Tag Archives: borough president melinda katz

Base of Civic Virtue statue to be restored, dedicated to women


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre. Documents via Department of Design and Construction.

Plans are set to begin soon to spruce up the former base of the controversial Triumph of Civic Virtue statue near Queens Borough Hall as a planted fountain.

The base, which has sat neglected for nearly three years after the statue atop was moved, will be restored and new plants, shrubs, trees, benches and lighting will be added to the site, according to plans by the Department of Design and Construction.

The city agency collected bids from construction companies until May 18 and is still reviewing the proposals.

A bronze plaque will also be added that will read, “This fountain plaza is dedicated to the women of Queens,” long after politicians, including disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner, and women’s rights activists condemned the statue as sexist.

The artwork by renowned sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies featured a naked Hercules — representing virtue — standing firm as mythical Sirens, which symbolized corruption, curled around his legs. The sculpture was intended to reflect virtue as a young man avoiding temptations of females, represented by the Sirens, so naturally feminists took issue with it.

In 2012, the statue was shipped to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood cemetery. It cost the city about $100,000 to renovate and move it, according to published reports.

It wasn’t the first time it was moved. The statue was originally at City Hall when it was completed in 1922, but in 1941, then-Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia moved it adjacent to Queens Borough Hall and mounted it on an existing classical fountain.

The statue did have many supporters though, including former Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. and Community Board 9. Some supporters wanted it returned to Queens.

However, restoring the fountain and dedicating it to women — without the return of the statue — has the support of Borough President Melinda Katz.

“The site will soon host a visible, meaningful tribute to the women of Queens and become a public space utilized and enjoyed by all,” a spokesperson for Katz said. “Once the winning bid is announced, we hope the vendor will begin expeditiously.”

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Long-time CB 1 leaders guide final full board meeting


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

It’s the end of an era for Community Board 1.

Vinicio Donato, who has been chairman of the board for nearly 40 years, and District Manager Lucille Hartmann, who has been on the board since 1978, oversaw their final public board meeting as leaders of the Astoria-based community group on Tuesday.

Awards and proclamation from various politicians poured in during the meeting, which was the final one before the summer break.

Donato, who has been on the community board since 1972, has served in leadership positions for various institutions and organizations in the borough, including the Museum of the Moving Image, the Astoria Historical Society and the Queens Museum. Hartmann has served as the community board’s district manager since 2008.

Councilmembers Costa Constantinides and Jimmy Van Bramer, and Borough President Melinda Katz made appearances at the meeting to deliver speeches to the long-time leaders and thank them for their work.

On June 29 there will be a special board meeting to vote and select the new district manager. However, Hartmann’s final day is officially July 17. There are currently three candidates running for the position.

George Stamatiades, the first vice chair of the board, will step in temporarily as chairman when the board reconvenes in September, and until members nominate and select a new chair.

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Airplane noise study to examine reach of aircraft noise


| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photo by Anthony Giudice

Representatives from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) gave a presentation on the Part 150 Airport Noise Compatibility Studies for LaGuardia (LGA) and John F. Kennedy International (JFK) airports during Monday’s meeting of the Queens Borough Board at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

“Part 150 of the Federal Regulations enable airport operators to undertake studies that provide the public with information about existing and future non-compatible land uses around airports and to create measures that reduce and prevent the introduction of new non-compatible land uses,” explained Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.

This study will examine the levels of airplane noise around both LGA and JFK, create noise exposure maps (NEMs) for the areas and develop noise compatibility programs (NCPs) for impacted land uses within areas with levels of high noise.

“The Port Authority is conducting these two studies with the goal of finding potential mitigation measures to reduce levels of aircraft noise exposure that are deemed significant,” said Edward Knoesel, senior manager of environmental and noise programs for the Aviation Department at PANYNJ. “And that is the federal government that makes determination.”

The study aims to find how land is being used within high noise level areas around the airports. Certain land uses, such as a cargo factory, are acceptable in high noise level areas, while other land uses, such as residential buildings, should not be allowed there.

Information from all 2014 flight operations from the airports will be used to help create the NEMs, which will be presented to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2016. FAA regulations also require PANYNJ to also present a map for a forecast of operations five years into the future.

The NEMs use a day-night average sound level (DNL) to figure out how much noise is concentrated over each area. Certain land uses within the DNL 65, which is a day-night average of 65 decibels, are considered incompatible.

Once the noise impacts are assessed, measures to reduce aircraft noise and limit its impact on surrounding areas, through noise abatement or noise mitigation, will be considered. Noise abatement reduces noise from the source, in this case airplanes, and noise mitigation helps bring down noise levels inside of the structures themselves, through possible soundproofing building materials.

These options, along with others, will be explored in the NCP section of the study.

“The noise compatibility planning explores operational, that means how to move the aircraft, land use and administrative measures to minimize aircraft noise exposure in that area,” Knoesel continued. “The FAA approves individual measures…they may approve some, they may disapprove others.”

The FAA has 180 days to review the proposed measures and either approve, disapprove or request more time to examine the measures.

Once measures are accepted, implementation will begin.

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Astoria woman selected as sixth Queens poet laureate


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

Borough President Melinda Katz installed Astoria resident Maria Lisella as the borough’s sixth poet laureate in a ceremony on Tuesday after a three-month search, including the vetting of more than 30 candidates.

Lisella, an author and journalist, will use the unpaid position to promote a love of poetry and literature throughout the “World’s Borough.” An author of three books of poetry, Lisella said she hopes to use the position not to market herself, but rather to connect and foster the literature community in Queens.

“It’s a privilege and it’s an opportunity, but I don’t see it as a way to promote moi,” Lisella said. “I think it’s about marketing the borough and the community.”

A south Jamaica native, Lisella’s family moved to Bellerose when she was young and she lived in Flushing as well before settling down in Astoria for the last 40 years. She is an alum of Queenborough Community College and Queens College, and she received a master’s degree from NYU-Polytechnic Institute. Lisella has been a travel writer for three decades, and her work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News and Foxnews.com, among other news outlets.

Like Queens, Lisella has been influenced by a range of cultures. Her family has roots in Italy and she speaks English, Italian and Spanish. Lisella has also visited about 60 countries.

“Ms. Lisella is an amazing writer who is capable of synthesizing the borough’s many cultures and languages into incredible poetry,” Katz said. “She also has a deep love and appreciation of Queens that comes from being a lifelong resident.”


The Queens Poet Laureate position was initially established in 1996 by Claire Shulman’s administration in partnership with Queens College.

Lisella was one of five finalists selected by a panel of judges. The judges were appointed by the Queens Poet Laureate Administrative Committee. Out of the top candidates, Katz ultimately selected Lisella, who has connections with past Queens Poet Laureates.

The first Queens Poet Laureate, Stephen Stepanchev, was a professor to Lisella in Queens College. Lisella and the second laureate, Hal Sirowitz, are both members of Brevitas, an online poetry circle.

As the new Queens Poet Laureate, Lisella will give readings of poetry around the borough in Queens Library branches and conduct outreach programs. Lisella held her first official reading  in the position at the end of her induction ceremony. She read two pieces from her most recent poetry book, “Thieves in the Family.”

To connect the Queens literature community, Lisella has thought of some initiatives including having a book fair, starting a website dedicated to Queens poetry and holding readings in cultural institutions, such as the Louis Armstrong House Museum and the Museum of the Moving Image.

She also wants to use social media to reach the Queens poetry community.

“There are a lot of pockets of activity going on [in Queens],” Lisella said, “so I have to plug into that.”

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BP Katz approves zoning amendment to speed up post-Sandy recovery


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

More help is on the way for Queens residents affected by Hurricane Sandy trying to rebuild their homes.

Borough President Melinda Katz recently approved amendments to citywide zoning codes, which will allow more Sandy-affected homeowners to rebuild their homes faster and to return them to how they were before the storm instead of having to alter them to fit current regulations.

The zoning change is a result of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s overhaul of the city’s Build it Back program, which has started construction on 412 homes in Queens to date, and completed construction on 222.

“This is a vital text amendment that will finally relieve the red tape that had burdened entire neighborhoods and prevented thousands of homes from fully rebuilding since Hurricane Sandy,” Katz said. “Thanks to joint inter-agency collaboration, home and property owners will soon be able to rebuild their homes to their original form prior to the storm, with improved flood resiliency elements.”

The amendment was also approved by Sandy-impacted community boards 10, 13 and 14. It would allow, among other things, more residents to rebuilt their homes faster by waiving document requirements.

Under current laws, before reconstruction can begin on residences, homeowners are supposed to provide documents to show changes made to homes since 1961, which is difficult for most people since their homes probably traded hands since then or documents were destroyed in the storm.

Also, some homes could be required to be constructed much taller than others in the neighborhood because of current zoning. The amendment will create zoning pockets, which will allow homeowners to build shorter and wider homes, which are prevalent in surrounding neighborhoods.

Now with support from Katz, the amendment must be approved next by the Department of City Planning and then the City Council before it can go into effect.

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BP secures $250K for new pre-K program at Queens Library in Ravenswood Houses


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of BP Melinda Katz's office

More than 30 seats are being added to School District 30, as Queens Borough President Melinda Katz secured funding for a new pre-K program at a Queens Library branch at one Astoria housing development.

Katz announced Tuesday she will be allocating discretionary capital funding to create a new, free, full-day pre-K program at the Ravenswood library located within the NYCHA Ravenswood Houses at 35-32 21st St.

This new program will add 36 seats to District 30, which is known for being overcrowded and having one of the largest pre-K seat shortages in the borough for the upcoming school year. The Ravenswood site was approved last year by the Department of Buildings to operate a pre-K program.

“Addressing the pre-K seat shortage for the upcoming school year has been a priority, especially in Districts 30 and 24,” Katz said. “The Queens Library has taken one of the more creative initiatives we’ve seen to launch pre-K programs at our beloved libraries throughout the borough. Our libraries are treasured, safe community hubs for enrichment and lifelong learning, and starting the educational pathway from pre-K here is a natural fit.”

The cost to modify the Ravenswood library into the new pre-K program is estimated at $572,000, according to the Department of Design and Construction. An initial $250,000 was committed by the Shoolman Foundation, as well as $72,000 from the Department of Education.

Katz will be securing the remaining $250,000 allowing the program to become a reality.

“This funding is great news for the Ravenswood community and for the children of western Queens,” said state Senator Michael Gianaris. “We know that pre-K makes a huge difference in the lives of our young students and I am glad that we are adding space in an area that so desperately needs more school seats.”

The Ravenswood library’s entire space will be used to run the pre-K program from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on weekdays. During non-school hours, the library will be used as a Family Literacy Learning Center, offering ESL courses and other classes for adults.

“The Ravenswood library is a prime location to house and expand our city’s already successful universal pre-kindergarten program,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said. “With the addition of two UPK classes we can provide more children a head start in getting the education they rightfully deserve.”

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Launch of ‘Action Plan’ hopes to spark new beginning in Jamaica


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

Signaling the beginning of a new era for Jamaica, politicians and community leaders announced Wednesday the launch of the Jamaica Now Action Plan, which is designed to revitalize the neighborhood through promoting development, events and jobs.

After nine months of vetting ideas with the community, officials unveiled the 21-step action plan, 16 of which will be implemented within three years and cost $153 million. The plan’s initiatives hope to create 3,000 new housing units, 500,000 square feet of retail space and 800 hotel rooms in five years, according to officials.

For Jamaica residents, it means a safer downtown with free public Wi-Fi, new streetscapes, more events and job opportunities. For business owners and art institutions, there will be resources to help grow their organizations and companies. And for developers, the city is prepared to support new projects, especially those with affordable housing, in downtown Jamaica, which some have named “DoJam.”

“Queens is the number one destination of choice in the United States of America for the year 2015,” Borough President Melinda Katz said. “And what we did here today as a partnership is to make sure that Jamaica is an active participant in the number one destination; that folks come from all around the world just to visit Jamaica, Queens. ”

Some actions included in the plan are already taking place, such as the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s request for proposals for builders to replace the NYPD garage on 168th Street with a mixed-use residential project, and the Small Business Services grant to help fund redesigns of storefronts on Sutphin Boulevard.

However, others will take at least five years, such as a plan to convince owners of vacant or neglected properties to utilize their sites. Another longer-term project includes constructing new water mains to accommodate the increase in new developments.

Some other highlights of the plan include a $250,000 study to improve the attractiveness of Jamaica Avenue, the installation of more NYPD cameras around the community, and the implementation of a new Select Bus Service route from Jamaica to Flushing.

Although not originally part of the 21 actions, Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for housing and economic development, announced five additional plans to help improve the area, including a branding program for Jamaica and an initiative to draw more tourists to Jamaica’s cultural institutions.

Also, “DoJam” will be included in the city’s LinkNYC network, which replaces old payphones with touchscreen kiosks that provide free public Wi-Fi, phone calls, directions and charging stations for mobile devices.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen talking to a crowd about the Jamaica Now Action Plan.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen talking to a crowd about the Jamaica Now Action Plan.

“I have seen the many changes in Jamaica,” Assemblyman William Scarborough said. “I remember going back when we had a Mays and a Macy’s and we had three movie [theaters] on Jamaica Avenue. Now Jamaica is back on an upswing. This is going to be one of the bright lights in the city of New York.”

The city has been working to revitalize Jamaica for decades after its economic downturn in the ’70s and ’80s with various investments such as the construction of the JFK AirTrain in 2003, and the rezoning of the downtown area in 2007, which paved the way for more development. Seeing the potential with the transit hub and low land rates, real estate investors have also been buying large properties and planning more projects in Jamaica.

Carlisle Towery, who has led the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation for 40 years, has long advocated for many infrastructure investments that helped guide Jamaica back from its dark era where businesses were quickly leaving. While he is retiring this year, Towery said the action plan is just the beginning of the future of Jamaica.

“My career is ending, but it’s very nice and gratifying to end it with a beginning,” he said. “And Jamaica Now is that beginning. It’s the start of a big step forward in moving Jamaica to the next level.”

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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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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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