Tag Archives: Jackson Heights Beautification Group

Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights lights up for the holidays


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy Councilmember Daniel Dromm's Office

Councilmember Daniel Dromm gathered with State Senator Jose Peralta, the nonprofit SUKHI NY, Moin Choudhury of Association for Justice Inc., Friends of Diversity Plaza and local residents at Diversity Plaza, located at 37th Road between 73rd and 74th Streets in Jackson Heights on Sunday to light the plaza’s 16-foot holiday tree.

The Friends of Diversity Plaza includes members from the office of Councilmember Daniel Dromm, the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, the Jackson Heights Green Alliance, the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership and the Birchwood House.

“I want to thank everyone for pulling together to make this space better each year,” said Dromm. “The second annual tree lighting was a success.”

 

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Star of Queens: Edwin Westley, president, Jackson Heights Beautification Group


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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Community Service: Headed by Edwin Westley, the Jackson Heights Beautification Group (JHBG) fills the neighborhood with music, nature and goodwill. Founded in 1988, this all-volunteer organization hosts street cleanups and orchestral concerts in addition to creating more green spaces and preserving the Jackson Heights historic district.

Westley, who has been involved with JHBG for more than 20 years, said the organization’s commitment extends beyond its greening efforts.

“It shows the community that an organization is dedicated to keeping the neighborhood friendly, safe and welcoming of all our neighbors,” he said.

Background: A Brooklyn native, Westley attended St. Francis Preparatory School and St. Francis College. He received his MBA at Long Island University and raised six children who are now “having wonderful careers and delivering wonderful grandchildren.”

A senior planner at Northrop Grumman until he retired six years ago, Westley’s involvement with the community began with coaching his children’s baseball and basketball teams. He joined JHBG soon after moving to Jackson Heights in 1992.

Favorite Memory: Westley said his most memorable moment as president of JHBG was at a holiday lighting ceremony, when residents came up to him to thank him for his contributions to the community.

“The recognition that we get from the people on the street is more than worthwhile,” he said. “That’s really the ultimate satisfaction one gets in doing this kind of work.”

Biggest Challenge: JHBG is currently fighting three commercial development proposals that they say would take a significant number of acres from Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

“We’re waging the good fight against the development,” Westley said. “We think that’s an outrageous attempt by the developers to commercially develop public parkland that belongs to the people.”

Inspiration: The volunteers and members of JHBG inspire Westley the most.

I get satisfaction “knowing that people are always willing to chip in and always willing to fight the good fight,” he said.

BY ROSA KIM

Jackson Heights park to be renamed in tribute to beloved student


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Ciaran and Orlaith Staunton

Those who knew Rory Staunton say it would be a fitting tribute.

The newly-acquired Parks Department property at the Garden School athletic field in Jackson Heights may soon bear his name. The 12-year-old lost his life last April due to sepsis poisoning after falling while playing basketball in his school’s gym. What doctors believed to be a minor wound later became infected and led to his death.

Rory was a student at the Garden School. Although he lived in Sunnyside with his father Ciaran, mother Orlaith and sister Kathleen, he loved to help out in the Jackson Heights community. He enjoyed working side by side with his dad, a board member of the Garden School. Ciaran Staunton was one of the main individuals who pushed for the field to be used as a park instead of developing it into a 10-story apartment building.

After hearing from the Jackson Heights Green Alliance, the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, Councilmember Daniel Dromm and other elected officials, Community Board 3 on April 18 voted unanimously to have the field renamed after Rory.

The proposal was inspired by the hard work the boy and his father did to help save the park for future generations.

“We as a group felt it was fitting to name it after Rory,” said Dudley Stewart, president of the Jackson Heights Green Alliance. “The community board vote was a huge relief. It was great to recognize that the community stands behind this proposal. We felt really gratified and very happy.”

Ciaran Staunton said his son helped draw up the plans for the park before he passed away. The father added that Rory was “very green” and always tried to do what was right.

“Our family is very honored,” he said. “It’s a comforting feeling they [children] will be playing in Rory Staunton field for their whole lives.”

Ciaran Staunton recalled an invitation to the White House for St. Patrick’s Day last year. He took his son, who was inspired by the trip to the president’s home.

“He was eyeing the office for himself,” Staunton said.

Since the boy’s passing, the Staunton family has worked hard to raise awareness of sepsis. Governor Andrew Cuomo dubbed legislation to fight sepsis Rory’s Regulations.

Even with all the support they have received for renaming the park, the Stauntons still have to wait for the Parks Department to give official approval.

“It would be fit to honor him in such a way,” said Dromm. “He was only 12 years old [but] had a tremendous impact on the community.”

The Parks Department did not respond to calls as of press time.

 

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Abandoned Jackson Heights cemetery may become park


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

They’re looking to turn it from a final resting place to a place where children play.

Hidden away from the public, Leverich Cemetery in Jackson Heights was once part of a family-owned farm land passed down through generations. But at one point the farm was bequeathed with the cemetery plot no longer included.

The 17th century cemetery presently has no owner. It remains on 35th Avenue near Leverich Street. Through the years, homes and stores have sprung up around the site, which today bears no grave markings.

To make use of the abandoned land, Edwin Westley, president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, has come up with the idea of turning the cemetery into a small park.

According to Jackson Heights historian Daniel Karatzas, most residents have no idea the cemetery exists and it has become a dumping ground with no one looking after it.

“I think it [a park] would be a great asset to the community,” said Karatzas.

Yet, due to the land’s hard-to-reach location behind stores, Councilmember Daniel Dromm is concerned with security because of a lack of immediate police surveillance.

“It does not really intend itself to that purpose,” said Dromm. “It is an interesting idea but there are several concerns that I do have with it. One of them is that the cemetery is a cemetery and you can’t have people tramping over dead bodies.”

Instead, Dromm said he wants to see the plot, now covered in garbage, including an old washing machine, half a motorcycle and full of stray cats, cleaned.

Fearing it poses a health hazard, Dromm plans to organize a community cleanup.

“We are definitely going to clean it up, because no one wants to take responsibility for it,” said Dromm.

 

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Push for slow zones in Jackson Heights


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo By Angy Altamirano

In December, 11-year-old Miguel Torres was struck and killed as he tried to cross the street on Northern Boulevard.

Now, leaders in Jackson Heights are calling for a slow zone to prevent more deaths.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm is leading the push that would lower the speed limit in the neighborhood from 30 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour on specific streets to stop drivers who speed through.

Last year, the councilmember applied to have a slow zone between 74th Street and 86th Street, from 37th Avenue up to Northern Boulevard. The application was denied by the Department of Transportation (DOT), as Northern Boulevard cannot be part of the slow zone because it is considered a major arterial traffic way, said Dromm.

But now Dromm hopes to reapply and focus on the side streets that meet Northern Boulevard.

“There is a very big problem in Jackson Heights on those side streets,” said Dromm. “We have to change the mentality of drivers that when they are coming into such a congested area, you aren’t going to get in and out fast. You need to slow down, calm down and take it easy.”

About two weeks ago, on the corner of 81st Street and 35th Avenue, a pedestrian was struck in a hit-and-run accident when a car was making a left turn. Another pedestrian was hit on 82nd Street and Northern Boulevard and is in critical condition.

Edwin Westley, president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, said he is working with Dromm to bring the slow zone to the neighborhood.

“We need it for two reasons, one is the number of senior citizens in the neighborhood and the other reason is there are a large number of schools in the area,” Westley said.

A slow zone in East Elmhurst, on 25th Avenue from 69th to 83rd Street, was approved by the DOT and is nearly completed.

“Northern Boulevard needs to be a safe environment considering just how many schools sit right along it throughout Jackson Heights and into Corona,” said Serhan Ayhan, 26, a Jackson Heights resident. “We shouldn’t be playing a game of chicken waiting until a student is hurt while crossing the street to implement safer policies.”

Along with the slow zones, Dromm also hopes to implement other traffic measures including bike racks and extended curbs to get drivers to slow down. He is also working with the NYPD for additional enforcement on the north and south ends of Northern Boulevard to decrease fatalities and hit-and-runs.

The DOT did not respond as of press time.

 

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Jackson Heights to get more park space


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

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Officials and civic groups from Jackson Heights, a neighborhood parched for play space, have persuaded the city to purchase a school yard and turn it into a park.

The Jackson Heights Green Alliance, along with the help of Councilmember Daniel Dromm and the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, acquired a 2,600-square-foot patch of asphalt from the Garden School, nearly doubling the area’s amount of park space.

“Jackson Heights has a critical shortage of park space,” said Dudley Stewart, president of the Jackson Heights Green Alliance. “It is dramatically underserved.”

When the Jackson Heights Green Alliance discovered the Garden School was looking to sell its lot to a private developer in February 2011, it stepped up and threw in a bid. Shortly after, the Grow a Park Campaign formed, fighting for open space in the neighborhood. With monetary assistance from private foundations and nearly half a million dollars in pledges, the group purchased the Garden School’s lot.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm has eyed the spot for a possible park ever since Jackson Heights was ranked second to last in park space out of the 51 council districts citywide in a New Yorkers for Parks study published in 2009.

“I feel it’s a promise fulfilled,” said Dromm. “When I came into office I immediately began to think about how to create more green space. I promised the community we would have to think out of the box.”

This newly-bought space is adjacent to 78th Street Play Street – a car-free zone open for play during the summer months. For the fourth year in a row, 78th Street between 34th Avenue and Northern Boulevard will be transformed into an open area for kids and adults alike.

“It’s almost double the space between the lot and the play street,” said Stewart. “It’s a huge benefit. It’s not just for families with kids, it’s for the entire community.”

The Jackson Heights Green Alliance recently won the Department of Transportation’s public plaza program which designs and constructs permanent, year-round parks. According to Stewart, this marks the first time in the program’s history that the grant has been awarded to a civic group rather than a Business Improvement District.

Stewart says the next step is to install a fence around the space so the public can access it freely. During school hours, the Garden School will retain exclusive access. During the rest of the year, it will be open to the entire community.

“We hope it’s going to be great,” said Stewart. “We’ve got our fingers crossed.”

Owners say Jackson Heights plaza hurts biz


| brennison@queenscourier.com

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Jackson Heights store owners say sales have been pedestrian since a new plaza opened — moving a bus stop and closing off the street to cars.

The pedestrian plaza on 37th Road between 73rd Street and 74th Street, which consists of mostly South Asian businesses, opened in September of last year to create a court for residents to walk, sit and relax, but local store owners say it has driven customers away.

“The customers that we had left, and new customers come once and never come back because it is too difficult to get here,” said Shiv Dass, president of the Jackson Heights Indian Merchants Association.

The bus route that used to stop in front of the train station on 37th Road was rerouted, limiting the many straphangers that would stop by the shops for a cup of coffee, newspaper or a bite to eat.

“This plaza is closing down [the merchants’] livelihoods,” said Mohammad Rashid, a local volunteer and advocate for Jackson Heights residents.  “We’ve lost customers and revenue.  It will be difficult to get them back.”

The lack of business may force some merchants to make difficult decisions.

Nooruddin Dashti, who owns two stores on the block, said he is two months late on his rent and has been forced to begin laying off employees.

The owner of several of the block’s properties, Julio Fernandez, said he has not seen anything like this in his 30 years of ownership.

“Nobody can pay the rent because no one has any business,” Fernandez said, adding that shops have been paying them what they can in the interim.

Murad Rahman, who works in his brother’s shop on 37th Road, recently had a rent check bounce because of low business.  “We will have to close or move,” he said.

The plaza was opened for a six-month trial period ending in March. A decision will be made before then whether to make the plaza permanent or reopen the street to traffic.  The DOT will also discuss making changes to surrounding streets to make the area more conducive to shoppers and will continue to monitor the area, a spokesperson said.

“We would like to see [the plaza] work,” said Len Maniace, vice president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, a community organization. “We think it would work with some support from the merchants.”

Maniace, who said he has spoken with some of the business owners and is willing to see if they can find a common ground, said the plaza’s potential would have been better realized had the trial been during the spring and summer — a time more conducive to walking and sitting outside.

“We had a six-month trial period.  It didn’t work out,” Dass said.  “It’s time to move it somewhere.  I support the plaza, just in the right place.”

Both Dass and Rashid suggested moving the plaza down one block, a spot Maniace believes may cause even more problems than currently exist.

“I don’t see why you’d want to put it on a block that has people living on it,” said Maniace, who envisions the plaza as a destination.

If made permanent, the plaza, which now has several blue tables and chairs placed on the block, would be beautified with trees and planters.

“I think they are missing an opportunity to have this turn into a really nicely manicured pedestrian plaza,” he said.  “I could see that becoming a place where restaurants would want to move to.  I think it could turn into a destination for New Yorkers, not just the surrounding neighborhoods.”

Jackson Heights community rallies against Trade Fair


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Councilmember Daniel Dromm

The Jackson Heights community is fed up with a local supermarket’s “un-Fair” procedures.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm and neighborhood residents united on January 17 in front of Trade Fair, a supermarket located at 75-07 37th Avenue, to protest the grocer’s persistent violations of city laws and regulations.

“Trade Fair’s violations have created an unsafe environment for the Jackson Heights community and ruined the appearance of the neighborhood to the detriment of both residents and fellow business owners,” said Dromm. “We are demanding that Trade Fair do right by our neighborhood.”

Among the residents’ premier demands are for Trade Fair to cease in placing bins of broken glass near their recycling area, restore a tree pit in front of the market which they filled with cement, and comply with a partial vacate order for an enclosure obstructing the sidewalk on 75th Street.

In August of last year, Trade Fair was ordered to vacate from an illegal extension on the side of their property. When the grocer failed to follow the command, the Environment Control Board (ECB) issued a violation.

Jackson Heights community organizations echoed Dromm’s complaints – emphasizing the supermarket’s lack of respect for the neighborhood.

“Trade Fair supermarket is a serial sidewalk abuser,” said Edwin Westley, president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group. “In each of their Jackson Heights locations on 37th Avenue, they have expanded their storage spaces by our sidewalk space. They are not good neighbors as demonstrated by their lack of respect for pedestrians. This is a clear violation and needs to be stopped now.”

Neighborhood residents admit that Trade Fair is a fine supermarket, but demand that the store’s selfish behavior cease if they are to continue to shop there.

“We have a great neighborhood here and most everyone works to make it better,” said Tom Lowenhaupt, a resident of 75th Street who attended the rally. “Trade Fair runs a good store but they can’t keep straight what’s theirs and what belongs to the public. They have a take, take, take policy when it comes to the areas adjacent to their stores. They constantly push the boundary and test what they can get away with. That’s not being neighborly. Ease off or face a boycott.”

Despite the community’s allegations, Victor Fuentes, the manager of Trade Fair, says the supermarket has done nothing wrong.

“[The owners] are currently in the process of getting a permit for the extension they are building,” Fuentes said. “It is a little on the sidewalk, but there is plenty of room to walk. There is no broken glass in the recycled area. As soon as we are aware of broken glass, we clean it up right away. The tree is in the unloading area, so when the trucks backed out they knocked the tree down. We called the city to replace it, but it kept getting knocked down. Eventually, the city stopped coming. And when it rains or snows, the water gets in the hole where the tree goes and it stinks. Residents complained about the smell, so we filled the hole with cement to stop the problem.”

Proposal to close Jackson Heights street for food fair


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

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A local farmers market is promoting a fresh idea for Jackson Heights — converting a serene street into a bustling bazaar.

GrowNYC’s Greenmarket, which is the only year-round farmers market in Queens, will present a proposal to Community Board (CB) 3 on January 19, hoping the Jackson Heights community supports the closing of 78th Street between 34th Avenue and Northern Boulevard every Sunday to hold a food fair.

“We found that when the street is closed, it created a much more user friendly market,” said Michael Hurwitz, director of GrowNYC’s Greenmarket program. “It will create more aisle space, making the market less crowded, and cars will not be coming through, making it safer. This will provide more space for everything, including cooking demonstrations.”

The farmers market is currently on the sidewalk of 34th Avenue between 78th and 77th streets, but Councilmember Daniel Dromm believes the slight shift will do wonders for the neighborhood hotspot.

“The farmers market is an integral part of our community, and shifting it over to 78th Street makes sense,” said the councilmember, who believes the change will ease congestion, both for passing cars and patrons of the fair. “Seventy Eighth Street is longer, and since the street will be closed, it will also be wider. It provides a little more room for expansion and provides a safety net for the people to shop there. If you go there on a Sunday afternoon, it is just a great place to be, with the farmers market and Traverse Park. It has become another landmark of community life in Jackson Heights.”

Edwin Westely, the president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, believes the street switch will also make shopping safer and more convenient.

“Right now it becomes ‘dodge the car’ when you shop there,” said Westley, who fully supports the relocation. “The street where the market is now is much more congested.”

During the summer, the block is closed off from cars and transformed into a play street for neighborhood children. According to Will Sweeney, co-founder of the Green Alliance, which organizes the play street, the market will not interfere with the children’s recreational space.

“We believe that the street makes more sense with more people using it, and more people use it as a farmers market and play street,” said Sweeney, who has worked closely with Greenmarket in developing this plan. “We are hoping to turn it into a public plaza, with the farmers market on some days and games for kids on others.”

Jackson Heights currently has the second least park space in the five boroughs, prompting community leaders to push for the purchase of the yard at the Garden School, also located on 78th Street — across from Travers Park — to create a neighborhood piazza.

The city is currently in talks to procure the space, which is roughly 29,000 square feet, from the cash-strapped private school, but negotiations have been delayed for over a year.

“I’m hopeful an agreement can and will be reached,” Dromm said. “I’m confident the parties are working out the details.”

Jackson Heights schoolyard is 200th to become playground


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Renderings Courtesy of the Parks Department

One of the city’s most congested communities is getting a little extra room to breathe.

Schoolyards at P.S. 69 and I.S. 145 in Jackson Heights are being transformed into student-designed playgrounds that will be open to the public on weekdays after school until dusk and on weekends from 8 a.m. to dusk.

The renovations aim to provide the neighborhood with more open space, answering the calls from community leaders and local elected officials.

“My council district ranks 50 out of 51 districts in the city with regards to park space,” said Councilmember Daniel Dromm. “Jackson Heights is the second neediest district in terms of park space, according to the New Yorkers for Parks Survey. This transition will create new, open space for people to use for recreational activities, to sit and relax and enjoy a newspaper or just to take in some fresh air, and it provides my constitutions with something they have been telling me they want desperately –  open space and green space.”

The councilmember believes the additional park space will also foster growth in Jackson Heights and encourage youthful visitors and prospective residents to enter the community.

“We have seen an influx of young families moving into the neighborhood, and open park space and good schools are the two things these families are most looking for,” Dromm said. “The open spaces will make this a great place to raise your kids. The added benefit is that parks raise property value and makes the neighborhood more desirable to people looking to purchase a new home. These playgrounds will contribute to the desirability of living in Jackson Heights.”

The renovations were made as part of PlaNYC’s Schoolyards to Playgrounds program, which aims to ensure all New Yorkers live within a 10 minute walk of a park or playground. The city has invested $87.6 million to convert approximately 230 schoolyards into playgrounds by 2013.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was joined by Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Jackson Heights elected officials on November 30 at the recently-completed playground at P.S. 69, located at 77-02 37th Avenue, to announce that the school was the 200th member of the Schoolyards to Playgrounds program.

“Since 2002, our administration has been committed to creating new public parks and new open spaces of every kind,” said Bloomberg. “PlaNYC, our long-term sustainability agenda, identified public schoolyards that could be opened up year-round in neighborhoods most in need of open space. Despite the economic downturn, we’ve maintained our commitment to this innovative program and we are delivering on our promise. In a time of tight budgets, our schoolyards represent a great opportunity for transforming existing, underused resources into something we can all enjoy.”

According to a Parks Department spokesperson, schools selected for the Schoolyards to Playgrounds initiative are usually in underserved neighborhoods. I.S. 145’s playground, located at 33-34 80th Street, is scheduled for completion during the summer of 2012. Both the P.S. 69 and I.S. 145 projects cost approximately $300,000, according to the source.

As part of the initiative, representatives from the Trust for Public Land, a non-profit organization and the city’s premier partner in the program, visit the schools to gather the opinions and ideas of community members, faculty and students to incorporate into the designs of the parks.

Dromm says he hopes the city can also complete the purchase of the roughly 29,000-square-feet of  park land beside the Garden School, located at 33-16 79th Street – across the street from Jackson Heights’ Travers Park. According to the councilmember, who has contributed $5 million in funding to the project, the mayor’s office is currently working to acquire the land.

The Jackson Heights Beautification Group is facilitating the discussions between the Garden School and the city, in hopes that the deal can benefit the cash-strapped school by providing an influx of capital.

“This would be a win, win, win for the Garden School, Parks Department and Jackson Heights,” said Edwin Westely, president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, who believes the purchase of the land imminent. “Jackson Heights gets more open space, the Parks Department would get more parks land and the school will be helped out with funds.”