Tag Archives: Councilman peter koo

Flushing public forum reveals planning study


| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Photo by Alina Suriel/ Gallery courtesy of the NYC Department of City Planning

The NYC Department of City Planning publicly revealed Thursday night details of a Flushing West planning study which will result in large-scale re-zoning in line with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year plan to increase affordable housing.

The study area is a 10-block zone bounded by Northern Boulevard to the north, Roosevelt Avenue to the south, Prince Street to the east and the Van Wyck Expressway and Flushing Creek to the west. Underutilized commercial and industrial land uses will be re-examined for changes which aim to allow for new residential, commercial and community facility uses alongside the eventual redevelopment of the area.

This will be accomplished by increasing allowable residential density, providing a public space amenity plan, and rethinking the height and massing of new buildings, as well as several other aspects of study.

“I hope that you can see how comprehensively we’re trying to think about Flushing, and yet how innovative this process is for this community,” said John Young, director of the City Planning Department in Queens.

Officials, community organizations, and residents were outspoken about their concerns for plans intended to bring major change into their area. Councilman Peter Koo remarked that the rapid growth of Flushing puts a strain on its existing community and infrastructure, and said more has to be done to preserve affordable housing, support small businesses and improve stormwater systems before increased development results in a possible population influx.

Among residents, the creation and preservation of affordable housing was cited as the biggest priority. According to a report circulated by the office of the mayor, between 2005 and 2012, rents rose by 11 percent while renters’ incomes stagnated, and to combat this trend the inclusion of affordable housing units is a condition of any new development.

While opportunity for affordable housing creation in Flushing is limited under the current zoning, any new re-zoning under the Flushing West study will fall in line with the new affordable housing requirement. Planners undertaking the Flushing West study are also being guided by other city agencies on how to adapt the affordable housing requirements to the area in a way that is financially feasible.

Grace Shim, executive director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, was fearful of the possibility of residents being displaced in programs which do not address the needs of the population with the lowest income.

“We don’t want them to be priced out of here,” said Shim, who added that the most vulnerable sector consists of senior citizens and recent immigrant with limited English proficiency. “We don’t want them to be pushed out.”

In addition to preserving affordable housing, expanding waterfront access to Flushing Creek is also targeted as a specific objective of the study. Planners will work to find ways to provide pedestrian access to the waterfront by creating a street network leading to the area, which is now difficult to access due to narrow sidewalks and closed-off street networks.

Open walkways and green areas are eyed for the waterfront’s future, as well as affordable housing developments to utilize some of the open space.

The community input process of the Flushing West planning study is ongoing, and previous public presentations as well as additional information can be found online at nyc.gov/flushing-west.

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Koo: Mayor broke promise to make Lunar New Year a school holiday


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Flushing’s Asian community feels burned by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s failure to make Lunar New Year a citywide holiday.

De Blasio announced last week that two Muslim holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, would be added to the public school’s calendar as a holiday that will suspend school for two days. But Councilman Peter Koo said that the de Blasio administration promised him the same designation for Lunar New Year, a holiday that was recently celebrated, among others, by Flushing’s Asian community.

“The de Blasio administration did a commendable thing by recognizing the two Eids as important holidays,” Koo said. “What was strikingly absent from this announcement, however, was the declaration of Lunar New Year as a day off for school children as well. My community and I were made to believe that Lunar New Year was going to officially be recognized for the next school year. I was very disappointed.”

He continued, “Someone needs to explain to us why this hasn’t happened, despite being led to believe it would.”

De Blasio and School Chancellor Carmen Fariña have been pushing for Lunar New Year to become a citywide school holiday since the mayor took office, and the two often held rallies in Flushing to promote the idea. With the addition of the two Muslim holidays, there are now 16 official school holidays. State law sets a required number of school days, and the city must rework its school calendar for any additional school holidays.

But students in Flushing, and other Asian communities in New York, didn’t have to go to school this year because of a law that was passed last year.

The law allows the Department of Education to consider closing schools on days where large student absences are expected due to religious or cultural days of observance; it also calls on school districts to consider closing schools on holidays that are important to groups that account for at least 7.5 percent of the local population. According to census data, 57 percent of Flushing population is classified as Asian.

But Koo still wanted an official nod in the form of a citywide public school holiday.

“We worked with the administration when they came into power to work at getting Lunar New Year a holiday designation,” a spokesman for Koo’s office said. “They haven’t given us any explanation. They didn’t tell us why they didn’t do it.”

After last week’s announcement, de Blasio was asked if Lunar New Year would be included in the future.

“I’m going to keep working on that with the chancellor. What we’ve found in this process is that we are in a very tight situation, as I said, with the number of days that we have to achieve each year, so it’s going to take more work to get to that,” de Blasio said last Wednesday. “We remain focused on it, but it will take more work, because we have to balance a lot of factors.”

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City celebrates first Korean-American Day


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Tuesday will go down in the books as the first Korean-American Day in New York City.

The City Council passed a resolution, sponsored by Councilman Peter Koo, in December that marked Jan. 13 as Korean-American Day, dedicated to celebrating Korean culture.

Busloads of Koreans from Queens came to City Hall on Tuesday to celebrate the day with Koo and other elected officials.

“We are very excited that Koreans are being recognized,” said Paul Yoo, president of the Korean American Association of Queens. “Our next step is to get this day recognized on the state level and eventually federally.”

Jan. 13 was chosen because of its importance in Koreans coming to America. In 1903 a ship landed in Hawaii with about 100 Koreans.  And since then, Yoo said, Koreans have contributed to building America. He also noted that the Korean population in New York City has risen over the past few years.

Between 2008 and 2011, the city’s Korean population jumped 11 percent to more than 103,000, according to the Asian American Federation. And Queens has its own vibrant Korean community, which often holds events, like last year’s Senior Olympics, to celebrate its culture.

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City to begin studying western part of Flushing for residential development


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

The city is looking into rezoning the western part of Flushing for redevelopment and affordable housing, according to a city council hearing on Monday.

The Department of City Planning will launch a study from the westernmost part of Flushing to Prince Street and Northern Boulevard to Roosevelt Avenue. The area is largely industrial and most of it hugs Flushing Creek’s bank. Developers have been interested in the area for many years, including The Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation, which received a $1.5 million state grant to clean up the polluted waters of Flushing Creek.

The plan is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pledge to construct or preserve 200,000 affordable apartments. And Flushing was selected, along with other areas in New York City, as a possible candidate for housing development that would include mandatory affordable housing.

“The plan is to create a comprehensively planned community,” said Alexa Rosa, a consultant for the organization that received the state grant.

The city planning department will begin reaching out to the many stakeholders in the area for the possible rezoning, according to a spokesman for Councilman Peter Koo. The process could take years to complete.

“We definitely need more affordable housing,” the spokesman said. “And that would be welcomed, if that’s what’s actually going to happening.”

“We’re cautiously optimistic about it,” he added. “Because we are excited about it, but we don’t want to fully support something when the details aren’t there.”

He continued, “Everybody has to be treated fairly.”

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New Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce aims to unify businesses


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

File photo

Downtown Flushing bristles with businesses. Yet for all its economic activity, the area doesn’t have a Chamber of Commerce to advocate for the businesses’ needs in government. But that’s about to change.

John Choe is the executive director for the new Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce. The organization is being put together and Choe plans on having a launch party for the organization in December.

“The chamber will look at making sure we not only have policies that benefit businesses,” Choe said, “but we also get the same level of attention that reflects the level of economic taxes that we generate for the government.”

Flushing’s previous chamber of commerce dissolved in 2012 after 80 years of operation, according to earlier reports. The previous organization, the Flushing Chamber of Commerce, began to recede in importance as a new wave of Asian immigrants moved to the area, bringing with them their own business groups.

Choe is hoping to not share his predecessor’s fate by bringing the various business interest groups under one flag and “creating a multicultural chamber at its core.”

“We want to create a chamber of commerce that will reflect the diversity of the greater Flushing area,” he said.

The area’s business groups include the Flushing Business Improvement District, Korean American Small Business Service Center of New York, Flushing Chinese Business Association, Taiwan Merchants Association, One Flushing and the Flushing Development Center.

“It’s a complicated task,” Choe said.

News of the chamber’s creation was welcomed by many in the community.

“The creation of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce is a good idea because it will help small business owners by providing them with a resource that is dedicated to expanding their business opportunities and financial growth,” Councilman Peter Koo said. “We are still living in a climate of overregulation that remains challenging for many small business owners, so the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce will be a welcomed addition to the diverse business community here.”

Dian Yu, executive director of the Flushing Business Improvement District, said that his organization would be willing to work with Choe and the chamber.

“Anybody who is willing to pitch in for the Flushing community is always a good thing,” Yu said. “We work with everybody. We welcome everybody to fight for the community.”

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Conservancy group pushes local pols to fund meditation garden in Kissena Corridor Park


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Illustrations courtesy of the Kissena Corridor Park Conservancy

The Kissena Corridor Park Conservancy  is trying to turn a section of the Flushing park that’s overgrown with weeds into a meditation garden. But a lack of money is keeping the group from attaining tranquility.

The conservancy group is turning to local politicians like Councilman Peter Koo to help fund the project, which could cost up to $1 million to complete. In 2009, the group received $6,000 from Congressmember Grace Meng. Koo allocated $100,000 this year from the council’s budget. So far, they’ve collected $160,000.

“We we want to get something in there that’s meaningful to everybody,” said Roland Wade, president of the Kissena Corridor Park Conservancy.

Wade came up with the idea and in 2009 his group proposed it to the Parks Department. The department accepted the idea but they refused to fund it. The Parks Department told the conservancy that the proposed garden would need at least $1 million, according to former conservancy president Dorothy Woo.

“We’re happy to work with the Kissena Corridor Park Conservancy on designing and constructing the garden, once funding is in place,” a Parks Department spokeswoman said. “Anyone who would like to see capital improvements made to their park should reach out to their local elected officials to seek funding.”

The plans for the garden call for cedar of Lebanon trees, lighting, a water feature and various flowers and bushes. The garden would be across the street from the New York Hospital Queens on 56th Avenue. Wade said that the plans for the garden are completely done and once they receive the money, work can begin.

“We thought, why not a memorial garden where people from the hospital can come and meditate,” Wade said. “That they could enter a garden of tranquility where there could be beauty quiet, nature, flowers.”


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Leaders pushing to save Flushing row houses


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Flushing leaders don’t want developers to make themselves at home in some parts of the neighborhood.

Politicians and civic representatives are still pushing for a way to save row houses, after yet another residence on 56th Road was gobbled up by a developer, who has already begun to expand it from a single-family residence to a multi-family home.

While it’s not illegal or a violation of zoning regulations, neighbors are worried that the expansions will put an end to the classic single-family row houses, which have shaped the neighborhood since the 1930s. They also believe that expanding the row houses will create overdevelopment in the middle class community and lead to quality of life issues, such as traffic congestion.

“We understand that houses get bigger, but we have to balance that with some respect for the people who live in these homes,” said Don Capalbi, president of the Queensboro Hill Flushing Civic Association. “If we allow this, there are row houses all over the borough and all over the city that are going to expand. Once developers see what they can do and the money that can be made, they are going to be swarming all over the borough looking for these homes.”

Richard Hellenbrecht, president of the community umbrella organization the Queens Civic Congress, urged the Department of City Planning in a letter earlier this year to create a new zoning classification that would help protect single-family row houses. Community Board 7, which oversees Flushing, sent a letter to the city agency as well, and received a response that suggests future discussions, but no promises.

“An examination of zoning uses pertaining to single-family row houses raises citywide policy concerns, and to date no consensus has been reached regarding the specific nature and locational appropriateness of such a potential new designation,” said City Planning Director Carl Weisbrod in a letter the board received on July 11. “We would certainly be open to discussing this issue with you in the future.”

Councilman Peter Koo, who represents Flushing, has requested a meeting for the end of August with City Planning to figure out a solution that could help save the row houses.

“My constituents deserve the best possible protections against overdevelopment in their neighborhoods, and I want to make sure no block is left behind,” Koo said. “I look forward to working with City Planning and all community stakeholders as this process moves forward.”

 

 

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Officials break ground on $1B Flushing Commons development


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy TDC Development International


Flushing’s nearly $1 billion project finally got off the ground. 

Officials broke ground Monday on Flushing Commons, a massive mixed-use residential and commercial development that will transform more than five acres of land in downtown Flushing.

The project will offer new retail opportunities, community facilities, 1,600 parking spaces, a large public plaza and a 62,000-square-foot YMCA with two pools, a full-size gym and an indoor running track.

“Today is a good day for the Flushing community. After much delay, we are finally breaking ground on a project that promises to create jobs, housing and economic activity,” Councilman Peter Koo said. “Once this project is completed, it could play a significant role in cementing Flushing’s transformation into an economic powerhouse.”

Flushing Commons will be built in two phases, which developers said will reduce the level of construction and traffic congestion in the area.

THE COURIER/Photo by Mike DiBartolomeo

Phase 1, which is expected to be completed in 2017, includes approximately 219,000 square feet of office and retail space, 150 units of housing and a 982-space parking lot.

The second phase will comprise about 242,000 square feet of office and retail space, 450 residential units, 618 additional parking spaces, the YMCA, and a 1.5 acre public plaza called The Green at Flushing Commons. Phase 2 is expected to be completed by 2021.

 

 

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