYPD

A fight at an Astoria nightclub Friday sent three stabbing victims to the hospital, and police continue to seek five men for questioning, authorities said.

The violence began about 3 a.m. inside Purlieu on 34th Street near 36th Avenue, during a party for the rapper Chedda Da Connect, according to the Daily News.

During the brawl, a 29-year-old man was stabbed in the abdomen and chest, a 20-year-old man was stabbed in his chest and a 28-year-old male was stabbed in his shoulder, police said. The three men were also robbed of their cellphones and jewelry as the fight was happening.

EMS took the victims to area hospitals in stable condition.

Police have released photos of five men wanted for questioning in the assault. It wasn’t immediately clear what led to the fight.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

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Police looking for suspect in string of NYC cellphone store thefts


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of NYPD

A cellphone thief has been swiping high-priced devices from stores around the city — including three businesses in Queens — for more than a year, police said.

Each time the male suspect steals a phone by cutting the security wires and grabbing the item before fleeing on foot, according to authorities.

Police say the crime spree started as far back as December 8, 2013, at an AT&T store located at 39-15 Main St. in Flushing, where the suspect took a Samsung Galaxy Note II.

The same man didn’t strike again until August 4, 2014, when he allegedly took a Samsung Galaxy S4 from another AT&T store, located at 30-67 Steinway St. in Astoria.

He returned to the same Main Street AT&T store on August 16 and February 4, stealing a Samsung Galaxy S5 both times.

The suspect is also accused of taking an iPhone and iPad from a T-Mobile store at 82-19 Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights on Jan. 5, along with an AT&T store on Canal Street in Manhattan and Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach in October. Police have released photos from the Jan. 5 incident.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.

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