Tag Archives: borough president melinda katz

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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Special guests visit 104th Precinct Observation Patrol meeting


| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photos by Anthony Giudice

Members of the 104th Precinct Civilian Observation Patrol (104COP) greeted Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Assemblyman Mike Miller and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to the group’s March 12 meeting at St. Pancras Pfeifer Hall in Glendale.

Katz took the floor and gave a borough-wide update for those in attendance. She said that her office is focused on improving all aspects of life in Queens.

“One of the great things, I think, about my job is balancing what’s happening here,” Katz said. “You want to create jobs, but you also want to keep the communities good and pristine. You want to make sure that we are building schools, but you also want to make sure that folks that are living in the community still have that neighborhood aspect.”

Katz touted that Queens was named the number one tourist destination in the United States by Lonely Planet Travel Guide and said her office has been focused on balancing the need for tourism in the borough and the communities in Queens.

“We want to keep our families in the borough. They’re only going to stay if they can get jobs, and they’re only going to stay if they can educate our children,” Katz said. “But at the same time, keeping the communities the great places that we know that they are and mixing that together and making that okay.”

“[The 104COP] plays a huge role in that,” Katz told those in attendance. “Because you, with the 104th [Precinct], you all in this room make sure that we’re safe.”

Katz laid out her plans for the future of the New York State Pavilion. In her first year as borough president, over $6 million has been put aside to save the pavilion. “It is going to [start] to be lit up very soon, within a month or so,” Katz said.

Another main point of Katz’s speech was how her office is beginning to get rid of the trailers in schools around Queens due to overcrowding.

Photo: Anthony Giudice

“No one should go to school that way,” she said. “One by one we are getting rid of the trailers.”

During the meeting, Capt. Christopher Manson, the commanding officer of the 104th Precinct, announced that he will be moving to the 110th Precinct based in Elmhurst.

“Truly I want to thank you,” Manson said to the people in attendance. The 104th Precinct has reportedly been down in crime for the 26 months Manson served as its commander.

Miller thanked Manson for all the work he has done for the 104th Precinct and the communities that it serves. He presented Manson with a plaque of appreciation.

Public Information Officer of the ATF, Charles Mulham, brought agents from the ATF to the meeting to talk about what he and his agents in the ATF do.

Photo: Anthony Giudice

“We are one of the only agencies that are really down and dirty, with the locals, dealing with the guns, dealing with the guns and the drugs, dealing with the violent crime,” Mulham explained.

Mulham showed two videos and took questions from those in attendance before bringing out some prop guns and weapons for a show-and-tell.

They had several prop guns for those in attendance to handle, as well as a stun gun, a pen gun and a body bunker.

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Corona community opposes planned conference hotel even after downsize


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Renderings courtesy of Fleet Financial Group

Plans to construct a luxurious 25-story hotel and convention center in Corona are crumbling amid growing pressure from residents and politicians who feel the structure would degrade the quality of life in the neighborhood by obstructing views, increasing traffic and creating pollution.

Now the developer, Fleet Financial Group, led by president Richard Xia, is considering downsizing the project to a 12-story mixed-use building called the Eastern Emerald Hotel at 112-21 Northern Blvd., according to reports. Even so, residents are against the revised development as well.

“They thought we were a quiet neighborhood. They awoke a sleeping giant,” said Beryl Major, who refers to herself as the facilitator of S.T.O.P. (Standing Together On Principle), a group of residents formed to combat the development of the center. “What [Xia] wants to build, whether it’s as of right or not, it doesn’t belong in this neighborhood.”

S.T.O.P. held its second public meeting Thursday at First Baptist Church across the border in East Elmhurst, which featured ranking members of the Department of City Planning.

Borough President Melinda Katz and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras were also in attendance, and joined the chorus against the project, believing it would become a glaring structure among the community of low-rise homes.

Fleet Financial Group paid $17 million in 2013 for the site at 112-21 Northern Blvd., which was home to the DiBlasi Ford dealership.


The group originally planned for a $200 million hotel and exhibition hall, with 292 hotel rooms, 236 apartments, a shopping center, a high-class restaurant and a 300-space garage.

However, after scaling back the project to the as of right plans, or what it is legally entitled to build without a variance or rezoning, now the development could become a 12-story mixed-use residential, hotel and community facility building, with a parking garage and a community facility.

This smaller project would have 206 apartments in eight upper floors of residential space, and 197 hotel guestrooms in three floors, according to the plans obtained by The Courier.

Xia said the reason for scaling back the project was because of traffic conditions, according to a report.

But the larger 25-story project would have needed to go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) for a required rezoning, and it most certainly would have been doomed without community, City Council and borough president support.

Because of the extensive amount of construction projects occurring around their neighborhoods, including the National Tennis Center expansion and the mega mall at Willets Point, residents are seeing too much change happening too quickly.

Even Ferreras — a supporter of the Willets Point plan — hopes the new planned hotel is a fleeting idea.

“I’m not someone who believes that we have to stop every project,” she said, “but there are projects that just make no sense. And this one contextually makes no sense for our community.”

In February the Department of Buildings disapproved permits to construct the 12-story building.

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Port Authority director, BP Melinda Katz, industry leaders to headline first QNS Real Estate Conference


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Real Estate Conference logo edit

Pat Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, will be the keynote speaker at the first QNS Real Estate Conference on Feb. 26.

As head of the bi-state agency that oversees the borough’s airports, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy, Foye is positioned to speak about the major transformation coming to the airports, including the proposed LaGuardia AirTrain, which Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced.

Foye, who was deputy secretary for economic development for Cuomo, headlines speakers from key firms in the real estate industry who will attend the networking event, which Star Network and The Queens Courier are hosting in association with the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). Real estate website PropertyShark, Flushing Bank, Mattone Group and Meridian Capital Group are sponsoring the symposium.

“This event is a great opportunity for the public to learn about the latest trends and investment information in Queens from the top people in our industry,” said Jamie McShane, REBNY senior vice president for communications. “Queens is becoming increasingly important as we have seen projects from Astoria Cove to Hallets Point, and projects at Queens Plaza South and the LIC waterfront, as well as Willets Point. And the members of the REBNY are very involved with a growing number of exciting projects in Queens, our largest borough and the most ethnically diverse county in America.”

Borough President Melinda Katz, who branded Queens the “World’s Borough,” will deliver the opening remarks at the event, which will take place at Terrace on the Park at Flushing Meadows Corona Park and begin at 8 a.m.

Following Katz’s opening comments and Foye’s keynote speech, members of the real estate industry from top firms will break into three panel discussions.

The panels will focus on different themes of the real estate industry in the borough, such as why big investments are being made in Queens, experiences in the borough from real estate companies, and expert perspectives on developments in Ridgewood and nearby Bushwick.

“The Queens market has huge opportunity and this event will shed light on the power of the Queens real estate market,” said Josh Schneps, co-publisher of The Queens Courier. “Our goal is to inform people and network. This event is a perfect platform to do so for the industry. We hope people interested in the Queens market will attend and hopefully make investments in the borough.”

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Real Estate Board celebrates retiring president at 119th annual banquet


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Gotham Photo Company

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) held its popular annual banquet for the 119th time Thursday and celebrated the end of an era.

President Steven Spinola, who led the industry advocacy organization for 28 years, becoming its longest serving leader, was honored at the event with the Harry B. Helmsley Distinguished New Yorker Award for “invaluable contributions” to the city’s real estate community. Spinola plans to step down from his position this year, and Con Edison executive John Banks will take over the helm.

More than 2,300 real estate personnel attended the banquet and cocktail party, as well as Mayor Bill de Blasio, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Sen. Charles Schumer and other top elected officials, and the city’s real estate leaders.

“We are enormously proud to honor our dear friend Steven Spinola for all the spectacular work he does for our industry,” said REBNY Chairman Rob Speyer. “For nearly three decades, through good times and bad, Steve’s professionalism, thoughtful advocacy and generosity of spirit has inspired our community.”

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BP Katz recommends against controversial Kew Gardens Hills synagogue expansion


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

A controversial plan to expand a Kew Gardens Hills synagogue suffered another major setback.

Borough president Melinda Katz recommended against the expansion of the Sephardic Congregation of Kew Gardens Hills on Wednesday, citing the possible disturbance it would cause for the community. Community Board 8 members overwhelmingly denied the variance application in June.

Leaders of the synagogue at 141-41, 72nd Ave. applied for a variance to build a third floor on its two-story building to accommodate the temple’s growing congregation and school. But community members protested against the proposed expansion because of the potential for an increase in garbage, more noise, poor building maintenance, traffic congestion and “a lack of adequate student supervision outside of the school facility.”

“There is no question as to the need for the services provided to their congregation and students,” Katz said in her decision, but added:  “An enlargement of the facility and addition of new congregants and students may make all of those negative conditions worse for the surrounding neighborhood.”

The congregation was established more than two decades ago after converting a residential two-story house into a synagogue. A school, Yeshiva Ohel Simcha, was added soon after and currently enrolls 70 students of elementary school age every weekday. Now there are two floors and a cellar in the building. The proposed third floor would be used to accommodate new students,  they currently have to turn away due to classroom-size limitations, congregation leaders said. They hope to add six additional classrooms, so they can house 185 students, doubling student enrollment and adding new teachers.

In addition to the issues raised by the community, the building has more than a dozen open Department of Buildings violations, including a broken elevator, lack of a Certificate of Occupancy and lack of fire alarms.

The congregation’s variance application for the third floor included asking for permission to work in the building despite lacking the required Certificate of Occupancy and other violations. This was necessary, according to congregation lawyer Jay Goldstein, because without it they can’t legally work on the building, since it currently doesn’t meet requirements. They pledged to amend the violations if approved for the application and to come up with solutions to the community’s issues.

Katz, however, did support the request to legalize the current building despite the violations, in order to allow the temple to continue practicing and give its owners a chance to fix violations throughout the property.

“The house of worship and school has been a part of the neighborhood for over 20 years,” Katz said. “It should be allowed to remain to continue providing services to their existing congregation and students.”

The Board of Standards and Appeals has the final say on the expansion of the synagogue.

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BP Katz denies proposed Ridgewood rental building in industrial zone


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of  Nicholas Strini/PropertyShark

Ridgewood residents concerned about the loss of industrial space scored a major victory after Borough President Melinda Katz rejected a variance for a new three-story building with a penthouse on land zoned for manufacturing uses.

The decision comes after Councilman Antonio Reynoso and Community Board 5 opposed the project, which would be located at 1506 Decatur St., also known as 11-01 Irving Ave.

The total proposed size of the building would be nearly 5,000 square feet, and there would be two apartments on each of the three floors, and the penthouse above.

However, the area is part of the South of Myrtle Avenue Manufacturing Area (SOMA) Industrial Business Zone (IBZ), and although the block has low row houses with multiple dwellings, the land is zoned for manufacturing use. Katz and supporters of the city’s manufacturing sector hopes that it could be used as its zoning intended.

“Even though the applicant’s site is narrow and small, some manufacturing businesses may be able to utilize the space due to technological advances in recent years. They can operate and function cleanly and more efficiently using a smaller footprint,” Katz said in her decision. “Therefore, this site should be development with uses that are compatible with the industrial nature of the SOMA IBZ.”

The site is a 2,258-square-foot vacant lot that once had a residential building that was demolished in 1971, according to Katz. 11-01 Irving Ave LLC, which submitted the proposal for the project, purchased the land in 2013 for $180,000, according to city records, more than double its trading price in 2005 ($81,000).

Community Board 5 denied the plans for the site in a 21-13 vote in June for similar reasons as those given by the borough president.

In her decision, Katz said the loss of the manufacturing businesses over the past decades made many parcels of industrial land be redeveloped for other uses, but some should be preserved for the future of the industry.

“Industrial Business Zones were created for the purpose of protecting industrially zoned areas from other types of development while the manufacturing sector of the New York City economy reshapes itself,” Katz said.

The proposal will now go to the Board of Standard and Appeals, which has the final say on the plan.

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Kew Gardens Hills synagogues experience growing pains


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy Nicholas Strini/PropertyShark

The large and expanding Jewish community in Kew Gardens Hills has fueled the need for synagogue expansions, according to religious leaders, but some projects hinge on special permits which aren’t always easy to obtain.

In the latest batch of synagogues seeking variances, Community Board 8 will host a public hearing on Monday, Oct. 27, regarding a structural expansion of one place of worship and special operational permits for another. This comes after the board denied an application in June for expansion of a third synagogue, which is still hoping to get approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals in an upcoming vote.

The congregation of Torath Haim Ohel Sara at 144-11 77th Ave. is hoping the community board approves changes to an extant variance to allow it to operate without the lawfully required amount of space in its front, side and rear yards. They also request an extension of time to operate without a certificate of occupancy.

But this property, which is also undergoing construction, has Buildings Department violations for ignoring a stop-work order, according to city records, and has accrued penalties totaling nearly $100,000. Calls for comment from the synagogue were not returned.

A synagogue Just a block away, in a two-story building at 147-02 76th Rd., will also come before the board, hoping to get approval to add a floor to make room for a school and an office for the rabbi.

Isak Ambramov of Sharey Tefilah Synagogue initially applied for a brand-new three-story building in 2010 on the site and architectural firm Gerald Caliendo was slated to design it. However, the Buildings Department disapproved the plans, city records show.

And there hasn’t been any movement on the expansion application of Sephardic Congregation at 141-41 72nd Ave.

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

The community board denied its appeal for a variance to expand to three floors in June, after community residents strongly opposed it due to the potential increase of noise and garbage along with 15 existing Building Department violations. The application then went to Borough President Melinda Katz for a public hearing later in the month.

Community Board 8 District Manager Marie Adam-Ovide told The Courier she has not heard from Borough Hall as yet on that variance.

The borough president’s “recommendation is still being worked on,” according to a spokesman from Katz’s office, who said it would not be coming out Thursday, but did not have a definitive time frame beyond that point.

The Board of Standards and Appeals has the final say on all the applications.

The community board hearing will be held at Parsons Junior High School, 158-40 76th Rd., at 7:30 p.m.

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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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Queens Restaurant Week holds preview event at Atlas Park


| slicata@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Queens Economic Development Corporation /Gallery photos by Salvatore Licata

Queens Restaurant Week kicked off on Monday with an outdoor extravaganza at The Shops at Atlas Park as participants gave out free samples of their goods.

More than 200 establishments are participating in Queens Restaurant Week, which will see most restaurants offering three-course prix fixe dinners for $28 and lunch for $14.

“One of the reasons we are known as ‘The World’s Borough’ is that our amazing diversity allows us to offer an incredible variety of the best dishes from around the world,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who was at the kickoff. “Queens Restaurant Week is a great way to highlight this fact and encourage both borough residents and visitors to enjoy some of this outstanding cuisine. I hope everyone will take advantage of this great opportunity to enjoy some really amazing food.”

Twelve eateries along with the Queens Brewery participated in the kickoff, including Bourbon Street, Il Falco, Austin’s Ale House, Shiro of Japan, Trattoria Cerbone, Fiamma 41, O’Neill’s of Maspeth, California Pizza Kitchen, Room 55, Deluge, Agora Tavern and Neir’s.

“This gives us the opportunity for people to recognize there are really, really cool places in Queens that can rival any other place in the city,” said Loycent Gordon of Neir’s restaurant.

The 11th Annual Queens Restaurant Week officially begins on Monday, Oct. 13, and restaurants in almost 30 neighborhoods across the borough will be participating.

“It was a really incredible experience to meet new perspective customers and interact with other local businesses. There was a good presence of people who were excited to try out some new restaurants,” said Frank Tramontano, general manager of Fiamma 41, located at 214-26 41st Avenue in Bayside. “This is our first year participating in Queens Restaurant Week. We are very excited to be able to welcome new customers that may have never noticed that we were here.”

Cuisines of every variety, such as French, Greek, Uruguayan, Italian and Salvadoran foods and so many others, will be on offer.

“This is NYC’s most delicious bargain, as there truly is something for every taste bud,” said Queens Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Seth Bornstein. ”Plus, it fits in perfectly with the Queens Tourism Council’s mission to inform on the borough’s wonderful places to eat, shop, enjoy culture and have family fun.”

Restaurant week is something that will help Queens show off what it has to offer, state Sen. Joe Addabbo said.

“Queens Restaurant Week is a time to show what we have to offer as a borough,” Addabbo said. “This helps our local economy and when the business and store owners do well so do the residents.”

 

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Sunnyside Yards development back in discussion with possible study


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Jim Henderson/ Wikipedia Commons

The space above the Sunnyside Yards railroad complex could contain a hospital, affordable housing buildings, a school, a public space or some combination of those to form a new community.

At this point, Community Board 2 isn’t sure what could be built, but members approved urging Borough President Melinda Katz to begin a feasibility study regarding “decking,” or building a platform above the railroad tracks, in a public meeting Thursday — a plan that has long been floated around by top city officials.

Board chair Joseph Conley brought the matter up in the meeting for a vote, even though he wasn’t sure how much square footage of space the area would create and couldn’t pinpoint future challenges.

However, he suggested the project would cover just the Long Island City end of the yards —the southwest portion from about Jackson Avenue and 21st Street eastward to either the Thomson Avenue or Queens Boulevard walk-overs.

Photo courtesy of Bing Maps

Photo courtesy of Bing Maps

Some members complained that creating more housing in the area would increase the need for public services and infrastructure.

But Conley reasoned that it would be good to explore the ability to use the space, especially for affordable housing, as land prices continue to shoot upward in nearby communities such as Long Island City.

“There are a lot of things that have to be discussed: transportation of course, traffic, schools, all the things that we live with… but at least it starts the dialogue to say what if,” Conley said. “And that’s exactly what we did on Hunter’s Point South.

The 167-acre Sunnyside Yards is owned by Amtrak and shared with the LIRR and NJ Transit. The MTA is working on its East Side Access project at the railroad complex, which will connect the LIRR to a new station beneath Grand Central Terminal.

Plans concerning decking over the yards for development have been discussed in the past. The site was included in New York City’s Olympic bid in 1997, according to the Regional Planning Association, an urban research group.

Also, Daniel Doctoroff, former deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had a city planning team conduct an analysis of the possibility for decking and development over Sunnyside Yards.

But whether this new study will lead to a development is still up in the air.

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Astoria Cove developers pay $43.5 million for remaining land


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture

Astoria Cove developers recently finalized the sale for the final bits of the land designated for the mega project, although they have yet to win any steps in the project’s land use case.

In the transaction, 2030 Astoria Developers LLC, the group behind the 2.2-million-square-foot project, bought four lots from Superior Steel Studs Inc. for $40.02 million, according to city records filed on Monday. The lots’ addresses are 8-51, 8-01, 4-55 and 4-57 26th Ave.

An additional lot on 4-34 26th Avenue was bought for $3.48 million from Rayan Realty Corp., according to city records.

The developers now own all properties associated with the project, according to Howard Weiss of Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, which represents the team of developers led by Queens-based Alma Realty.

However, the project still has to clear its Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) case. The City Planning Commission plans to hold a meeting on Sept. 29 about its decision on the proposal. Weiss said they are confident they’ll receive the commission’s blessing.

“I believe the City Planning Commission will approve the project as proposed with respect to the affordable housing and with respect to all the [aspects] of the Astoria Cove project,” Weiss said. “The reason why I feel confident is because the Astoria Cove project is consistent with the mayor’s housing plan.”

But most opponents of the development are hoping to see a change in the affordable housing part of the proposal.

Various coalition members and residents testified against the development in a City Planning Commission public hearing in August, calling for the project to include at least 50 percent affordable housing, while developers are proposing 345 units or 20 percent of the 1,723 dwellings.

In their recommendations to deny the project, both Community Board 1 and Borough President Melinda Katz also suggested that the developers increase the units for affordable housing.

Astoria Cove is expected to 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.

Following the commission’s decision, the proposal will go to the City Council.

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Queens Library struggling from space constraints, report says


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Queens Library

Increasing space for users at Queens Library branches could begin a new chapter in its history, after a new study found most locations are struggling from space constraints.

The news comes days after the library’s CEO Tom Galante was suspended by the board of trustees, following a series of published reports revealing his nearly $400,000 salary, benefits, and erection of a smoking deck outside his office in Central Library, while making employee cuts.

The Center for an Urban Future released Monday the Re-Envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries report, which said 41 of the library’s 62 branches are under 10,000 square feet and struggling to meet the demands of its increasing membership. Queens had the most branches under that size in the five boroughs. Brooklyn came in second with 26 branches.

About 11.2 million people visited Queens Library branches in fiscal year 2014, according to statistics on the library’s website, and there were 929,000 active borrowers. The problem isn’t a need to repair libraries but adjust the layout, according to the report.

“It’s not just that so many New York City libraries are old and in a state of disrepair, many are not configured to meet the needs of today’s users,” the study said. “Designed around their book collections, many devote a majority of their layouts to shelves and rooms for book processing.”

The report specifically identified the Fresh Meadows library branch as one of the more well-attended branches in the city, but only has 8,700 square feet of space. That branch and the Far Rockaway, Lefferts, Rego Park and Sunnyside locations are five of the 10 “highest performing branches citywide” that are in need of more space.

“These well-attended branches would undoubtedly attract significantly more patrons for programs if they had more space for them,” the report said.

But some libraries just don’t have enough seating, such as the Jackson Heights branch, which has more than 375,000 annual visitors, but can only seat 78 people.

In its defense, Interim Queens Library President and CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey said that the library is currently engaging in many projects to expand its branches and meet its vast membership.

“Over the past several years, elected officials in Queens have done a great job of allocating funds to help Queens Library upgrade and maintain its facilities,” Quinn-Carey said. “As the report suggests, there is still so much more that we could be doing for the community if we had the space in which to do it. We look forward to working with public funders to establish a rational, forward-looking capital funding plan that gives libraries the resources they need to plan important capital investments.”

On a positive note, Queens has the newest libraries, according to the report. The borough ranks youngest in age, with the average library at just 47 years old. Manhattan is first with an average age of 84 years old. Also, six of the 15 new libraries in the past 20 years were branches in Queens.

Click here to read the full report.

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Comrie defeats state Sen. Malcolm Smith in landslide


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Salvatore Licata

Leroy Comrie is the de facto next state senator for District 14 after besting incumbent Malcolm Smith in the Democratic primary.

There is no Republican candidate for the seat in the upcoming November election.

Comrie, who previously represented part of the district on the City Council, ousted Smith, who is awaiting trial on federal corruption charges, in a landslide victory, earning 69.4 percent of the votes, according to unofficial results.

“I’m excited about being able to serve [District 14] in the state Senate. I was overwhelmed by the reaction from the community,” Comrie said. “It’s a gratifying win. It’s a real testament to the power of the community.”

Political supporters, such as Councilman Daneek Miller and Borough President Melinda Katz, were at Comrie’s victory party to cheer him on.

Most recently, Comrie was the deputy borough president under Katz; he stepped down to run in the District 14 primary.

Smith, who has represented the district for over a decade, was indicted for allegedly trying to bribe his way into a GOP nomination for mayor.

The trial was thrown into turmoil when prosecutors produced hours of audiotapes — many in Yiddish — that Smith’s lawyers claimed would bolster his defense.
The judge declared a mistrial and a new trial is set for January.

But Smith’s tainted reputation was enough to sway several elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Borough President Melinda Katz, to endorse Comrie over Smith.

“I’m going to do my best to be an effective legislator,” Comrie noted. “I really have to get going and make sure that the residents of the 14th District can have the things they need in the budget starting in January. [District 14] means home to me.”

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City Planning holds public hearing on Astoria Cove


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture

More affordable housing in the Astoria Cove project was once again front and center with critics, this time at a City Planning public hearing on the project.

Members of coalitions and residents testified on Wednesday that the 2.2 million-square-foot project should include at least 50 percent affordable housing, while developers are proposing just 345 units or 20 percent of the 1,723 dwellings.

“Soon they will take over the whole place and they will chase us out. Twenty percent of affordable housing is not enough for Queens,” a representative of New York Communities for Change testified at the meeting in Manhattan.

Jaron Benjamin, the executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, said it would hurt progress to cure the city’s housing crisis.

“If Astoria Cove becomes just another glitzy playground for the wealthy elite, it will be a huge step backward — the opposite of progress,” he said.

Howard Weiss of the law firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, which represents developers Alma Realty, defended the project, calling it “the crown jewel in the reclamation of the Queens waterfront.”

In their recommendations to deny the project, both Community Board 1 and Borough President Melinda Katz suggested that the developers increase the units for affordable housing.

The City Planning Commission queried about the breakdown of the mix of housing in the plan, but it could not be provided yet.

“In looking at this project over a 10-year phasing plan, one has to keep in mind that market conditions can change,” Weiss said. “At present, it’s really too early to determine what mix will be.”

The commission also asked about main concerns the community and Katz had, including building the new elementary school in an earlier phase, and transportation options.

Prior to the public hearing, Weiss said developers are making public transportation commitments to ease community traffic concerns for the incoming residents in the area, which Katz called “insufficient” in terms of transportation options.

The plans include adding a shuttle bus to and from nearby subway stations, and there will be a spot for a ferry terminal, in case the city decides to add ferry service to the area.

Astoria Cove is expected to 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 expected 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.

At the public hearing, residents and union members from 32BJ SEIU asked that local jobs be set aside for local workers.

The City Planning Commission will issue its recommendations after its 60-day review. The proposal will then go to the City Council for a vote.

Councilman Costa Constantinides said he may not support it.

“Both Community Board 1 and Borough President Katz have voted against the Astoria Cove development with recommendations,” he said. “If the development is not integrated into our neighborhood in a way that benefits the community, I will be unable to support it.”

 

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