Tag Archives: Community Board 14

Far Rockaway residents still receiving Verizon bills despite no service since Sandy


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

It’s been five months since 77-year-old Arquilla Heard has been able to make a phone call.

Since Sandy, the Far Rockaway resident — and many of her neighbors in the Ocean Bay Houses — have had no cell phone service from Verizon.

Heard has received monthly phone bills since the storm, some reaching nearly $200. Despite not having service, she paid November’s bill, but has since refused to make payments.

“Maybe I have my own wires crossed, but to bill people without service seems negligent to me,” said Councilmember Donovan Richards. “For my seniors and my youth who may have had an emergency and no phone to dial out, this is a crime.”

“I don’t have the money to keep paying bills,” said Heard. “I need my phone. It’s a necessity.”

On Monday, March 25, Richards held a press conference outside the Ocean Bay Houses demanding that Heard and others in her predicament receive a six-month credit for the services they have not received since October, as well as an additional three-month credit for the inconvenience.

“It’s a crying shame that Verizon is so insensitive that they would still send bills to people’s mailboxes,” he said.
Since the storm, the community has been left without an explanation about service or billing, and although phone booths have been put up, many don’t work, according to residents.

Verizon, however, said it has offered customers free wireless devices for their telephone service. They have also restored service to nearly 6,200 Rockaway customers since the storm. They are working closely with the New York City Housing Authority to fully restore all service.

“Sandy severely damaged Verizon’s network serving all of Rockaway, including [the Ocean Bay Houses]. By the end of this month, we will begin restoring service to all those who live in the complex from 54th to 59th Streets on our brand new state-of-the-art fiber optic network. We are now working with the housing authority to gain access to the apartments from 51st to 53rd Street,” said a Verizon spokesperson.

Gian Jones lives in Bayswater and was without his Verizon FiOS service for about a month. He too continued to receive bills, but snagged a rebate after repeatedly calling the company.

“There might be some technical issues [with service lines] that we don’t know about,” he said. “But it took continuously calling them and fighting them to see a credit. There’s no reason why Rockaway residents should be paying a bill. At the very least, service should be suspended.”

Residents also noted that not only is there a lack of phone service, but Verizon power lines remain hanging from poles to this day.

“You can walk into the hanging wires,” said Felicia Johnson, Rockaway resident and Community Board 14 member.

“Verizon has really just neglected the community at large.”

“If you can send me a bill, why can’t you send me a letter saying, ‘This is where we are, this is what we’re going to do,’” she added.

Richards asks that any resident with phone service problems get in touch with his office.

“Common decency is needed,” he said. “My residents cannot afford to not have phone service for another day.”

 

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Kayaking could bring tourism, revenue to Jamaica Bay


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

Jamaica Bay has been many things.

It was a fishing haven. It was the site of a deadly plane crash. And it was the catalyst for some of Sandy’s devastation.

But soon, the bay might attract more tourism when the region needs it the most.

Community Board 14 Chair Dolores Orr said the Parks Department had presented the board’s park committee with rough plans for kayak launching bays in Rockaway, along with concession stands throughout areas that are part of Gateway National Park.

Orr said the community desperately needed the project even before Sandy, as it would bring more tourism and revenue to the area.

“We are very much in favor of that in Rockaway,” she said. “We have a very large kayaking community.”

Kayaking has tapped into the water sports subculture in Rockaway. The New York Times last summer featured a story about kayaking trips in the bay. Access, however, has been restricted for many — especially after the storm cause extensive damage and pollution.

Gateway recently re-opened two launchings at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, but a Queens opening could still be way off. Orr said the board had proposed a launching site at Beach 88th Street about a year-and-a-half ago, and that Parks had begun to look into it as a potential site.

“Public access to Jamaica Bay was extremely limited prior to Sandy,” she said. “So after Sandy it’s even more significant.”

 

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Borough President Marshall fights mayor’s budget cuts


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo by Mike Stavitzky

Borough President Helen Marshall made her mark during her final budget hearing, seeking millions of dollars in funding.

Marshall, who is term-limited out, will battle for $1.6 million for senior centers and various programs across the borough. This discretionary funding was eliminated under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed $70.1 billion budget for the fiscal year 2014.

“Without [this money], six senior centers will close, and four adult day care centers and transportation programs will cease,” said Marshall.

Representatives from community boards, hospitals, nonprofit organizations and more attended the hearing on Wednesday, February 20, to request funding for their own particular needs, ranging from $10,000 to expand programs to $750,000 for medical equipment.

Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14, spoke about the devastating effects of Sandy and the Rockaways’ ongoing recovery, and Hans Kuenstler, Jamaica Hospital’s director of construction, requested $3 million to augment funds for a new Jamaica Senior Housing Corporation facility.

In what Marshall’s office has referred to as the most dramatic testimony, a sign language interpreter spoke for a deaf senior citizen couple, requesting continued support for the Peter Cardella Center in Ridgewood, the only program for hearing impaired seniors in the country.

All who spoke are hoping that Marshall will include their needs into her budget priorities. The proposed fiscal plan reportedly may slash community board budgets.

 

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Doe Fund cleans up Broad Channel


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence M. Cullen

Broad Channel is seeing blue.

Nine workers from the Doe Fund, dubbed “the men in blue,” will help clean up a two-mile stretch of Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel, as the island still continues to recover nearly four months after Sandy hit.

The cleanup effort, which officially began on Friday, February 15, will run from the foot of the Joseph P. Addabbo Memorial Bridge to the American Legion Post 1404.

The Doe Fund gives homeless men and women a second chance by providing jobs and starting a new life. Staten Island, Coney Island and the Rockaways have been other areas the Doe Fund has cleaned up in wake of the storm. The men will pick up the roadside trash and haul it on to Department of Sanitation trucks.

“The garbage and the litter and the debris are still here,” said Councilmember Eric Ulrich. “People are going to be so impressed. They’re [the workers] going to do a top-notch job.”

Ulrich said he reached out to Doe Fund chair George McDonald two weeks ago to help clean up Broad Channel’s main thoroughfare, which is still littered with debris. Flanked by Doe Fund members and representatives from the National Park Service and the Department of Sanitation, Ulrich said the “Men in Blue” would be on Cross Bay Boulevard, picking up trash until the job is done. The goal, he added, is to have Cross Bay back to its pre-storm look, if not better.

Cross Bay Boulevard is the first view of the Rockaways visitors get and the road needed to keep that vista positive, Ulrich said.

The relationship between the Doe Fund and south Queens goes back to long before the storm, according to Community Board 14 chair Dolores Orr. The organization helps clean up Beach 116th street, an economic hub in Rockaway, every spring, Orr said.

“It’s equally important for the residents trying to recover themselves,” Orr said.

McDonald, who’s also running as a Republican for mayor, said the men and women of the organization were hard workers and dedicated to getting their life back on track.

“It’s on behalf of all the citizens of New York that we come here and help clean up,” McDonald said. “We are thrilled to be able to give back. I know this partnership is going to do great things for this community and I thank Councilmember Ulrich for thinking of us.”

 

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New policy forces mentally ill out of adult homes


| mchan@queenscourier.com

DSC_0085

Adult homes in Queens are now forced to evict hundreds of mentally ill residents and shut out new entrants under a new state policy.

Privately run adult homes in the state, including nine in Queens and nearly 50 in the city, will have to cut their mental health population down to 25 percent, according to regulation put in place by Governor Andrew Cuomo last month.

The homes have less than 120 days to move out residents into smaller supportive housing units where they will live on their own.

“Displacing these residents without the proper preparations for their new living will have an adverse effect on patient care and on the communities they will be living in,” said Assemblymember Phil Goldfeder.

The new rule is expected to throw adult homes into financial turmoil, leaders in the field said.

“No assisted living facility with mentally ill populations can remain economically viable,” said Jeffrey Edelman of the New York State Center for Assisted Living. “If this radical social experiment to force the seriously mentally ill to live on their own fails, residents will never be able to return to their adult home because we will be out of business.”

Goldfeder said Queens adult homes, most of which are located in the Rockaways, are also the source of hundreds of local jobs.

“At the end of the day, we have to do what’s in the best interest of the patients and we have to think about the community at large,” he said.

Queens Adult Care Center, one of the borough’s affected adult homes, will have to boot 90 of its 300 mentally ill residents, according to chief administrator Leon Hofman. They would be without regular medication and constant supervision outside of their homes, he said.

“I’m concerned some of these people will not have a place to live or if they’ll make it,” Hofman said.

Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14, said he fears some residents will end up freezing to death or wandering without supervision to nearby oceans.

“We didn’t agree with the policy,” he said. “It’s not fair to them, and the state will have to answer for that. I’m not sure they thought that through.”

Cuomo’s efforts come after a similar 2009 ruling by a Brooklyn federal judge who said large adult homes in the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

AFFECTED ADULT HOMES IN QUEENS:

  • Sanford Manor Home Care Agency in Flushing
  • Queens Adult Care Center in Elmhurst
  • Belle Harbor Manor
  • Long Island Living Center
  • New Haven Manor Home for Adults
  • Rockaway Manor Home for Adults
  • Seaview Manor Home for Adults
  • Wavecrest Home for Adults
  • Surfside Manor Home for Adults

 

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Star of Queens: Dolores Orr


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

DOLORES ORR 01-03

Star of Queens: Dolores Orr, Community Board 14 Chair 

INVOLVEMENT: As chair of Community Board 14, Dolores Orr oversees happenings all over the Rockaway peninsula. She works with the community board staff and city agencies to address quality of life issues, such as zoning problems, economic development and, most recently, post-Sandy clean up. Orr is also the president of the Rockaway Beach Civic Association.

PERSONAL: Born and raised in Rockaway, Orr is the third generation of “civil servants” throughout the peninsula; her father grew up just blocks from where she grew up. Both of her grandparents were members of the NYPD, and her grandmother was one of the first Gold Shield detectives in the 1930s. One of seven children, her family still lives in the Rockaways, just blocks from her home on Shore Front Parkway.

FAVORITE MEMORY: Orr’s favorite memory is also what she considers to be her greatest accomplishment – the Arverne By The Sea project. Advertised as “New York City’s hottest new oceanfront community,” Orr and the community board saw the project through from the space being a vacant lot, to now being a completely occupied, luxurious living facility.

INSPIRATION: Orr believes that her inspiration comes from a combination of being raised by “civil servants” and also believing in community service as part of your everyday life. “I just love where I live, and I want it to be better,” she said.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Because of its geographic isolation, an increase in public transportation is what Orr said is the “number one need.” “We need [more transportation] for both growth and for people in the borough and in the city to come out and enjoy Rockaway,” she said. She also said that there is a need for better schools – now, many students travel off of the peninsula for high school, and Orr knows that a greater focus on education could result in children staying local for school. Lately, a challenge for Orr has been dealing with the “many more layers of government” after the storm to ensure that their shoreline is restored better than before, and also jumping over the “many road blocks” to help residents and small businesses get back on their feet.

 

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Rockaway Courthouse to be revitalized


| mchan@queenscourier.com

The former Rockaway Courthouse — saved from its longtime sentence of stagnancy — has been given a second life.

The limestone and marble courthouse, located at 90-01 Beach Channel Drive, was originally constructed in 1932. But for the last 20 years, the building has remained vacant.

Now, the city is seeking interested buyers to reactivate and redevelop the 80-year-old historic structure.

“[This] will help both the city and the community implement a coordinated strategic plan for economic development for this critical part of Queens,” said Seth Pinsky, president of New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), which issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) on January 24. “We look forward to learning what creative New Yorkers have in mind for the former courthouse in the coming weeks and months.”

According to local leaders, the current site — which includes approximately 24,000-square-feet and access to mass transportation — holds the key to stimulating future economic growth and residential life.

“This great community resource has been on my radar for several years,” said Borough President Helen Marshall. “This RFEI will set the stage for a real reuse plan of this former courthouse. It will become the latest addition to the continuing Rockaway renaissance that has brought new housing, recreational and retail development in recent years.”

Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder said the reactivation will also remove a longstanding “blight on the community.”

“For too long we’ve allowed it to sit vacant, hurting the community,” Goldfeder said. “Any redevelopment proposals are very welcomed. In Rockaway, we’re very excited about seeing something in that facility, for it to finally have some use.”

According to Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14, one developer — Uri Kaufman of the Harmony Group — had already expressed interest even before the RFEI was issued to transform the courthouse into a surgical center.

“The board had a very favorable response to this proposal,” Gaska said. “We have always seen the Rockaway Courthouse as a monument to city neglect. It was once was a beautiful building, and we’re pleased that the city is moving to try and find someone to renovate and occupy it. We’re waiting to see if any other proposals come in, and we’ll see what happens.”

Kaufman could not be reached as of press time.

Cross Bay toll could be no more


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder

Rockaway residents may soon find their burdens lighter — at least while trekking across the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal, a discount program could see Rockaway and Broad Channel residents reimbursed for their travels.

Rockaway motorists with an E-Z Pass currently pay $1.19 each time they drive along the Cross Bay Bridge for up to two trips a day. While additional crossings are free afterward, local elected officials and residents have long deemed the toll a problem.

The toll was free for residents of Broad Channel and the Rockaways for 12 years, but was reinstated by the MTA in 2010.

Now that fares could be relinquished once again for Rockaway and Broad Channel residents, local elected officials — who have championed against the toll for many years — revel in a victory won while they look ahead to ending the toll boroughwide.

“We have been advocating relentlessly to end the toll on the Cross Bay Bridge,” said Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder, who has been a staunch advocate for a complete toll elimination. “From the many civic and community leaders who rallied, to the thousands of community members who signed our petition, we are one step closer to successfully eliminating this toll completely and lifting a significant financial burden off the shoulders of many hardworking families and businesses in Rockaway and Broad Channel.”

The assemblymember added that the toll negatively affects an already sluggish local economy and places an inherently excessive financial burden on the residents and small businesses of southern Queens and Rockaway.

According to Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14, the proposal could stimulate more activity and revenue between Rockaway and Broad Channel businesses.

“It certainly will be positive. Broad Channel residents will more likely come in to Rockaway now,” Gaska said, adding that residents could save between $800 and $1,500 a year if the program passes.

But Gaska said businesses on the peninsula are not likely to see a “big boom.”

“Residents outside still have to pay,” he said. “The toll stifles economic growth within our community. It keeps tourists from coming into Rockaway, and all local businesses still have to pay for their trucks and vehicles going in and out of Rockaway. It’s been a significant problem for us.”

Still, Democratic Assembly District Leader Lew Simon said the discount is a giant step in the right direction.

“I was very much ecstatic. I was one of the happiest men on Earth when I heard,” said Simon, who for many years has rallied much opposition against the toll. “We’ve been fighting like hell to get rid of this toll to make sure the residents don’t pay it. I’m very excited with the governor’s decision, but I feel like all Queens residents should not be paying this unfair toll.”

The discount program is expected to go into immediate effect once the budget is signed nearing the end of March.