Tag Archives: Astoria Boulevard

Whitestone resident petitions again for Metro-North stops in western Queens


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo by Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Patrick Cashin

The wheels are turning once again for one Queens resident who hopes to bring more transportation options to the borough.

Ali Fadil, a Whitestone resident who previously lived in Astoria and Jackson Heights, has started an online petition calling on the MTA to bring Metro-North Railroad access into western Queens as part of its plan to expand the line to Penn Station.

In the MTA’s 2015-2019 $32 billion Capital Program, the agency plans a project that would take the Metro-North’s New Haven line directly to Penn Station, adding four new stations in the Bronx. As part of expansion, the line would use existing track, owned by Amtrak, to go directly into Manhattan.

In doing this, the line would go into Queens but without making any stops in the borough.

“Metro-North wants to run trains through Queens but has no interest in serving Queens, especially since western Queens has seen a lot of growth in the past years,” Fadil said.

This is Fadil’s second petition regarding the expanding of Metro-North stops into the borough. In 2012, when he was only 18, Fadil began his initial petition which gathered 263 signatures. He said the support he got the first time around helped him make his plan more specific on what needs to be done.

“I am here to make sure that our communities get what we deserve and Queens shouldn’t be left out in the cold,” said Fadil, who is a senior studying political science and sociology at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. “When it comes to public transportation, it’s Queens that’s the forgotten borough, not Staten Island.”

The 20-year-old’s petition, which started on Monday and as of Tuesday has 44 signatures, calls on the transportation agency to bring the New Haven line to western Queens and also study two locations along the Amtrak line to be considered for stations. The locations are Astoria Boulevard between 41st and 44th streets, and Northern Boulevard at Broadway, which is close to the M and R trains and two local buses.

The petition also calls on Amtrak to make “necessary structural repairs” to the tracks which go over the Hell Gate Bridge in Astoria and would be used during the expansion of the Metro-North New Haven line.

According to Fadil, the existing Amtrak line is “falling apart” and in need of repair.

In the capital program, the MTA said the Metro-North expansion would include upgrades to power and signal systems, installing of new track and realigning existing tracks, and replacing railroad bridges to accommodate more trains.

According to an MTA spokesperson, there are no plans to construct a Metro-North station in Queens because it is too costly to build an elevated station for a low ridership.

“If I see something that isn’t being done right, I want to see it done right for people,” Fadil said. “That’s why I do what I do.”

Fadil said he now hopes to get support from local elected officials and leaders to help make his ideas a reality.

To check out the petition, click here.

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MTA bus fatally hits woman in East Elmhurst


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

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A 55-year-old woman is dead after an MTA bus struck her at an East Elmhurst intersection Wednesday night, according to police.

The victim, Melania Ward, was crossing at Astoria Boulevard and 80th Street at about 10 p.m. when she was hit by a Q47 bus that was making a right turn onto Astoria Boulevard, authorities said.

Ward, who lived not far from the accident in the same neighborhood, was taken to Elmhurst Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

The driver of the bus remained on the scene and the investigation is ongoing, police said.

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125-year-old East Elmhurst flower shop blossoms next to controversial homeless shelter


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

For more than a century, one East Elmhurst family has been helping their neighborhood bloom.

Donhauser Florist, located at 71-01 Astoria Blvd., was established in 1889 by Hans Donhauser, a German florist who immigrated to the United States. While working at a Brooklyn cemetery he heard that St. Michael’s Cemetery in Queens was in need of a florist.

He then moved to East Elmhurst and built a greenhouse on 71st Street and Astoria Boulevard. After a few years, 12 more greenhouses were added and a flower shop was built on 49th Street and Astoria Boulevard.

Donhauser’s family worked at the shop, including his sons, daughters and even his great granddaughter Gladys.

“When your parents are in the business, you’re in the business,” said Gladys about working at the shop since she was 12 years old. “It’s all I’ve known.”

Donhauser Florist moved to 71-01 Astoria Blvd. and replaced one existing greenhouse, while the other 12 were later sold to become the Westway Motor Inn.

Gladys, who grew up at the house currently still standing next to the shop, has owned the store since 1977 together with her husband William Gray, who initially started working at the 49th Street shop.

Since then the Grays have been providing flower arrangements for their neighbors, some of whom they have shared first communions with and years later, weddings. William even arranged all the flowers for his own wedding.

The shop provides flowers for visitors to St. Michael’s Cemetery, located across the Grand Central Parkway, first communions, weddings and other special occasions.

However, the Grays, who have been married for 60 years, say business has been up and down ever since the city’s Department of Homeless Services decided to first use the Westway Motor Inn, located right next door, as a temporary homeless shelter.

“It was once an exquisite hotel with beautiful rooms and a pool,” Gladys said. “Since about a decade ago we started to have problems with it. People were afraid to come around the shop.”

Two weeks ago, the city approved converting the motel into a permanent homeless shelter housing more than 120 families.

Although they are nervous on how the permanent shelter will affect the community and their business, the couple continues to welcome customers with smiles on their faces.

“I hope it stays for 125 more years,” Gladys said.

 

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Stringer criticizes DHS for handling of homeless shelter placement process


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos by Salvatore Licata

Amid ongoing controversy over several Queens homeless shelters, the city comptroller has said the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is “failing” in the way it deals with homelessness throughout the five boroughs.

In a letter to DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor, City Comptroller Scott Stringer addressed the ongoing “homelessness crisis, particularly among families” in New York City. He noted that there are different causes that contribute to the rise, however the “current playbook” in dealing with the issue needs to be changed.

“Especially concerning to my office is the emergency contracting approach that the Department of Homeless Services has employed to site new facilities in neighborhoods with minimal community consultation,” Stringer wrote in the letter on Thursday.

In one case, Glendale residents have been fighting for more than two years to stop an abandoned manufacturing plant from becoming a homeless shelter. The community complained that they were given little to no notice about the shelter.

“DHS must begin to immediately repair its relationships with local communities by creating a robust consultative process with community stakeholders for all of its currently planned sites and for those proposed in the future,” Stringer wrote. “This process should allow for meaningful input from local stakeholders, advocacy groups, and elected officials.”

In the past month, two western Queens neighborhoods have also had to deal with unannounced homeless shelters being moved into two hotels.

Hundreds of protestors spoke against the city’s initiative to house homeless families at the Pan American Hotel on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst without asking for any input from the community.

Last week, the DHS approved the conversion of the Westway Motor Inn on Astoria Boulevard into a shelter housing over 100 families. Residents and elected officials are outraged the agency let them know about the shelter just a day before the families began moving into it.

“If DHS continues to neglect communities until after emergency contracting decisions have been made it will neither benefit from local knowledge of the area nor engender harmonious integration with the surrounding communities,” Stringer wrote.

 

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MTA to begin weekend bus trial expanding service along Vernon Boulevard


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

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Starting this weekend, residents and visitors will have better access to the western Queens waterfront.

The Q103 bus line, which connects Astoria and Long Island City via Vernon Boulevard, will offer service to riders on weekends, starting Sunday and operate later on weekday evenings, according to the MTA.

In April, the transit agency said the schedule update would serve as a trial program, and it would receive comments from the community at an MTA public hearing to be scheduled at a later date. After the public hearing, a decision will be made to keep the service or not. It has not been determined how long the trial program will run.

“This announcement is a milestone for all of us who fought for years to get proper bus service for the growing communities of Astoria and Long Island City,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who has been calling for the extra service on the bus line since 2011. “I am thrilled the MTA is finally realizing western Queens’ need for increased mass transit is real and pressing.”

Gianaris is also urging the MTA to make the Q103 expansion changes permanent.

The weekend service will run from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and, in addition, the Q103 will also extend its weekday service hours until 9 p.m., instead of 7:30 p.m. The travel path and bus stops will not be affected, the MTA previously said.

“These enhancements were all a result of listening to our customers and keeping close watch on changing ridership trends,” said MTA NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco.

Local leaders and business owners see the need to expand the Q103’s service as crucial to the growing neighborhoods.

“It is a positive step in improving transportation options in our neighborhood,” Councilman Costa Constantinides said. “The Vernon Boulevard corridor has been one of the more under-served transit thoroughfares in western Queens. Increasing bus service would be a vital resource to commuters traveling to Manhattan and to residents connecting from Astoria to Long Island City.”

According to officials, the Q103 ridership has been increasing in the past years, rising from 558 riders per day in 2011 to about 790 in 2014.

The MTA has also announced that this Sunday the Q19 will extend its western last stop from Astoria Boulevard and 21st Street to the East River waterfront at 27th Avenue and 2nd Street.

The Q102 will then also remain on 30th Avenue between Crescent Street and 8th Street, according to the MTA, with the stops on Crescent Street, Newtown Avenue and Astoria Boulevard to be relocated to 30th Avenue. All bus stops along Astoria Boulevard will instead be served by the Q19.

For more information visit www.mta.info.

 

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Community boards OK rezoning for East Elmhurst, Corona


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

locator_map

Proposed rezoning of parts of East Elmhurst and Corona seems to be on track, with approvals from both Community Boards (CB) 3 and 4.

The Department of City Planning received the go-ahead from the boards — a first step since Commissioner Amanda Burden’s June 3 announcement of the beginning of the official public review process of a 127-block rezoning of East Elmhurst and 14 block fronts along Roosevelt Avenue in Corona.

The objective of the rezoning is to protect the current character of East Elmhurst’s residential blocks, which are made up of one- and two-family detached, semi-detached and attached homes.

“This rezoning, which was developed in close consultation with the community and local elected officials, will protect the cherished one- and two-family composition of this neighborhood,” said Burden.

The proposal also looks to update commercial overlays in order to reinforce the main commercial corridors, better reflect current land use trends and constrain commercial incursions onto residential streets. The rezoning will aim to strengthen the character of Astoria Boulevard and help it stand out from residential streets.

The 14 block fronts along Roosevelt Avenue that are included in the rezoning proposal will also help increase development in the area. For example it will allow the 82nd Street Partnership’s Jackson Heights-Corona Business Improvement District to provide services for the merchants and community on the busy strip.

“Though currently zoned for residential use, we’re seeing increased commercial activity along the stretch of Roosevelt Avenue from Elmhurst Avenue to 114th Street,” said Seth Taylor, executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership.

“The rezoning pairs nicely with the proposed Jackson Heights- Corona BID, which would promote local economic growth and be a positive force for the entire commercial corridor.”

The rezoning proposal will now be reviewed by the Borough Board, Borough President, the City Planning Commission and then the City Council.

 

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Kids crossing dangerous thoroughfares for class


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

Proposed rezoning plans might send tots trudging across a treacherous stretch.

The Department of Education (DOE) announced plans earlier this month to shift students in School District 30 to alleviate overcrowding in elementary schools in Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona. Currently, the four existing elementary schools in this area — P.S. 228, P.S. 148, P.S. 149 and P.S. 127 — each serve an average of 200 students over capacity. The DOE’s initial plan involved kids crossing Astoria Boulevard, to lighten the load at P.S. 127. A revised plan sent a different group of students zoned for P.S. 148 over Northern Boulevard.

Upcoming rezoning in School District 30 is also to incorporate a new school, P.S. 329, which is set to open in Corona in 2013.

According to Jeff Guyton, co-president of Community District Education Council 30 (CDEC 30), a three-block section of residences was accidentally overlooked during planning. Those children, who under rezoning would attend P.S. 228 instead of P.S. 148, would filter into P.S. 149 after second grade. In order to get to P.S. 149, those students would need to cross Northern Boulevard.

This discovery was brought to the attention of the CDEC 30 at a public meeting several weeks ago at P.S. 127 by a member of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

According to the DOE, currently eight students cross Northern Boulevard to attend school — the same number that would need to cross if the current rezoning plan goes through.

“Northern Boulevard was taken into consideration in various iterations of the plan,” said a DOE representative. “However in this proposal, we are also balancing the need to minimize the number of students crossing Astoria Boulevard.”

According to Guyton, many families want their children to continue attending P.S. 149 and do not mind crossing the busy street. Many parents, who were former students of the elementary school themselves, look forward to continuing the tradition and do not mind crossing the street with their children. Guyton also said there is a crossing guard posted at Northern and Junction Boulevard who assists pedestrians across the street.

Guyton said CDEC 30 is working in conjunction with the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Planning (OPP) to ensure children are not required to cross a busy street to get to school.

“We try to strike a balance between advocacy and cooperation,” said Isaac Carmignani, co-president of CDEC 30. “If we’re not collaborative and we’re not partnering, we’re not going to do the best.”

On Wednesday, September 26, the CDEC 30 met with members of the OPP to review several adjusted rezoning plans. While Guyton would not divulge the details of the plan, he assured The Courier that both groups are working together to create a plan that accommodates all students.

Astoria Boulevard: Voices in Motion


| bdoda@queenscourier.com

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Astoria Boulevard – one the most popular indie folk/pop acts in the New York City circuit – was never meant to be a band. It happened by chance. Founding members Dan Scott and Phillip Drennen, who met while on the national tour of Altar Boyz – a mockumentary musical of sorts – passed the time between shows by fooling around with a ukulele and writing music. By the time they got back to New York, they had enough solid songs ready for to be recorded.

“We played them for the cast and they thought we had something special going,” said Drennen. “We immediately got ourselves into a recording studio and self-produced a five song EP entitled ‘One of These Days.’ Our friends seemed to respond very positively to our music, so we put together an EP release party.”

Before they could perform their songs for the first time with a full band, they needed someone who knew his way around the acoustic guitar while adding a third part harmony. Through cosmic intervention, they both knew the right man for the job. Max Demers went to high school with Drennen. They sang in several groups together and later met Scott singing in the “Voices of Gotham,” a New York City barbershop quartet. He also turned out to be a great songwriter, according to his band mates.

“When we got together for our first rehearsal, the sound of three voices singing our music seemed to be the missing link. From then on, our duo was a trio.”

While the introspective storytelling, feel-good songwriting and unsuspecting old-school vibes are core strengths of the band, their ability to “hook-up” during moving harmonies gives Astoria Boulevard a decisive edge. When listening to their first full-length album, “This is Astoria Boulevard” listeners will hear that no one part is greater than the whole. For a band comprised of 20-somethings, it’s the vocals that are mature beyond their years.

“All three of us started harmonizing at a young age,” said Drennen. “Much like dancing or painting, there is a natural skill that people are born with, but if it’s nurtured at an earlier age, it becomes second nature. . . The only way to keep our harmonies tight is to listen to each other. Before shows, we sing through songs just to listen and lock chords, even songs we’ve been singing for a couple years. That being said, we knew there was quite a strong chemistry between the three of us from the first time we sang together.”

Like other emerging Queens artists, the band members are supportive of the local scene citing other acts like Aaron Lavigne, The Yes Team and Mat Snow.

“[The Queens music scene] is up and coming at the moment,” said Scott. “There are many great bands and singers and songwriters just waiting to be discovered.”

“When we first started out, we played an open mic night at Waltz Astoria,” Drennen continued. “It’s a great place for emerging artists to try out materials and get comfortable in front of an audience. It’s a gracious crowd.”

After playing more and more shows, the gracious crowd is beginning to reciprocate the love the band feels for their audience by singing along to songs like “Just So You Know” – the first song they wrote together and “Pappy Van Winkle” – a staple at their live shows and self-professed buddy-drinking anthem.
“The ultimate goal of any artist is to have some sort of impact on people’s lives and give them an outlet to deal with the emotions they’re feeling, be it good or bad,” said Drennen. “Early on, a friend of mine posted “Just so you know, I like my coffee black” (a line from “Just So You Know”) on his Facebook status and I got major butterflies in my stomach. It’s very rewarding to hear people say “I know how you feel,” or “Did you write that song about me?” It means we’re able to take something specific and make it accessible for the general public.”

With bands like The Shins, The Avett Brothers, The Decembrists and Mumford and Sons bringing folk rock back to the forefront of the music scene, the timing could not be more perfect for Astoria Boulevard to make their mark. Currently, they are focusing on playing live shows in New York City with aspirations of branching out to other cities like Philadelphia and Boston. Like their laid back album, the band is taking things as they come and is grateful to be invited to play venues and events.

Their music is available on iTunes and on their website www.astoria-boulevard.com. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter to learn about upcoming gigs. For a band that almost never was, they are certainly happy to have a fan base that gets their music and feels the universal themes in their songs.

“Our goal for every show we play, every song we write is never to say, ‘look how cool we are, look how high we can sing, look how trendy our clothes are.’ It’s to say music should be fun, stories should be told, and as humans, our basic emotions are all the same. . . Maybe we won’t change the world with our music or solve your problems, but I bet you’d forget about them if you came to our show. And I’m sure you’d be smiling,” said Drennen.