Tag Archives: City Council

Public transit advocates expand coalition for express bus service in Queens


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Updated March 3, 1 p.m. 

With express bus service set to be created on routes between Flushing and Jamaica and along Woodhaven Boulevard this year, a coalition of public transit advocates backing the plan is expanding its efforts to win the hearts and minds of Queens community members.

As the city moves ahead with plans to create what’s known as Select Bus Service, the Department of Transportation is holding workshops to gather input from community members living in areas that would be affected by the new bus service. Often these meetings are attended by an overwhelming majority of people who are opposed to Select Bus Service.

But a coalition of transit advocates – BRT  for NYC — recently enlisted interest groups like New York Immigration Coalition to help raise awareness in communities that would benefit from faster bus travel times. They ultimately want to influence the city’s plans to speed up travel time for commuters who depend on buses.

“People who are afraid of this are going to fight harder than people who will benefit from it,” said Joan Byron, a member of the Pratt Center, which is part of the growing coalition.

During a meeting at Kew Gardens Hills last year, city officials were barraged by people opposed to any express bus service plans that would have taken away a lane of traffic from motorists and restricted it to buses only.

“You are wrecking our neighborhoods,” one woman said to a city official during the 2014 meeting. “You’re all morons. We do not want this.”

The community members worried that the city would remove a traffic lane on Main Street to allow express buses to whiz past rush hour traffic. But for Kew Gardens Hills residents, traffic lanes were more important than fast buses.

During a City Council hearing in February, transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced that the Q44 would be transformed into a Select Bus Service that will cut travel time, much like those that have already been created in Manhattan and Staten Island.

Plans for the Q44, which runs mostly along Main Street, include off-board fare collection, traffic lights that will stay green for buses and general infrastructure upgrades. The city also plans to create an express bus service called Bus Rapid Transit along Woodhaven Boulevard.

The coalition has enlisted 10 new groups to help what they, according to Byron, see as underprivileged communities living in areas that don’t have train access and have very limited bus access.

But with some of these new enlisted groups, like the Alliance for a Greater New York, Jess Nizar from Riders Alliance and others hope the pro-Select Bus Service side will get a boost with political influence.

“Without having a coalition these plans won’t reflect the needs of the people that need this the most,” Nizar said. “Sure, the city said they’re going to create SBS, but we don’t know what it will look like yet and we want people who benefit from this to give the city their input.”

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Bill could give tax credit to New Yorkers who adopt pets


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com


Fido might soon be able to pay you back for taking him out of a shelter.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras introduced to the City Council on Thursday a bill that would offer a $100 state tax credit to New Yorkers who have adopted a dog or cat from a shelter.

If the bill is taken up by the New York State Legislature and passed, it would make New York the first state to offer such a credit in the nation.

“Encouraging New Yorkers with a tax credit to adopt pets is not only compassionate but would bring relief to our overburdened animal shelters and to animal lovers who want to adopt but are weary of the initial costs,” Ferreras said. “In addition, the companionship of a pet has proven health and social benefits for adults and children.”

State Senator Kevin Parker is the prime sponsor of the bill in the state Senate.

“Councilwoman Ferreras’ resolution in support of my Senate bill S. 2894 provides a tax credit incentive to help offset adoption fees, vaccinations and initial pet care, significantly cutting the public cost of caring, feeding and providing medical care to pets that are often euthanized with an alternative and happier solution,” Parker said. “ Ferreras’ noteworthy resolution sets an example for other cities to do the same.”

According to statistics provided by the councilwoman, Animal Care & Control of New York City, the city’s contracted animal rescue organization, took in 29,809 cats and dogs between October 2013 and September 2014. Out of that number, over 6,100 were adopted.

“We have so many wonderful animals looking for loving homes each and every day, and welcome initiatives such as a pet tax credit that may encourage more New Yorkers to help make a difference for our city’s homeless cats and dogs,” said Risa Weinstock, executive director of Animal Care & Control.

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City plans to launch express bus service between Flushing and Jamaica this year


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

A planned express bus service that will run between Flushing and Jamaica is set to launch this year, according to city officials, who have included some measures to appease several communities that resisted the idea of designating lanes for buses only.

“Flushing and Jamaica are two of our key commercial centers, but traveling between them by subway means going in towards Manhattan and doubling back – and forget making the trip from the Bronx on the subway,” said Polly Trottenberg, commissioner of the Department of Transportation (DOT). “There are many destinations along this route not served by the subway system, such as Queens College and other key locations in the Bronx.”

During a City Council hearing on the citywide expansion of express buses, also called Select Bus Service, Trottenberg laid out a timeline to create a bus line that would connect the downtown areas of Flushing and Jamaica. She also said that in areas between the two destinations, bus-only lanes wouldn’t be created, respecting the wishes of many community members in areas like Kew Gardens Hills.

But Mike Sidell, a Kew Gardens Hills resident and community activist, remains skeptical because Trottenberg did not specify which communities would be spared the bus lane.

“We should hold them to the fire and get them to name all of the communities that won’t have the bus-only lanes,” Sidell said. “It looks like they’re giving us lip service, but it worries me that [Trottenberg] didn’t specifically name Kew Gardens Hills.”

Exclusive bus lanes are a common element of express bus lines, but residents in communities that live between Flushing and Jamaica resisted this idea because they feared it would create traffic back-ups by squeezing all the other traffic into only one lane.

The city appears to have responded to these residents by suggesting that bus-only lanes will be limited to areas where they are most needed, like the congested downtown Flushing area.

“Downtown Flushing and Jamaica are very different than places in between those neighborhoods,” Trottenberg said. “We’re going to have a long period of community engagement.”

The city plans to transform the Q44 into a Select Bus Service that will cut travel time, much like those that have already been created in Manhattan and Staten Island. Plans for the Q44, which runs mainly along Main Street, include off-board fare collection, traffic lights that will stay green for buses and general infrastructure upgrades.

The City Council hearing was held for testimony over a proposed bill that would require the DOT to develop a network of express buses that would stretch across the city and connect neighborhoods that have limited or no access to subways. The DOT already initiated express bus service plans on several routes, including Woodhaven Boulevard. And the hearing came soon after Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed for the expansion of express buses in his State of the City address.

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Police officers honored for saving man’s life in LIC


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer's office

Two local police officers were honored Thursday for their heroic actions that saved a life in Long Island City last month.

Police Officers William Caldarera and Corey Sarro of the 108th Precinct were given a proclamation on behalf of the City Council for saving the life of a 66-year-old man who was found motionless in front of LaGuardia Community College in December.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who was joined by Mayor Bill de Blasio, presented the honor to Caldarera and Sarro.

On Dec. 16, the officers saw a crowd of people gathering around a man lying motionless on the sidewalk in front of the college. Caldarera approached the elderly man and discovered he did not have a heartbeat and was not breathing.

Sarro then began to conduct chest compressions, while an ambulance was requested. Using a defibrillator provided by a public safety officer, Caldarera and Sarro attached the machine to the man’s chest, according to police. After a second shock, the man’s heartbeat returned and he began breathing again.

The man was taken to Elmhurst Hospital in stable condition.

Although both Caldarera and Sarro had experience with CPR while off duty, this incident was their first time having to use a defibrillator.

Both officers said it felt great once they were able to revive the man and get him to breathe again.

“There is really no feeling to describe it,” Sarro said at the time. “It was a relief to be able to save him.”

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Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer returns $20K of extra pay he gets for majority leader role


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File Photo

One local elected official is saying no thank you to a $20,000 annual stipend from the City Council.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, the second-highest ranking member of the Council as majority leader, has decided to return his annual stipend, also known as a lulu, to taxpayers. He is eligible for the extra pay, in addition to his $112,500 salary, for his leadership post.

“Returning my $20,000 stipend as majority leader of the New York City Council is the right thing to do for me,” Van Bramer said. “While donating the stipend to charity may be noble, not taking it at all is consistent with a pledge I made when I first ran for the City Council in 2009. I serve in government out of a desire to help others and to build up the people and the neighborhoods I serve. That is what drives me to work hard and it always will.”

Lulus are given to members of the City Council for leadership posts or committee assignments. According to the NY Daily News, 47 of 51 members are given the additional pay ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.

The other Queens lawmaker to renounce the extra pay was Councilman Rory Lancman, who declined $8,000, joining 10 other Council members in the other boroughs who decided not to take the money, the Daily News said.

Base pay for a member of the City Council was raised from $90,000 to $112,500 in 2006. But the job is technically part-time, allowing lawmakers to earn outside income.

Good government groups have argued that lulus undermine the independence of individual lawmakers because, they say, the committee posts are handed out by the City Council speaker based on loyalty or other political considerations.

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New cleaning initiative comes to Corona


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras' office

Corona will soon be shining brighter as a new cleaning initiative takes to the streets of the western Queens neighborhood.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras announced Friday the start of Cleanup NYC in the community. The $3.5 million City Council initiative allocated $70,000 to every district, including District 21, for street cleaning.

After receiving the allocation, Ferreras contracted the Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless (ACE) to oversee the cleaning services in Corona.

“Cleanup NYC is going to make Corona a better place to live and shop,” Ferreras said. “It’s about community, it’s about cleaning up our commercial districts and it’s about bringing young men who may not have had an opportunity in the past for them to know that here in this corner of Queens that we care about [them].”

(THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano)

(THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano)

Since December, a crew of five men who have completed ACE’s training programs have been sweeping, emptying trash cans and removing graffiti. The men, wearing neon yellow work vests, are out in the neighborhood five days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“Our purpose here is greater than cleaning the streets, it’s also providing employment opportunities and vocation and rehabilitation opportunities to folks that struggle in this community,” said Jim Martin, executive director of ACE.

The cleanup, which will continue until June 30, takes place on 108th Street between Northern Boulevard and 37th Avenue; Corona Avenue from 104th Street to Otis Avenue; along 103rd Street from 37th to Nichols Avenue; and from 94th Street to 104th Street on 37th Avenue.

These boundaries were chosen based on a large number of requests made by constituents.

“You’d be surprised at the number of garbage-related injuries we treat. Children will fall on nails or their parents will get infected trying to clean dirt off the street where their children play,” said Helen Artiaga, director of Plaza del Sol Family Health Center, located at 37-16 108th St. “I was very excited when I heard we’d get additional cleaning in the area.”

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Another Astoria waterfront warehouse for sale, likely to become condos


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Massey Knakal

The owner of another Astoria waterfront site with potential for a large development could sell the property for four times its last selling price as the neighborhood continues its hot streak.

The property at 30-55 Vernon Blvd., which Eastone 26 Ave LLC bought for $8.2 million last year, is now up for sale again and there have been offers of around $35 million, said Stephen Preuss of real estate firm Massey Knakal, which is marketing the site.

At that price, the property would trade for nearly $230 per buildable square foot, which would rank among the top land prices in Astoria. This would mean that prospective owners would most likely focus on a residential development to cover the purchase price and maximize profits, Preuss said.

Currently, a warehouse and parking lot occupy the 37,116-square-foot site, enough to erect a structure with 140,665 buildable square feet.

If air rights from the adjacent residential properties were purchased or a rezoning occurred, the property could have up to 220,000 buildable square feet, Preuss said.

Photo courtesy of Scott Bintner/PropertyShark

30-55 Vernon Blvd. Photo courtesy of Scott Bintner/PropertyShark

Preuss imagined the best use for the site would be a mixed-use development with ground-floor retail, an office or event space on the second floor, and condos on the remaining floors.

“This area is quickly emerging, and the site holds immediate value with its waterfront location along with the benefit of several local mega-projects underway,” Preuss said.

The Astoria waterfront has been scorching hot recently with planned projects like the enormous Astoria Cove, which received the green light from the City Council last month, and the Durst Organization’s Hallets Point project.

Rendering courtesy of 2030 Astoria Developers

Astoria Cove. Rendering courtesy of 2030 Astoria Developers

In addition to those projects, construction is planned next year for a glassy 77-condo building by developer New York Lions Group not far from the waterfront.

Also, in October, developer Shibber Khan paid $57 million for a waterfront site at 11-12 30th Dr., which has 460,000 buildable square feet. It is located just a block south of the Eastone 26 Ave LLC property.

Rendering courtesy of New York Lions Group

Rendering courtesy of New York Lions Group

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Bill introduced to City Council calling for term limits for community boards


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

A new bill that was set to be introduced in the City Council Wednesday calls for putting term limits on community board members appointed in mid-2016 or later.

Councilman Daniel Dromm, who is one of the initial sponsors of the bill, was set to introduce legislation in the Council’s Government Operations Committee that would establish term limits for community board members.

Currently under law there is no limit to the number of consecutive two-year terms board members could either be appointed to or serve.

If the new bill were to pass, those appointed for a first term starting April 1, 2016, or after would only be allowed to serve twelve years, or six consecutive terms.

Under the proposed bill, a board member such as former Community Board 2 chair Joseph Conley would not have been able to serve the almost three decades he had under his belt.

Dromm told the Gotham Gazette that just how communities change, he believes community boards should, too. Although he “applauds” and thanks those who serve 30 or 40 years on a board, he added that he thinks they “need to move things around.”

Community boards have up to 50 voting members. Votes by community boards are non-binding, but they often carry influence with elected officials.

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Con Edison admin appointed next Real Estate Board of New York president 


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Real Estate Board of New York

A top Con Edison exec and former City Council chief of staff will take the helm as the next president of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the organization announced Tuesday.

John Banks, vice president of government relations at Con Edison, will officially begin his new position next year after the current president, Steven Spinola, steps down.

Spinola, who has lead the association for three decades as its longest-serving president, believes Banks is a solid choice for the future of REBNY.

“I look forward to some busy months ahead as we continue to pursue a pro-growth agenda for the city while ensuring the smoothest possible transition at REBNY,” Spinola said. “I couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of this organization under John’s guidance.”

Banks is coming to REBNY after 13 years at Con Edison, where up until recently he lead a staff of 38 employees to manage government and community affairs.

Banks severed as chief of staff for the City Council speaker from 2000 to 2002 before taking his role at Con Edison.

And prior to that, Banks, who has an economics and government bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College and a master’s in public administration from Baruch College, was deputy director of the City Council’s finance division.

Banks sits on a number of boards for various organizations, including the MTA, the New York Public Library and Manhattan College. He served as a member of Mayor de Blasio’s transition committee.

“I look forward to working with the leadership of REBNY, its members, staff, the community and New York’s elected officials,” Banks said. “It is an honor to follow in Steve’s tremendous footsteps and build upon his accomplishments.”

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City Council passes Astoria Cove development project


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture

The City Council voted overwhelmingly to approve the Astoria Cove mega development on Tuesday, clearing the way for the major land use project.

The project now goes to Mayor Bill de Blasio for his likely approval. He has already praised the project after concessions were made by the developer to boost the amount of affordable housing included. He has five days to either sign or veto the measure.

Earlier in the month, Astoria Cove developers delayed the City Council Land Use Committee vote to strike a last-minute deal with elected officials concerned about having enough affordable housing in order to win committee support for the project.

Now more than 460 units of the 1,723 total apartments throughout the 2.2-million-square-foot project on the Astoria waterfront will be affordable housing.

Developers also agreed to hire union labor for construction and building maintenance jobs associated with the project, and commit to building a ferry dock.

“This agreement shows what we can achieve when the private and public sectors work together,” Astoria Councilman Costa Constantinides said. “This agreement provides real benefits to the neighborhood and will help further link our booming communities along the East River.”

Astoria Cove will consist of five buildings, three on the waterfront ranging from 26 to 32 stories and two on the upland portion of the site, including a six-story residential building.

The project, which is anticipated to take more than 10 years to complete in four different phases, will also include about 84,000 square feet of publicly accessible open space, a school and some retail.

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Astoria Cove wins City Council committee support after last minute deal


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture

Astoria Cove developers delayed the City Council Land Use Committee vote on Wednesday to strike a last minute deal with politicians and win approval for the project.

Based on the agreement, the number of below-market rate housing in the development will increase to 27 percent from 20 percent. About 468 units of the 1,723 total apartments throughout the 2.2 million square foot project on the Astoria waterfront will be deemed affordable.

Developers also agreed to hire union labor for construction and building maintenance jobs associated with the project, and commit to building a ferry dock.

Councilman Costa Constantinides, who promised to fight for more affordable housing units, fully embraced the project following the deal.

“The agreement will help transform Astoria for the better,” Constantinides said. “For the first time in city history, this developer will be required by law to provide permanently affordable housing that is within the reach of Astorians.”

The project still has to go through a full City Council vote on Nov. 25.

In addition to the Land Use Committee giving its approval, Borough President Melinda Katz has also had a change of heart due to the negotiations.

“The modified Astoria Cove proposal is consistent with Queens’ commitment to responsible development and is now closer to par with many of our chief concerns, namely housing, transit options and skilled labor,” Katz said in a statement. “Once built, this project will become a landmark accomplishment that we can be proud of here in the Borough of Queens.”

Astoria Cove will consist of five buildings, three on the waterfront ranging from 26 to 32 stories and two on the upland portion of the site, including a six-story residential building.

The project, which is anticipated to take more than 10 years to complete in four different phases, will also include about 84,000 square feet of publicly accessible open space, a school and some retail.

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Real estate roundup: City and Astoria Cove developers at odds ahead of Council vote


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture

Old Politics Hamper City’s New Approach on Affordable Housing

“The 2.2-million-square-foot project is at risk of being voted down by the City Council’s land-use committee, which must vote by Wednesday on it, according to City Council officials and the developer. The full council is expected to follow the committee’s lead.” Read more [The Wall Street Journal]

Residents told to repay aid funds given to them two years ago

“The disabled, elderly and mostly poor residents of an assisted-living center in Queens spent four miserable months in shelters after Hurricane Sandy, and now they’re getting hammered again — by the federal government.” Read more [The New York Post]

Quiet Island, With Change Coming

“When Yarin and Talia Katz first came to the United States from Israel, they spent a year sampling various parts of New York City and New Jersey with monthly rentals. In 2011, when they were ready to settle down, Mr. Katz said, ‘We pretty much knew we wanted to move to Roosevelt Island.’” Read more [The New York Times]

 

 

Astoria Cove criticizers hosting another City Hall rally ahead of Council meeting


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture

Opposition to the Astoria Cove development isn’t going down without a fight as a City Council meeting for the project draws near.

Build Up NYC, which advocates for building service workers union 32BJ, is hosting a rally against the development outside City Hall on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

Hundreds of construction and building maintenance workers and Astoria residents are expected to turn out, hoping to urge the Council to vote against the land-use application for the project as it currently stands.

The Council is set to hold a review session on the project on Monday, Oct. 20, in the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises.

The advocacy organization believes the plan does not offer enough affordable housing and is also fighting for more jobs for unionized workers. The project calls for 345 units or 20 percent of the 1,723 dwellings to be affordable housing.

Despite Community Board 2 and Borough President Melinda Katz also opposing the project because of the lack of affordable housing, the City Planning Commission gave the project the green light last month with a majority vote.

Councilman Costa Constantinides reportedly agrees the project needs more affordable housing and that some of the low-income apartments are too expensive.

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Real estate roundup: Advocates urge City Council to scrutinize Astoria Cove, USTA files for new tennis stadium


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture

Council members urged to scrutinize Astoria Cove deal

“Advocates are urging City Council members to reject the proposed Astoria Cove housing development in Queens unless the developer increases the amount of affordable housing.

“The 1700-apartment project was approved by the City Planning Commission last week and now goes to the Council, which is likely to demand changes before approving it. So far, the developer, Alma Realty, has promised that 20% of the units will be affordable.” Read more [New York Daily News]

Renderings courtesy of the United States Tennis Association

Rendering courtesy of the United States Tennis Association

USTA files for new 25,000 SF stadium

“The USTA National Tennis Center has filed applications for a double-deck and nearly 25,000 square-foot tennis stadium at 121-22 Roosevelt Avenue, in Flushing Meadows; Rossetti is designing.” Read more [New York YIMBY]

Ramen restaurant to open on Vernon Blvd

“The owner of an Astoria ramen restaurant is opening a location on Vernon Boulevard. The restaurant, which is expected to be called Tamashii Blue, will be located 47-36 Vernon Boulevard.” Read more [LIC Post]

Landlord forces three Greenpoint Avenue stores to close, property’s future is uncertain

“The face of Greenpoint Avenue—between 47th and 48th Streets—is going to change as three long-time stores are closing. King Boulevard, SSS Video and Azteca Restaurant have all been notified that they have to leave—as the owner of the property is selling it.” Read more [Sunnyside Post]

Doe Fund to continue cleaning the streets of Rego Park, Kew Gardens, Forest Hills


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz's office.

The streets of central Queens will continue to shine.

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz announced Wednesday that she secured $123,000 to renew The Doe Fund services to clean up the streets of select parts of Rego Park, Kew Gardens and Forest Hills, according to the councilwoman’s office.

The Doe Fund, a nonprofit organization, which employs recently homeless or formerly incarcerated people and is also in other parts of Queens, cleans the sidewalks and picks up the trash on Austin Street and Continental Avenue in Forest Hills. In Rego Park, workers maintain the area from 63rd Drive to Alderton Street along Queens Boulevard. And in Kew Gardens and Forest Hills they are on Metropolitan Avenue from Lefferts Boulevard to Woodhaven Boulevard.

“I am so pleased that we are able to continue using The Doe Fund,” Koslowitz said. “Commercial strips are being cleaned by men and women who are transitioning from difficult circumstances to productive lives. This is a win-win situation for everyone.”

Tiebreaker Productions, a musical concerts promoter at the West Side Tennis Club, donated an extra $27,122 to the Doe Fund.

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