Tag Archives: community board 1

Liquor Authority votes no booze for Astoria bikini bar

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

The girls can show some skin, but cannot serve guests some drinks.

On July 2, the State Liquor Authority (SLA) rejected a liquor license application from the owners of Racks, a restaurant and bar that owners are seeking to open at 19-26 Steinway Street.

During the SLA meeting, local politicians and residents showed up to voice their heavy opposition to the bar, where female servers would be wearing bikinis.

“A place like Racks is wholly out of character with the family-friendly neighborhood of its proposed location,” said Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, whose office has heard a large community outcry against the bar. “Astoria does not need scantily-clad women performing lap and pole dances a stone’s throw away from a playground, middle school and our neighbor’s homes.”

According to Simotas, the proposed adult establishment would reduce property values, increase the need for additional law enforcement and damage the community.

“I tip my hat to the State Liquor Authority for listening to our community and helping preserve the character of our neighborhood,” said Senator Michael Gianaris. “This decision is a victory for our quality of life and for the thousands of families raising their children in Astoria.”

In April, Community Board 1 voted against a liquor license recommendation for Racks. But the board added that the owners could still set up shop and even feature topless adult entertainment.

Kerry John Katsorhis, the lawyer for Racks, could not be reached as of press time. During the April meeting, he said children would not have to pass by the bar to get the playground.



Mount Sinai Hospital gets expansion approval

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Mount Sinai Hospital of Queens

Mount Sinai Hospital of Queens in Astoria has received approval from Community Board 1 (CB 1) to expand its helping hand.

On Tuesday, CB 1 unanimously voted in support of Mount Sinai’s request for minor zoning variances. The hospital’s footprint will expand to take up 100 percent of its lot and reach all the way to the sidewalk.

The application also calls for a six-story addition to a property located on the west side of Crescent Street between 30th Avenue and 30th Road as well as partial renovation of the existing hospital building.

The proposed plan, designed by NK Architects and Davis Brody Bond LLP, will include expansions to the emergency department and observation unit along with new operating rooms and imaging facilities. Expansions are also expected for out-patient services and urgent care.

A hospital spokesperson said there will be meetings with the building’s immediate neighbors about any issues that arise as the project gets underway.

“This is going to be a transparent process and we are going to be good neighbors,” the spokesperson said.

Current plans call for construction to begin by the fall, with the expansion complete by 2016 and the hospital fully open by summer of that year.




Long Island City, Astoria bike lanes to get makeover

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano / Graphics courtesy of DOT

Vernon Boulevard’s bike lanes are set to get a makeover this summer to provide extra safety for riders and more space for drivers.

According to a plan the Department of Transportation (DOT) presented to Community Board 2 on June 6, the two one-way bike paths on each side of Vernon Boulevard would become a two-way protected lane. The lane would have a five-foot buffer running alongside the west side of the street. The lanes would also be painted green to provide easier visibility.

“This project is intended to knit together existing sections of the greenway by providing a continuous, protected bike lane serving neighborhoods along the East River waterfront,” said DOT spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera.

The existing bike lanes were set up as part of the Queens East River Greenway in 2008, which connects the waterfront from Hallet’s Cove in Astoria to 45th Road in Hunters Point.

After hearing community concerns over the lack of parking, DOT also plans to create a protected bike path through Rainey Park in Astoria. That would free up 35 parking spaces between 34th Avenue and 33rd Road.

According to the plan, the two-way bike lane will help beginning riders feel more comfortable on the streets and bring more bicyclists to the path. The wider path would allow joggers to benefit from the space, too.

“The project, which DOT has proposed for implementation this summer, has the support of Community Board 1 and the agency continues to work with Community Board 2 on this initiative,” said Mosquera.



Astoria residents say developer damaged their homes

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A towering medical center being built in Astoria has received a key permit from the city — despite complaints by neighbors who say the construction has caused their homes’ foundations to crumble.

“There are cracks everywhere, in every room, from the ceilings to walls,” said Robert Draghi, who lives behind the site of a future ambulatory care center on 31st Street. “The bricks are just breaking open.”

Developer Pali Realty received a special permit from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) last week to continue building an eight-story medical facility at 23-25 31st Street.

The project was stalled in late 2012, when developers say they accidentally extended the property an extra 10 feet without permits due to a “design error by the project architect.” According to a BSA application, about 80 percent of the building had been completed when developers discovered the mistake.

After that, Pali Realty had to get consent from Community Board 1 and the BSA to lift a partial stop work order issued by the Department of Buildings. It received approval from both bodies by May 21.

Dozens of residents who live in five homes behind the colossal building said they have been dealing with foundation cracks and water damage since the project broke ground in late 2009. They have received little to no help from the developer, the residents added.

“The laws don’t really stand up for homeowners like us,” said Draghi, 47. “All the laws in the books support corporations.”

Resident John Sesumi said his homeowner’s insurance will not pay for damages. He added that his family has been trying to reach a settlement with the developer for years.

“We’re all for helping the community,” said Sesumi, 30. “We understand the need for a medical building. We just want our property to be back the way it was.”

According to Draghi, who has lived in his home for 13 years, Pali Realty and the construction company have been dodging liabilities, with both declining to make a settlement offer.

“This was our ‘grow old’ house. We never wanted to leave,” he said. “They ruined it.”

Under advisory stipulations by the community board, the developer is required to fix damages to the adjacent lands and agree to pay for any repairs.

An attorney representing Pali Realty did not return calls for comment as of press time.

“We just want them to take responsibility, expedite the claim with their insurance and start working this problem out,” said Lisa Draghi, Robert Draghi’s wife.

State Senator Tony Avella lambasted the city agencies during a press conference he set up with the homeowners in Astoria.

“The fact that this developer is being allowed to egregiously encroach onto and damage neighboring properties is a disgrace,” he said.

The senator was criticized in turn for stepping outside of his northeast district and into the territory of his borough president rival, Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr.

“It’s no surprise that while Councilmember Vallone was at City Hall representing his district, Senator Avella and his Senate staff were continuing his never-ending campaign for higher office,” said Andrew Moesel, a spokesperson for the Vallone campaign.

“Councilmember Vallone has attempted to help resolve the situation without holding needless press conferences only meant to draw more attention to a political candidacy,” Moesel said.



Board approves Hallets Point development

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Lincoln Equities Group

Hallets Point, home to the NYCHA Astoria Houses on the Astoria waterfront, is one step closer to getting thousands of residential apartments, retail space and parkland.

On Tuesday, Community Board 1 voted unanimously to approve the plan by Lincoln Equities Group to bring 11 buildings to the area. The developer is applying for zoning changes in order to continue with the project and will still need approval from other government agencies.

If the plan is approved, the development would include 2,000 apartments, with construction to begin in late 2014 or early 2015. Twenty percent of the apartments will be affordable housing.

Robert Schenkel, Lincoln Equities development director, said the project would bring a positive change for Hallets Point, as it brings new housing, an affordable supermarket, retail, a spot for a K-8 public school and a landscaped waterfront path.




Council District 22 candidate Tony Meloni drops out of race

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Tony Meloni

Tony Meloni, one of the first candidates to enter the Democratic race for Peter Vallone Jr.’s City Council seat, announced he is dropping out.

Meloni confirmed he is ending his campaign to represent District 22 in Astoria so he can focus on his family and work in the community.

“It was a really hard decision,” Meloni said. “I have gone back and forth so many times. I absolutely love this community, but a person has to know their limitations and I decided to re-focus and reevaluate.”

His positions in the community include chair of Community Board 1’s public safety committee, vice-president of the Astoria Civic Association, founder of New York Anti-Crime and executive director of the Immigration Advocacy Services, an outreach center in Astoria.

Even though he is dropping out of the race, Meloni said he will remain highly active in the community to make sure focus is not lost on important issues. In regard to a future City Council run, he said he does not rule anything out, but wants to take it a step at a time.

Current candidates for District 22 are Democrats Costa Constantinides and attorney John Ciafone, Republican Daniel Peterson, Green Party candidate Lynn Serpe and Independent candidate Danielle De Stefano.



No booze for Queens bikini bar

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

If Racks, a new restaurant and bar, wants to open up, waitresses will likely have to cover up.

Community Board 1 (CB 1) voted not to recommend a liquor license for Racks on grounds its female servers will be wearing bikinis as uniforms.

At the April 16 meeting, board members voted 17 to 15 against the recommendation, even though the Community Board’s Consumer Affairs Committee supported the restaurant’s bid.

In a letter written to CB 1, Assemblymember Aravella Simotas urged the body to vote against the license because the bar is close to residences and a school playground.

“Our children do not need to learn what a ‘bikini bar’ is on their way to little league,” Simotas wrote.
Community members and local elected officials voiced their opposition along with the assemblymember.

During the board meeting, Racks’ lawyer Kerry Katsorhis said the bar, at 19-26 Steinway Street, is on an almost completely commercial block. She argued that children will not have to pass by Racks to reach the playground.

“Though personally, I feel morally that this kind of entertainment is demeaning to women, this is not the forum for a lifestyle discussion. This is the forum for a small-business discussion,” said board member Frances Luhmann-McDonald, who voted in favor of the recommending the liquor license.

Although CB 1 did not give its recommendation, the State Liquor Authority will ultimately decide whether to grant the license or not.



Fake website takes aim at Astoria community board members

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Screenshot via cb1queens.org

A website passing itself off as the site for Astoria’s Community Board 1 is claiming its board members are out of touch with the community it serves.

Cb1queens.org” is a parody website that at first glance can be mistaken to be the official website address for Community Board 1 with its “formal” design and information, but is not associated with the board. Amid the various claims, the website states the Community Board “is proud to represent the interests of business and property owners” and the only way to truly become a member is to “know somebody.”

Although requesting to remain anonymous, the website designer stressed through an email that everything on the website is true and mostly comes from the Community Board’s official website or actual quotes said by board members. The designer said no quotes are attributed to any board members to not seem like individuals were being picked on.

“The main purpose of the website is to highlight what the board says and does,” the designer said. “I’m sure many of them [board members] mean very well. The site isn’t vindictive. It’s humorous. But it’s only funny because it’s true.”

But for Lucille Hartmann, district manager of Community Board 1, and Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., this is no laughing matter.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion but the way it is being presented is underhanded,” said Hartmann. “They put their spin on it, that doesn’t mean that it’s right.”

Hartmann said the City Council is looking into the issue and that the recently added statement at the bottom of the website saying the site is “a parody and does not have any relation to any Community Board or governmental agency” does not suffice as a disclaimer.

As of Thursday, a message posted on the site said that it has temporarily been taken down due to “threat of legal action from the City of New York.”

Although Vallone has not seen the site himself, he looks down upon the creators who attack the Community Board online and says he wouldn’t dignify anything they say anonymously.

“I think it’s a shame that this very hardworking volunteer board can get attacked by anonymous cowards on the Internet,” he said. “Anyone who has a complaint should feel free to come to me or the Community Board and we would handle it like we do all complaints.”




Bikini bar gets fierce opposition from leaders, locals

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Aravella Simotas

Residents are worried that an uncovered bid for an Astoria bikini bar may be a scantily-clad plan to wiggle a strip club into their neighborhood.

Racks, the club located at 19-26 Steinway Street, was recently leased to a company called 8G Inc. Formerly a billiard parlor, the establishment sits just half a block from homes, several hundred feet from a park and two blocks away from a school.

8G Inc. sought to obtain a liquor license, which was voted against unanimously by Community Board 1 in early September. District Manager Lucille Hartmann attributed the board’s decision to the establishment’s inability to benefit the community. Racks’ fate will be decided by the New York State Liquor Authority, advised by recommendations made by the community.

Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, who lives three blocks from Racks, said the neighborhood is an absolutely inappropriate place for a skin-based business.

“People who live in Upper Ditmars are very unhappy and are concerned that it’s going to have a negative effect on the community,” said Simotas. “Who is going to want to move in when there’s a bikini bar half a block away?”

Simotas, whose campaign against Racks garnered support from Congressmember Joe Crowley and Senator Michael Gianaris, said she remains confident the State Liquor Authority will consider their side and heed their warning.

According to Simotas, 8G Inc. executives refused to promise that the bar would not morph into a full-blown strip club.

8G Inc. attorney Kerry Katsorhis claimed Racks would not become an adult entertainment establishment and that women would be dressed no differently than if they were at the beach.

“It’s zoned for it. It’s in a commercial area. Its neighbors consist of a truck depot and warehouses. It seems to be in a remote area. It’s not surrounded by houses. There are no houses of worship or schools. Where else can you think of,” Katsorhis asked.

Katsorhis believes many people in the community would enjoy the bikini bar.

Carolyn Scarano, a life-long resident of Upper Ditmars, fears the installment of such an institution could devalue the neighborhood. Scarano, who frequently took her now-grown children to the park near Racks, believes it may draw questionable clientele to a family-oriented area.

“I really don’t think this neighborhood calls for an establishment like that,” said Scarano. “We encourage businesses — this is not the kind of establishment we’re looking for.”

Astoria passes on a proposed pedestrian plaza

| aaltman@queenscourier.com


Opposition by Astoria merchants pushed Community Board 1 to pass on a proposed pedestrian plaza, to the dismay of many local residents.

During the group’s monthly meeting, Community Board 1 members voted 25 to 7 against the Department of Transportation (DOT) initiated venture, which would have installed a pedestrian plaza at the intersection of Newtown and 30th Avenues.

According to Community Board 1 district manager Lucille Hartmann, the group rejected the proposal predominantly after concerns arose about nearby Mt. Sinai Hospital and traffic patterns for emergency vehicles. She claimed the hospital’s new cancer facility also factored into the board’s negative vote.

Hartmann said the board suggested adding safety sidewalks to make the notoriously perilous intersection less dangerous.

“I think pedestrian plazas are nice in the right area,” said Hartmann. “Hopefully another site can be picked where there is more agreement on it.”

On Saturday, August 25, the DOT set up a temporary pedestrian plaza, outfitted with tables, chairs and umbrellas, allowing residents to sample their neighborhood with the additional outdoor space. During the trial-run, the plaza garnered mixed reviews from residents. Some enjoyed having an open area to relax and enjoy coffee with friends while others feared the closed street could cause traffic backups in an already congested area.

Frank Arcabascio, owner of the Redken Salon on 30th Avenue and president of the 30th Avenue Merchants Association, said his group was largely against closing the street. The business owner also believes the plaza could threaten emergency vehicle access to Mt. Sinai Hospital. According to Arcabascio, the DOT only presented the options of a pedestrian plaza or no changes at all, adding that DOT representatives were unwilling to take input from locals.

“We can keep the street open and have a beautification going on, which we feel should be the third alternative,” said Arcabascio. “They were only offering to close it or leave it open.”

Arcabascio suggested spreading the “Green” concept along the 14-block radius his group oversees, benefiting a larger section of the neighborhood rather than just a small patch. He hopes the DOT will sit down with the merchants to discuss the future of the plaza and consider merchants’ suggestions.

Eddie Hernandez, a local resident and member of pro-plaza group Friends of Newtown Plaza, thought the proposed plan was a great way to convert a dangerous intersection into a beneficial aspect of the community. Friends of Newtown Plaza collected 630 signatures from locals in favor of the plaza.

“This was a great location,” said Hernandez. “It was a location where hundreds if not thousands of people walk every day. There’s clearly a desire in the community to have somewhere to sit where you don’t have to pay.”

Hernandez claimed there was a rigid line between merchants and residents during the Community Board meeting, during which, according to Hernandez, several merchants expressed animosity towards locals.

“The merchants were against [the plaza],” said Hernandez. “I guess they have the Community Board’s ear.”


One day plaza met with mixed feelings

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

Walk this way, just for a day.

On Saturday, August 25, the Department of Transportation (DOT) set up a temporary pedestrian plaza in Astoria, allowing residents to relax, stroll and sample their neighborhood with more open space, after locals expressed mixed feelings about the proposed piazza.

DOT officials set up tables, chairs, umbrellas and planters along the intersection of 30th Avenue and Newtown Avenue. Residents sat at tables, sipping coffee and chatting with friends while enjoying the sunny summer weather.

“I feel like Astoria lacks outdoor spaces where people can sit around,” said local resident Bryan Cronk, who was spotted sitting in the pedestrian plaza. “If it’s kept clean, it could be kind of cool.”

Cronk said he avoids the nearby Athens Square Park — another outdoor space — because of its lack of cleanliness and upkeep.

Passers-by had mixed feelings about the shut-down street, however.

“Is this permanent?” shouted a man walking by, who said he was skeptical of how traffic patterns would be managed in the already somewhat congested area.

“This one-day event provided Astoria residents and visitors the opportunity to experience a plaza in the neighborhood and to see for themselves the benefits that safe, accessible pedestrian space can provide,” said DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel.

Community Board 1 District Manager Lucille Hartmann said the group supported the trial run but could not comment on her opinion of the plaza. She said the possibility of installing a permanent plaza would be discussed during a public hearing on September 11.


Star of Queens: Edward Babor

| GGiaconelli@queenscourier.com

Edward Babor

Edward Babor

Member, Community Board 1

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Edward Babor has been a member of Community Board 1 for 10 years. He is also a board member of the Astoria Civic Association and has served as president of the Taminent Regular Democratic Club for the past 15 years. He sits on the board at the Powhatan Regular Democratic Club and is vice commander of Post #1 Catholic War Veterans-Immaculate Conception Parish in Astoria.

OCCUPATION: Babor is a district representative for Congressmember Carolyn B. Maloney.

PERSONAL: Babor was born and raised in Jackson Heights. He has been married to his wife Patricia for 36 years and resides in Astoria. Babor enjoys travelling.

FAVORITE MEMORY: “My wife and I took my dad to Czechoslovakia to see where his family came from,” said Babor. “While we were there, we celebrated his 80th birthday.”


JetBlue sign will grace L.I.C. sky

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Following a year of cutting through red tape – and mulling a move to Florida – JetBlue has been given the green light to provide Long Island City with a “sign” that they are here to stay.

The City Council voted unanimously on April 30 to approve a zoning amendment allowing companies to construct signs on non-residential buildings along 14 blocks of a

Queens Plaza sub-district – which runs between 23rd Street and the Sunnyside railroad yard.

The changes were pushed by JetBlue so the airline could construct a sign of its logo on the rooftop of its new headquarters in the Brewster Building, located at 27-01 Queens Plaza North in L.I.C.

JetBlue was considering departing New York and landing in Orlando last year, but was ultimately enticed into staying by a city package consisting of tax exemptions and marketing-relating incentives – reportedly reaching $30 million. The airline moved to the Brewster Building on April 4, bringing 1,000 of its 5,300 Queens-based employees to L.I.C.

“We are New York’s hometown airline and this sign will reinforce our status as an iconic New York brand,” said Tamara Young, manager of corporate communications for JetBlue. “We are proud to be here and we are proud to be a neighbor in L.I.C. We want to introduce ourselves to our neighbors and be a part of the driving force in the development that is taking place in the neighborhood. This sign is a way to do that.”

The proposed placard will be formed out of a steel box with an acrylic face and will be illuminated at night by high efficiency LED light strips, making the letters blue during the day and appear white after sundown. It will be 42 feet high and 75 feet wide – with the tallest letter reaching 25 feet – and will encompass similar qualities to other historic advertisements across the neighborhood, including the Silvercup and Pepsi signs. If no other obstacles are encountered, JetBlue believes the sign will be installed early in the fall.

Zoning regulations put in place in 2001 restricted the height of new signs in manufacturing districts to 40 feet above curb level. In order to rewrite the rules, JetBlue initially had to receive approval from Community Boards (CB) 1 and 2. Although CB 1 passed the airline’s application, the board members did suggest the “rooftop sign be limited to a tenant that occupied a minimum of 25 percent of the total building area” and that subleasing not be allowed. CB 2 voted unanimously against the changes, citing the “lack of oversight and community input and comment on any future rooftop signs.”

CB 2 was reportedly concerned that too many signs would sprout up on neighborhood buildings, causing a similar scene to Las Vegas or Times Square.
Dutch Kills Civic Association President Jerry Walsh believes the zoning rules should not be comprehensive, but each case should be studied independently.
“I think each sign should be looked at individually. It shouldn’t be a blanket thing,” Walsh said. “You have to be a major renter of the building to put a sign up. You can’t live in a closet and expect to get a sign up. We don’t want to see flashing signs like on 42nd Street.”

To ease community apprehension, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer worked with the Department of City Planning to rework the amendment – stipulating that only tenants that occupied 20 percent or 50,000 square feet of a building could erect a sign on its roof.

CB 2 subsequently approved the proposal, followed by a City Council subcommittee on zoning and the entire council.

Van Bramer said he is not worried about the area resembling the glitzy midtown Manhattan attraction due to the few buildings that are eligible to apply for signs. The councilmember went on to say he believes the number of signs will ultimately be minimal, while the passage of the amendment is an important step for JetBlue’s success.

“I think the arrival of JetBlue is great news for L.I.C.,” Van Bramer said. “Its sign will be a visual reminder of the transformation and rebirth of the Dutch Kills and Queens Plaza area. I think it will be a sign that L.I.C. is open for business and good for business. JetBlue brings vitality and energy and life. I hope it will attract more businesses to come to Queens Plaza, Dutch Kills and L.I.C.”