Tag Archives: Kew Gardens Hills

BP Katz recommends against controversial Kew Gardens Hills synagogue expansion


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

A controversial plan to expand a Kew Gardens Hills synagogue suffered another major setback.

Borough president Melinda Katz recommended against the expansion of the Sephardic Congregation of Kew Gardens Hills on Wednesday, citing the possible disturbance it would cause for the community. Community Board 8 members overwhelmingly denied the variance application in June.

Leaders of the synagogue at 141-41, 72nd Ave. applied for a variance to build a third floor on its two-story building to accommodate the temple’s growing congregation and school. But community members protested against the proposed expansion because of the potential for an increase in garbage, more noise, poor building maintenance, traffic congestion and “a lack of adequate student supervision outside of the school facility.”

“There is no question as to the need for the services provided to their congregation and students,” Katz said in her decision, but added:  “An enlargement of the facility and addition of new congregants and students may make all of those negative conditions worse for the surrounding neighborhood.”

The congregation was established more than two decades ago after converting a residential two-story house into a synagogue. A school, Yeshiva Ohel Simcha, was added soon after and currently enrolls 70 students of elementary school age every weekday. Now there are two floors and a cellar in the building. The proposed third floor would be used to accommodate new students,  they currently have to turn away due to classroom-size limitations, congregation leaders said. They hope to add six additional classrooms, so they can house 185 students, doubling student enrollment and adding new teachers.

In addition to the issues raised by the community, the building has more than a dozen open Department of Buildings violations, including a broken elevator, lack of a Certificate of Occupancy and lack of fire alarms.

The congregation’s variance application for the third floor included asking for permission to work in the building despite lacking the required Certificate of Occupancy and other violations. This was necessary, according to congregation lawyer Jay Goldstein, because without it they can’t legally work on the building, since it currently doesn’t meet requirements. They pledged to amend the violations if approved for the application and to come up with solutions to the community’s issues.

Katz, however, did support the request to legalize the current building despite the violations, in order to allow the temple to continue practicing and give its owners a chance to fix violations throughout the property.

“The house of worship and school has been a part of the neighborhood for over 20 years,” Katz said. “It should be allowed to remain to continue providing services to their existing congregation and students.”

The Board of Standards and Appeals has the final say on the expansion of the synagogue.

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Kew Gardens Hills synagogues experience growing pains


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy Nicholas Strini/PropertyShark

The large and expanding Jewish community in Kew Gardens Hills has fueled the need for synagogue expansions, according to religious leaders, but some projects hinge on special permits which aren’t always easy to obtain.

In the latest batch of synagogues seeking variances, Community Board 8 will host a public hearing on Monday, Oct. 27, regarding a structural expansion of one place of worship and special operational permits for another. This comes after the board denied an application in June for expansion of a third synagogue, which is still hoping to get approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals in an upcoming vote.

The congregation of Torath Haim Ohel Sara at 144-11 77th Ave. is hoping the community board approves changes to an extant variance to allow it to operate without the lawfully required amount of space in its front, side and rear yards. They also request an extension of time to operate without a certificate of occupancy.

But this property, which is also undergoing construction, has Buildings Department violations for ignoring a stop-work order, according to city records, and has accrued penalties totaling nearly $100,000. Calls for comment from the synagogue were not returned.

A synagogue Just a block away, in a two-story building at 147-02 76th Rd., will also come before the board, hoping to get approval to add a floor to make room for a school and an office for the rabbi.

Isak Ambramov of Sharey Tefilah Synagogue initially applied for a brand-new three-story building in 2010 on the site and architectural firm Gerald Caliendo was slated to design it. However, the Buildings Department disapproved the plans, city records show.

And there hasn’t been any movement on the expansion application of Sephardic Congregation at 141-41 72nd Ave.

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

The community board denied its appeal for a variance to expand to three floors in June, after community residents strongly opposed it due to the potential increase of noise and garbage along with 15 existing Building Department violations. The application then went to Borough President Melinda Katz for a public hearing later in the month.

Community Board 8 District Manager Marie Adam-Ovide told The Courier she has not heard from Borough Hall as yet on that variance.

The borough president’s “recommendation is still being worked on,” according to a spokesman from Katz’s office, who said it would not be coming out Thursday, but did not have a definitive time frame beyond that point.

The Board of Standards and Appeals has the final say on all the applications.

The community board hearing will be held at Parsons Junior High School, 158-40 76th Rd., at 7:30 p.m.

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1,270-unit Kew Gardens Hills apartment complex sells for $216 million


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of PropertyShark/Scott Bintner

Real estate investment firm Hudson Realty Capital sold a massive 12-lot portfolio of apartment buildings in Kew Gardens Hills for $216 million, according to city records filed Wednesday.

The site comprises 1,268 apartments in 53 buildings on 24.6 acres scattered throughout 72nd Road, 150th Street, 73rd Avenue, 75th Avenue, Kissena Boulevard and 153rd Street.

The buyer is an affiliate of A&E Real Estate, The Real Deal reported.

Massey Knakal was the broker in the transaction, which an agent from the firm said in February would be the single largest residential complex sold in Queens since the sale of 3,000 units in Fresh Meadows in 1997.

However, a representative from the firm declined to comment on the sale.

Complex

Photo courtesy of Massey Knakal

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Take a first look inside Mela’s Café in Kew Gardens Hills


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

Mela’s Café may be replacing another diner in Kew Gardens Hills when it opens on Wednesday, but owners promise it will bring new flavor in more ways than just taste.

The left side of the restaurant has booths and tables with exposed brick walls, while the right side has large windows that will guide in natural light, giving customers different ways to experience the eatery. The diner seats 90 people, but it can expand it to about 120 seats if necessary.

cleared space

There are electrical outlets and USB ports scattered around the restaurant so patrons can charge their mobile devices, and free Wi-Fi is set up for people needing to use the Internet. With these features, they expect to attract the younger crowd from nearby Queens College.

“If we are going to make a difference we can’t go old, we have to think now,” said Melissa Guzman, daughter of the owner and the morning manager. Owner Franklin Rivera named the diner after her nickname, Mela.

Booths 2

Mela’s Café will be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

In terms of food, head chef David Nunez will be mixing his knowledge of Latin dishes with various flavors from other nationalities, such as Japanese, to bring a new culinary experience to the neighborhood.

“We didn’t want people to say, ‘Oh that’s a Dominican family so it’ll be only Dominican food,” Guzman said.

large windows

However, at the moment Mela’s is still waiting to get liquor license approval, so they won’t be selling alcohol for a little while.

Although Mela’s will bring many new features to the area, the one thing that may be familiar to local customers will be the staff.

There are 45 employees in the establishment, according to the human resources manager, and owners made a push to rehire servers from the former restaurant, because of their proximity to the diner and familiarity with neighborhood.

The family held an emotional meet-and-greet on Friday to thank community members and leaders for their support. They are looking forward to introducing their food to the neighborhood.

“To be honest, I’m anxious and nervous, but I’m very excited,” Guzman said. “This is a big [moment] for my family. I’m pretty stoked.”

Mela's family

Visit the restaurant’s website for more information.

 

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Health Department to treat parts of Queens against West Nile


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Images Courtesy of NYC Department of Health

On Tuesday, Aug. 19, the Health Department will treat parts of Queens to help reduce the mosquito population and the risk of West Nile virus.

The treatment, which will spray pesticide from trucks, will take place between the hours of 8:15 p.m. and 6 a.m. the following morning. In case of bad weather, the application will be delayed until Wednesday, Aug. 20. during the same hours.

For this spraying, the Health Department will use a very low concentration of Anvil® 10+10, a synthetic pesticide. When properly used, this product poses no significant risks to human health.

The Health Department recommends that people take the following precautions to minimize direct exposure:

• Whenever possible, stay indoors during spraying. People with asthma or other respiratory conditions are encouraged to stay inside during spraying since direct exposure could worsen these conditions.

• Air conditioners may remain on, however, if you wish to reduce the possibility of indoor exposure to pesticides, set the air conditioner vent to the closed position, or choose the re-circulate function.

• Remove children’s toys, outdoor equipment, and clothes from outdoor areas during spraying. If outdoor equipment and toys are exposed to pesticides, wash them with soap and water before using again.

• Wash skin and clothing exposed to pesticides with soap and water. Always wash your produce thoroughly with water before cooking or eating.

LOCATIONS:

Parts of Corona, Forest Hills, Forest Hill Gardens, Flushing, Kew Gardens Hills, Queensboro Hill and Rego Park (Bordered  by Long Island Expressway, College Point Boulevard and Booth Memorial Avenue to the north; 99th Street, 67th Avenue and Austin Street to the west; Jackie Robinson Parkway and Grand Central Parkway to the south; and Main Street to the east)

Parts of Bellrose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Hollis Hills, Glen Oaks and Little Neck (Bordered by Long Island Expressway, Douglaston Parkway and Van Zandt Avenue to the north; Cloverdale Boulevard,73rd Avenue and Springfield Boulevard to the west; Hillside Avenue to the south; Little Neck Parkway, Leith Road, Hewlett Street and Langdale Street to the east.)

 

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Jason Sudeikis films movie in Kew Gardens Hills


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Chris Bumbaca

CHRIS BUMBACA

The cameras were rolling on “Kissena Curve” in Kew Gardens Hills.

Actors, including Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie, filmed scenes at the brand new Micro Center technology store on Kissena Boulevard on Monday for the upcoming film “Sleeping with Other People.”

The movie is about the platonic bond between a womanizer and a serial cheater, according to IMDb.com. The film tracks their relationship as mutual attraction sets in and they go from friends to something more.

Sudeikis, a former Saturday Night live funnyman, plays the womanizer who never tries to get to close to members of the opposite sex while indulging his own pleasures. The serial cheater is played by Alison Brie of the television show “Community”.

The scene filmed at Micro Center involved the two talking generally about relationships, according to a source.

Leslye Headland wrote and is directing the movie, which also features actors Natasha Lyonne, Amanda Peet and Adam Scott, according to IMDb. The film will be released in 2016.

 

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Board votes against Kew Gardens Hills synagogue expansion


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre


A Kew Gardens Hills temple with numerous building violations that wants to expand may need to turn to a higher power after Community Board 8 voted unanimously to deny its variance application, following strong opposition from neighbors.

The Sephardic Congregation, which operates in 141-41 72nd Ave., is seeking a variance from the Boards of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to build a third floor on its temple in a residentially-zoned area to ease the growth of its popular shul.

But because of 15 open Department of Buildings violations, including not having a Certificate of Occupancy, no fire alarms and a broken elevator, community board members blasted the congregation’s leadership in a meeting on Thursday and voted not to support the BSA variance application.

The ruling was cheered on by residents, who opposed to expansion because it could possibly reduce parking spots and property value while increasing garbage and noise.

“I am satisfied with [the board’s] decision,” said Denise Shore, a resident who lives next to the temple. “The system worked. It restored my faith.”

The congregation was established more than two decades ago after converting a residential house. A school, Yeshiva Ohel Simcha, was added soon after and currently enrolls 70 students of elementary school age every weekday. Currently, there are two floors and a cellar in the building. The third floor was necessary to accommodate new students, which they have had to turn away due to classroom-size limitations, congregation leaders said.

They hoped to add six additional classrooms, so they can house 185 students, doubling student enrollment and adding new teachers.

The congregation’s variance application for the third floor included asking for a pass to work in the building despite lacking the required Certificate of Occupancy and other violations. This was necessary, according to congregation lawyer Jay Goldstein, because without it they can’t legally work on the building, since it currently doesn’t meet requirements. They pledged to amend the violations if approved for the application.

However, frustrated board members split the application into two parts and denied both, the first being a variance to work in the building despite violations and the second was the variance for the third floor.

The BSA will have the final say on the application for a third floor and before that it’s expected to hit a borough president meeting. But losing the recommendation of the community board was a serious blow.

Representatives of the synagogue were visually displeased following the decision.

“I have no comment, the board did their duties as a civic association,” Goldstein said.

 

 

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Kew Gardens Hills residents fight against synagogue expansion


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre


A fight between residents and a local synagogue may need a lot of prayer and reflection before it is resolved.

Kew Gardens Hills neighbors are hoping to stop the proposed expansion of the temple’s school, which they say will further diminish their quality of life by increasing noise and garbage, while decreasing available parking spots and their property values.

The synagogue, the Sephardic Congregation located on 72nd Avenue between Main and 141st streets, plans to add another floor, which leaders say is necessary to cope with the school’s population increase.

Currently, the building has two floors and a basement level and towers over the houses on the block. Since the community is zoned for family homes, the temple requires Community Board 8’s approval for a variance to the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA).

“I’m worrying about one thing. I worry about the kids in the community,” said Rabbi Asaf Haimoff, who is also the principal of the school. “As an educator, I am responsible to make sure my kids get what they need. Neighbors have a different agenda … but the school is not closing down. It’s growing. It’s been growing and growing.”

The religious organization moved into the neighborhood about 20 years ago after converting a residential home, and soon after added a school, Yeshiva Ohel Simcha. The synagogue added the second floor in the late 1990s, Department of Buildings records show.

The school now enrolls about 70 preschool and elementary-aged students. But synagogue leaders say since the temple started in the neighborhood two decades ago, the congregation has expanded to about 200 people and they have had to halt school enrollment and turn prospective students away due to classroom size limitations.

Temple officials said they plan to add six classrooms on the new floor, so the building can accommodate up to 185 persons, including additional teachers.

But more than 50 residents within a two-block radius of temple have already signed a petition to deny the variance, which they plan to deliver to Councilman Rory Lancman’s office. Longtime residents say the community has been traumatized by noise from the synagogue during school hours for years.

“It’s been 20 years so we learned to adapt,” said Trinidad Lum, who has lived across the street for 51 years. “But before this building was put there this was a very quiet street.”

During school weekday drop-off and pick-up hours (8 a.m. and 5 p.m.) residents say parents block driveways and parking spots and they expect the problem to expand with more students.

“It’s going to be unbelievable traffic here,” said Dennis Shore, who lives next to the temple. “I already can’t park in front of my house when we go shopping. Where are these teachers going to park?”

Residents said they are also worried about the safety of the children. Since the school doesn’t have a playground, residents are afraid they will run into streets or the driveway behind the building in path of cars when they go out to play. But leaders say they plan to build a playground on the roof of the building.

The organization already has approval from the Community Board 8 Zoning Committee. They are seeking approval from the full board in a vote on Wednesday night.

 

 

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$8.2M renovation of Kew Gardens Hills library to be complete in 2015


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Renderings courtesy the Queens Library


The $8.2 million revitalization of the Queens Library at Kew Gardens Hills is set to be completed in the summer of 2015, according to the organization.

Representatives from the library and the city’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC) informed the community about the construction at Tuesday’s Kew Gardens Civic Association meeting.

The library is being expanded by 3,000 square feet to about 10,500 square feet. The renovation will include technology updates, a separate area for teens, a new sloped-concrete roof and a full interior renovation. Outside the library, there will also be a new handicapped accessible entrance ramp, new sidewalks, trees, a bicycle rack and flagpole.

 

Funding for the library was allocated by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilman Rory Lancman, Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz and state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky.

 

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New Kew Gardens Hills restaurants highlight business growth on Kissena Blvd.


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of Franklin Rivera/Photos THE COURIER/By Liam La Guerre


The Hills are alive with the sound of business.

Just two months after mega computer department store Micro Center took up numerous empty lots and opened on Kissena Boulevard in Kew Gardens Hills, three new businesses are set to open on the thoroughfare soon as well.

Main Street, the community’s central commercial strip, has long been the chief hub for business in the neighborhood, but the change Kissena Boulevard is undergoing has some residents and local civic leaders excited.

“People are starting to invest money,” said Mike Sidell, a resident of nearly 60 years. “I just walked past it and I see the difference.”

Mela’s Café will replace a defunct diner and open on 71-02 Kissena Blvd. in about three weeks, said new owners Franklin Rivera and his wife, Ketty. It will serve Latin American cuisine and expects to sell alcohol — the owners are waiting for a response for their liquor license application.

Rivera, who owns the Brooklyn-based restaurant supply company Los Primos Meat Market, said it was simply time for the family to own a restaurant. Ketty will serve as head chef, while he will be in and out as a manager.

The restaurant was named after their daughter Melissa’s nickname “Mela,” because they thought it would be easy to remember. Rivera said he’s excited for the restaurant’s grand opening and the business boom in the area as well.

“On a scale of one to 100, I’m 150 percent excited,” he said. “Business booming is good. It means more people.”

On the next block, two restaurants are set to open, including Wings on Top, which will share space with an extant Subway restaurant.

Despite the influx, not everyone is confident that the change is for the better.

“As far of restaurants are concerned, it comes and goes like the days of the week,” said Jim Jaffe, a director of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association. “There is a big turnover in restaurants in this community. That’s not a rock-solid business.”

 

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Op-Ed: Where are we one year later?


| oped@queenscourier.com

BY STATE SENATOR JOSEPH ADDABBO JR.

On any particular day, whether I’m working, getting a cup of coffee, shopping or having dinner in the district, people detail their experiences involving Superstorm Sandy in many different ways. A year later, many still get tears in their eyes, others remain frustrated about the lack of progress, while some see it as a chance to make improvements and some are optimistic about community improvements. One storm, a year later, still causes many emotions.

While we can’t control the weather, we can take steps to control the level of our preparedness and what direction our government takes in addressing the next storm. We’ve learned a lot from Sandy, and I would urge my constituents to think ahead and make sure they have detailed emergency plans in place: know how to contact one another in case of an emergency; have adequate supplies of canned goods, medicines, batteries, flashlights and water on hand; know what to do to help secure your homes and properties to minimize risks during a storm. Useful hurricane preparedness information may be found at this NYS Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services website: http://www.dhses.ny.gov/oem/event/hurricane-safety.cfm.

I, along with other elected officials, have been advocating for adequate funding and needed legislation to help the district address the many serious human, economic and other consequences resulting from Sandy. As a member of the New York State Senate Bipartisan Task Force on Hurricane Sandy, I look forward to continuing the effort of our state in responding to Sandy’s devastation and obtaining assistance for those in need.  Currently, our city’s and state’s portion of the federal funding of $61 billion to help Sandy victims is being distributed through NYC Build It Back program, and the state’s utilization of community leaders in its NY Rising Community Reconstruction program aimed at improving our infrastructure.

A range of bills aimed at addressing various aspects of Sandy’s impact were passed by the state legislature and have been recently signed into law by the governor. Some topics include rebates of real property taxes, assisting Breezy Point residents with street frontage issues unique to Breezy Point, exemptions to filing fees related to federal Small Business Administration Disaster Loans, and the implementation of improved tornado warning systems.

This year’s Atlantic Hurricane Season is not yet over. We have learned a lot from Sandy and a year later are still dealing with its aftermath. It’s OK to share our emotions, feelings and sentiments about Sandy, knowing also that by working together we can rebuild and be prepared better than ever.

Senator Joseph Addabbo represents the 15th Senatorial District encompassing the communities – in whole or in part – of Broad Channel, Elmhurst, Forest Hills, Glendale, Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach, Kew Gardens, Kew Gardens Hills, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ozone Park, Rego Park, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood, South Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Woodside and the Rockaways.

 

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Star of Queens: Cheryl Swiatkowski, Girl Scouts of Greater New York


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Cheryl Swiatowski

COMMUNITY SERVICE: “My community service is really for the Girl Scouts of Greater New York. I started volunteering in September of 1980 at St. Adalbert’s in Elmhurst, and after 1990 I continued on to take on additional roles with the Girl Scouts. I was asked if I could become a trainer, which was a volunteer position to instruct other volunteers who wanted to be Girl Scout leaders. From there I started to do outdoor training, and in addition to my troop responsibilities, I went on to be a camp director. I also became an association chair, so I was also in charge of running meetings so that leaders could get together and exchange plans for programs and activities. At that point, I was invited to attend board meetings as a representative of the volunteers so that the board would understand what a volunteer did and the importance of the relationship between them and the girls.

She continued, “After I stopped being a troop leader in the early 2000s, I took on roles to work with adult volunteers, and other women took over being troop leaders at schools and churches. I was elected to the board of directors, and after a few years, the secretary of the board. I chaired the committee over the next few years, and in 2012 the committee told me they didn’t want me to chair anymore so that I could be honored. My emphasis right now is going to be helping volunteers get recognized and continuing to have a strong contingent so we can continue to make sure scouting is available to every girl in New York City.”

Cheryl Swiatowski is also the recipient of the Thanks Badge II, the highest award at the national level that an adult volunteer can receive, and the New York Executive Award, the highest award at the council level that a adult volunteer can receive. A volunteer is eligible for this award by providing at least five years of continuing services at a council level after having received the Thanks II Badge.

BACKGROUND: “My grandparents moved here from Poland, and I was born right here in Queens, born and raised in Maspeth. I was a Girl Scout at St. Adalbert’s, where I won the First Class Scout award, which was the highest honor a girl could earn at that time. I joined the Girl Scouts because at the time, there were very few extracurricular activities for girls, especially since women’s sports wouldn’t really come about until the late 1960s. Today I’m living in Kew Gardens Hills.”

FAVORITE MEMORY: “I have many favorite memories, but one of them is from when I was at camp. I was able to see a girl from the time she was in the fourth grade to the time she was a senior in high school. Each year I could see how she grew, developed, changed, and took on different roles until she became the person the younger girls looked to for guidance. I saw growth and confidence build in her, and watched her grow into a young woman. That’s what it’s all about.”

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “My biggest challenge right now is figuring out how we can continue to reach these girls and reach out to more of them in general. It’s difficult getting people to realize the importance of volunteering and realize that they need to support these organizations, whether it’s as a volunteer or with contributions so that the work can continue.”

INSPIRATION: “There are a number of people in my life who have inspired me by doing little everyday things and not looking for applause. What inspires me is knowing that if we take one step forward every day and help just one person – whether physically or emotionally – that we can really make a difference.  I see inspiration in a lot of people.”

JOHANN HAMILTON

 

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