Tag Archives: Senator Tony Avella

College Point principal resigns after protests and allegations


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File Photo

The so-called “terror-driven reign” of a College Point principal is over.

Jennifer Jones-Rogers resigned as head of P.S. 29 last week, education officials confirmed, after dozens in the community urged the city to fire her earlier this summer.

“I think that this is a step in the right direction, but it’s not everything,” said Gloria Huachamber, who has a 9-year-old son in the school. “Why did this happen in the first place? As much as I am happy, what happens to all the damage that was done? We need to follow the trail.”

Critics said Jones-Rogers wrongfully placed a handful of students in special education classes without notifying parents and created a “hostile environment” that drove away teachers and caused parents to pull their kids from the elementary school.

“The behavior of Principal Jones-Rogers as described by parents and teachers was simply unacceptable, and it became clear that she had lost control of the school,” said State Senator Tony Avella.

Jones-Rogers quit October 8, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Education (DOE) said. 

Jill Leaky-Eisenberg, a veteran educator with more than 20 years of experience under her belt, replaces her. She was the assistant principal of P.S. 21 in Flushing before the switch, the DOE said.

“I don’t think this was a resigning. I think this was more avoiding the issue. People don’t just leave overnight,” Huachamber said. 

According to the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), Jones-Rogers recently gave birth and is leaving to support her husband’s new job out of New York.

“We’re very happy that her husband got a great, new job out of state and they’re moving,” said CSA spokesperson Chiara Coletti. “I’m sure she’ll continue to work there.”

About two dozen parents and teachers rallied in front of P.S. 29 in August to call on the city to fire Jones-Rogers and start an investigation into apparent mismanagement of funds.

Educators say she did not provide a copy of the school’s budget to the United Federation of Teachers chapter president for the past two years as required and also got rid of the school’s library and computer lab.

The principal’s bullish tactics were also allegedly used on teachers who complained about her, according to many who said they had their desks taken away as punishment.

“Now there’s peace at the school — for now,” Huachamber said.

According to Avella, the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation probed the administrator’s handlings.

Jones-Rogers could not be reached for comment.

A similar rally held last year to remove an unpopular principal at Martin Van Buren High School yielded the same result.

Marilyn Shevell, who was called an “ineffective leader” by members of the PTA and community, retired from the Queens Village school last July after the protest, according to the DOE.

Van Buren has since improved a full letter grade from a “D” to a “C” under new leadership from Sam Sochet, the latest progress report shows.

P.S. 29 scored a “B” on its most recent report. The school received an “A” in 2010 during Jones-Rogers’ first term.

 

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Renderings leaked of potential Manhattan soccer stadium at Pier 40


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Screenshot via Google maps

Renderings of a possible stadium for the new Major League Soccer (MLS) team, New York City Football Club, made their way onto the Internet yesterday.

The renderings were made in 2012 by the organization, but it is not known who leaked them online.

“This rendering was a conceptual design that Major League Soccer produced when considering Pier 40 as a potential soccer stadium,” said Dan Courtemanche, MLS executive vice president of communications. “On a daily basis New York City FC is working on a long-term stadium solution.”

 

MLS has considered building a 25,000-seat stadium in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, which was supported by a few politicians. However, recently that idea has seen numerous kickbacks.

About two weeks ago Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on his radio show that Yankee Stadium will be the home for the New York City Football Club. This statement was later retracted.

The Flushing Meadows-Corona Park proposal has also drawn opposition from Councilmember Leroy Comrie, chair of the council’s Land Use Committee, and Senator Tony Avella, who suggested the stadium be built in the Rockaways.

“Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is used by residents from all across Queens, and this usage by Major League Soccer would negatively impact park life,” Comrie previously said to The Courier. “While there are many soccer fans here in Queens, there are more appropriate places to build this stadium.”

Avella recently penned a bill aimed at preventing proposals to change parkland use, which would require parkland taken for projects to be replaced with three times the space and within one mile of the project. If passed by the legislature after summer recess, it would lower the chances of getting the stadium in Queens.

The expansion team, which is jointly owned by English club Manchester City F.C. and the New York Yankees, will not begin play until 2015.

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Residents rally against Bayside school


| editorial@queenscourier.com

JOHANN HAMILTON 

Bayside residents are not happy with a recent proposal to place a school in their neighborhood.

Dozens of community members gathered on the corner of 48th Avenue and 210th Street, where the Department of Education (DOE) has proposed placing a 416-seat primary school. The new school, about a half-mile away from P.S. 31, would replace Keil Brothers Garden Center and Nursery. However, State Senator Tony Avella, Assemblymember Nily Rozic and local residents are up in arms over the idea.

“We’re here to express our outrage at the board for trying to push this through without consulting us,” said Avella. “They tried to make this happen before the community could get properly organized, and the DOE has also refused to allow a representative from Community Board 11 to attend the meeting where they’ll be discussing it.”

The opponents contend that placing the proposed school between the backyards of several residential homes would drastically increase traffic congestion, noise levels and parking problems. They also say property value in the area would see a significant decrease.

“This is wrong and out of character for this community,” said Rozic. “Just because it’s the summer doesn’t mean we’re not here and don’t want to talk about what goes on in our community.”

Although the City Council Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses was scheduled to hold a public hearing about the proposal, it has since been rescheduled for next month. Residents hope they will be able to voice their strong opposition then.

“It is simply disgraceful to not include the community board,” said Avella. “We’re going to push back against this and tell the DOE that this does not work for us.”

 

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Astoria residents say developer damaged their homes


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Despite relief, plane noise may still plague northeast Queens


| mchan@queenscourier.com

File photo

Northeast Queens residents may get a respite from the plane noise that tormented them last summer — but not full relief.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials said there would be fewer planes flying over portions of Bayside and Flushing. But, depending on traffic and wind, there could be times residents could hear the same turbulence they heard in summer 2012, officials confirmed.

“What you experienced last summer was an anomaly,” said Carmine Gallo, the FAA’s eastern regional administrator. “The number of airplanes you saw last summer was to collect data. That’s not going to happen this summer.”

A six-month trial period called the “TNNIS Climb” caused a barrage of low-flying airplanes to soar over parts of northeast Queens last summer by the minute each day from 6 a.m. to noon and then again from 6 p.m. to midnight.

The FAA said the test was to ensure the required three mile separation between John F. Kennedy International Airport arrivals and LaGuardia Runway 13 departures while using a new, precise navigation system.

The procedure was approved last December, but FAA officials said the route would be put to limited use. Air traffic would be spread out between other climbs, they said at a March 14 town hall meeting, where residents and elected officials urged the federal agency to reverse its decision.

“If the route doesn’t go back to the old way, the FAA is in for the fight of its life,” said State Senator Tony Avella. “We’re not going to let this affect our quality of life.”

Gallo said the agency’s goal was to ensure the “safe, efficient, secure operation of aircraft.”

He said the FAA makes no profit off airlines or the newly approved procedure, despite accusations by some, including Assemblymember Ed Braunstein.
“We shouldn’t be forced out of our backyards so the airline industry can make more money,” Braunstein said.

Residents also asked if the agency could move routes over waterways and parks instead of residential neighborhoods.

The suggestion “would be nice,” said Ralph Tamburro, the agency’s New York traffic management officer. But it would ultimately be “an impossible task.”

“With the amount of airplanes, you can’t do it,” he said.

The FAA agreed to involve the community in future decisions and to continue hearing them out.

“You’ve caused disruption to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” said Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance.

 

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Cramped school gets new fourth grade


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A new class has been added to aid a cramped Clearview elementary school, after parents said students were packed like sardines in some classes that held close to 40 pupils, the city’s Department of Education (DOE) said.

P.S. 209 shuffled programming and opened up a new general education fourth grade class at the overcrowded Clearview Gardens school on Thursday, September 27, according to a DOE spokesperson.

The change frees up classrooms by removing 13 general education kids from one class that once held 36, the spokesperson said. The new class also means 11 fewer students in the school’s single integrated co-teaching classroom, while the one gifted and talented class remains the same with 29 students.

“I know the teachers are great, but the overcrowding disrupts the learning,” said Iry Arroyo, a parent of a third grader at the school. “I’m happy they’re doing something about it. An extra class is great. It’s needed.”

According to State Senator Tony Avella, congestion within the building is exacerbated because P.S. 209 shares space with P.S. 9. Special education students, the local legislator said, were even pushed out to conduct physical education tests in the hallway as a result of space restraints.

“Classrooms of close to 40 students are simply unacceptable, no matter any budget constraints,” Avella said. “Every student in this city deserves a classroom where their teacher can check their homework assignments and they can get the individualized attention they need. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, students at P.S. 209 will be able to concentrate on their studies, not whether they fit into a classroom.”

Parent Silvania Karageorge welcomed the new class with open arms.

“The fewer students, the more they learn,” she said. “The fourth grade is overcrowded. Teachers can teach better when there are fewer kids in the class.”

New flight patterns a failure: residents, pols


| mchan@queenscourier.com

File photo

The trial period testing a new departure procedure at LaGuardia Airport has failed, said local leaders who recently rallied to put an end to the thundering turbulence tormenting residents in northeast Queens.

“New flight patterns cannot be instituted if they are so detrimental to the quality of life for residents,” said State Senator Tony Avella during an August 24 rally.

Residents from Bayside and downtown Flushing say they have been tortured since mid-June by the ear-splitting roar of low-flying airplanes they say soar past their homes by the minute each day from 6 a.m. to noon and then again from 6 p.m. to midnight.

They join a borough-wide chorus of homeowners who say they are blighted by the deafening noise caused by a nonstop rush of aircraft flights and a barrage of low flying planes.

A spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the agency was evaluating a “NextGen” procedure for flights departing from Runway 13 at LaGuardia Airport.

“The FAA evaluation will identify the potential benefits and impacts of the NextGen procedure. It also will indicate if additional environmental analysis is necessary before the agency decides whether to permanently implement the procedure,” the spokesperson said.

In a June 22 letter sent to Avella, FAA officials said the procedure — which follows an existing departure path over Queens — is part of a six-month trial, although they would not specify how many months were left in the testing.

“It is outrageous that our community was not notified prior to the start of the FAA’s flight departure testing and that we have still not been informed of its end date,” said Assemblymember Ed Braunstein. “It is clear […] that this testing has been a failure and we call on the FAA to conclude it as soon as possible.”

Delinquent property owners exploiting lien loopholes


| mchan@queenscourier.com

A local legislator lambasted the city’s Department of Finance (DOF) for letting delinquent property owners exploit lien loopholes and flout payments, cheating the city out of thousands of dollars.

According to State Senator Tony Avella, indebted property owners can be removed from the annual tax lien sale — the city’s list of properties with unpaid taxes — if they submit a check or enter into a payment plan, even if the check later bounces. He said those that submit bad checks leave only with a slap on the wrist — a $20 penalty.

“This makes a mockery of the property tax system and the tax lien system in the city of New York,” Avella said. “Meanwhile, all these properties are surrounded by good, honest homeowners who pay their property taxes on time. This is an insult to them.”

Three homes in Whitestone alone, Avella said, owe the city between $17,000 and $25,000 in unpaid property taxes. The owner of one site on 24-19 Francis Lewis Boulevard stopped paying taxes in 2009, the senator claimed, and was removed from the tax liens sale when the DOF received a check that later bounced. Another owner of a home on 149-35 12th Avenue, Avella said, had submitted bad checks to the DOF for three years straight and still has not been added to the list.

“It is mind-boggling then that Finance would keep trusting these owners who have shown no regard to the rule of law or the community,” said Avella, who introduced legislation that would mandate that the city only accept payments from repeat offenders made by certified check or money order. The bill would also require a 20 percent down payment for any proposed installment plan.

Debra Feinberg, the DOF’s director of government relations, said the agency has controls in place this year to check for bounced checks. Once found, if a property owner submits a faulty check, she said they are put back into the lien sale.

 

Queens’ Morning Roundup


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Graphic by Jay Lane

 

Alleged Cocaine Kingpin Nabbed In Queens Drug Ring Bust 

A 15-month investigation by the New York City Police Department and the Queens district attorney’s office has led to the arrest of 45 people, including a man who is allegedly one of the city’s biggest cocaine dealers. The investigation centered on two gangs in southeast Queens, the South Side Bloods and the Corley Crew, which police say brought in more than $15,000 a week in narcotics sales. Read more: [NY1]

 

Probe into John Liu’s campaign cash prompts extra caution among Queens pols 

John Liu’s money men are radioactive and another ambitious Queens pol is doing her homework to avoid the fallout. The names of campaign donors to surface in the federal probe of City Controller John Liu have been flagged by Grace Meng’s fundraising operation, a reminder to steer clear of their cash as the assemblywoman runs for the redrawn 6th Congressional District. Read more: [New York Daily News]

 

Elmhurst Developer Criticized For Multiple Code Violations

Queens Senator Tony Avella gathered with community members in Elmhurst on Thursday to say they are outraged that the Department of Buildings continues to issues permits to developer Tommy Huang, even though he consistently violates building and zoning codes. Read more: [NY1]

 

New bills put historic districts in jeopardy, advocates say

Queens has a long history of getting left in the landmark dust. Newly proposed bills in the City Council could extend that history, preservationists said, putting future designations in jeopardy for the borough that has only a fraction of landmarks compared to Brooklyn or Manhattan. Read more: [New York Daily News]

 

Off-duty cop busted for trying to sneak into better seat at Citi Field

You’re out. An off-duty cop was dragged out of a Mets game in handcuffs last night after he tried to sneak into a better seat at Citi Field, police sources said. Read more: [New York Post]

 

MTA Bridge & Tunnel Officers Told To Stop Caring For Rockaways Strays 

For decades, MTA Bridge and Tunnel Officers by the Rockaways say they have been taking care of stray cats in the area, but now they are being told by their bosses to stop. Read more: [NY1]

Pols argue over whose co-op/condo legislation is best


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A coalition of co-op and condo owners in northeast Queens had one message for its elected officials after arguments erupted over whose bill was best: no more lip service.

“What you see is the dysfunction in Albany. This isn’t a Republican-Democrat issue. It’s about homeowners who don’t want to be pushed out of their homes,” said Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Owners, Inc. and cofounder of the President’s Co-op Council.

The Council — which represents about 100,000 co-op shareholders — joined close to one dozen elected officials and more than 900 concerned Queens residents at North Shore Towers on April 12 to rally for action against the city for another year of property tax spikes.

While Friedrich said a solution could not be reached without the cooperation of state lawmakers, some electeds — with pointed fingers — turned the meeting into a heated political debate.

“There’s been a little too much lip service tonight. I sat here and got madder and madder as I listened to every speaker,” said Senator Tony Avella. “We had an opportunity last year, and we blew it because of politics on both sides of the aisle.”

Currently, there are three bills on the table in Albany on how to address the issue, which Avella said is a clear sign of disconnect between state leaders who he said may each be pushing for their own legislation to pass.

“It’s not that the Republicans don’t want to move the bill to address this — it’s which bill should they support? Which one gets passed? This has to stop. I don’t care if it’s my bill or somebody else’s bill, but this has got to stop. We’re not working together,” he said.

Avella’s own bill, which he called the “best solution,” would create a new property tax class — called Class 1A — for co-op and condo owners. He said the bill would provide the same protections that exist for Class 1 properties, capping any single yearly tax increase at 6 percent and 20 percent over a five year period.

An earlier law put forth by Assemblymember David Weprin would propose similar provisions, classifying co-ops as Class 1 and capping increases at the same percentage, while other legislation by Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemblymember Ed Braunstein would see co-ops paying only 75 percent of their legal fees in a successful certiorari suit. They said the law would also stabilize assessments for two years following a successful challenge, capping spikes at 3 percent to prevent the necessity of an additional proceeding.

Councilmember Mark Weprin fired back, saying each elected official was in fact “working hard” together to create a solution by this year.

“With all due respect, you’re the one who hasn’t been to most of the meetings,” Weprin said. “This is a very delicate situation, but to say that people here are just giving lip service is just nonsense. This is not about whose bill we’re going to sponsor. We’re all trying to solve a problem here, and I think we’re all open to whatever solution we can get adopted that will save co-op owners. That’s the goal here, and that’s why I took a lot of offense.”

Senate and Assembly officials have only until the end of June this year to agree on one single bill and have it passed by both Houses, Weprin said. While the City Council is not directly involved in the legislation process, Weprin said councilmembers have an upper hand in trying to get the mayor on board.

“I’ve seen bills drafted, signed and passed in 12 hours. We just have to work together,” Weprin said. “I thought [the meeting] was a good case of democracy in action.”

Candidates eyeing Avella’s seat


| mchan@queenscourier.com

candidates

State Senator Tony Avella recently announced his intent to seek re-election, but contenders vying for his 11th District seat plan on giving him a run for his money.

Republican challenger Joseph Concannon has entered the race, while Elio Forcina — who ran for State Assembly in 2010 — said he’s “strongly considering” it.

Concannon, a retired city police officer from Bellerose, told The Courier he “can do a lot more for the district” than the current leader.

“I think I can be more effective, address more of the issues in the area and spur some job creation as well,” he said. “I think in today’s economic environment, people want to work. They want opportunity in front of them.”

Concannon said the incumbent Avella “has not been effective at all in Albany” — a sentiment shared by Forcina as well.

“By many people in the district, they really feel somewhat oppressed by government getting into their business all over the place,” Concannon said. “My legislative agenda is to keep government as small as practical and as effective to relay service to the people of the state who are paying their taxes. I don’t think Avella has been good in that area at all.”

Forcina, a Democrat-turned-Republican from Whitestone, said he would run only if Kimon Thermos — a possible yet unofficial candidate — decides not to.

“I’m very fond of him, and if he wants to run, I’ll be supporting him instead,” said Forcina, an attorney and Marine Corp veteran.

Thermos could not be reached for comment.

Forcina cited Avella’s “immoral and unethical” campaign tactics against candidate Frank Padavan during the 2010 election as part of his reasons for wanting to seek office. He said Avella bashed Padavan for his religious and social views on abortion and gay marriage.

“I didn’t like the way Tony Avella’s campaign treated Frank Padavan. Avella’s message was ‘If you’re Catholic, you’re disqualified for running for public office.’ He attacked him. And because of that, I will support anyone who runs against Avella,” Forcina said.

Padavan, a popular Republican incumbent of 38 years, was ousted from his seat when Avella beat him in the down-to-the-wire race. Both candidates took shots at each other — Avella painted Padavan as a problem the voters sent to Albany for too long and as anti-woman’s rights, while Padavan insisted Avella give back alleged crooked funds provided by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee while they were under investigation by the Inspector General.

“For that reason, I think Queens needs a Republican up in the State Senate. That made me realize I could no longer be a Democrat. I don’t think Avella is able to bring anything back to his district,” Forcina said. “He gives a lot of press conferences that yield no results.”

Avella said in his announcement that “a great deal” was accomplished during his first term, but that there was still “a long way to go to reform Albany.” He said since taking office, he has “served this district faithfully, both in Albany and in the community, through bi-partisan legislative efforts, an unbridled defense of our neighborhoods from harmful over-development and unparalleled constituent services.” His accomplishments so far, he said, include authoring and introducing more than 50 bills and co-sponsoring more than 200 bills.

The Queens County Democratic Organization did not confirm if any Democratic runners plan on challenging Avella in this year’s primary.

“We’ll see what happens,” Forcina said.

 

Flushing fighting colossal church


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Dozens of local leaders and incensed neighbors are striking down one Flushing church’s plan of building up to the heavens.

Senator Tony Avella led a protest on March 8, rallying against the building of a proposed “enormous and out-of-scale” religious facility at 145-15 33rd Avenue.

“You’d have a giant in the land of ordinary people,” said Tyler Cassell, president of the North Flushing Civic Association and member of Community Board 7.

Officials said there is currently an application before the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) that could potentially allow developer — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — to combine three vacant lots, building a site twice as large as is allowed by law. The proposed facility would be 23,097 square feet when only about 12,200 is allowed, officials said.

“This application is absurd and should not even be considered by the BSA,” Avella said.

The proposal was overwhelmingly opposed by Community Board 7, as well as Borough President Helen Marshall.

Still, if the application variance is granted by the BSA, a 50-foot tall chapel with a 94-foot steeple would be built in the low-density neighborhood predominantly comprised of single-family homes. Officials said the church would be 15 times the size of a single house on the street.

“The church is trying to build a monstrous facility in an area where it will be completely out of context with the rest of the neighborhood,” said Avella, adding that the church could appropriately build a facility of the proposed magnitude in Downtown Flushing — where zoning laws would not restrict it — or expand at its current location on Sanford Avenue.

“For a church to be this inconsiderate is beyond me. They’re not being a good neighbor by building here,” said Avella, who was chair of the zoning subcommittee when he said he fought to rezone the area to eliminate over-building.

The BSA has not yet scheduled a public hearing on the issue, although the proposal is slated to go before the board in April.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not return calls for comment.

“If this building receives its variances and is allowed to proceed, it will make a mockery of the community facility reforms that took place city wide in 2004 and will set a terrible precedent,” said lifelong area resident Paul Graziano, who also co-designed the North Flushing Rezoning. “Should this be passed by the BSA, suburban-like neighborhoods can expect outrageously large and out-of-context religious community facilities in the near future.”

New district lines ‘as bad’ as before


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Recent revisions to district lines have done little to darn the disharmony between Republicans and Democrats.

The New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) — made up largely of Republican senators due to their current control of the chamber — released its updated district maps on March 12, angering Democrats due to the miniscule modifications made over the past month.

The new lines, which no longer couple the districts of Senators Michael Gianaris and Jose Peralta, still combine the regions of Senators Tony Avella and Toby Ann Stavisky. Slight changes were also made to the first-ever Asian American majority district created in the initial maps.

Despite their districts no longer being threatened, both Gianaris and Peralta have spoken out against the maps and are hopeful Governor Andrew Cuomo follows through on his pledge to veto any partisan proposals.

“The lines have barely changed at all,” said Gianaris, who called the pairing of himself and Peralta a harassment tactic. “The first proposal is the worst gerrymandering in the history of New York State, and the second proposal is 98 percent as bad. The real problem is the way they are dividing communities around the state and that is what has yet to be fixed. The best hope now is for the governor to veto the lines and let the court do it fairly.”

Frank Sobrino, a spokesperson for Peralta, says the situation is “bigger” than the two senators, and the new lines do not provide any progress from the initial maps, which were considered to be “blatantly partisan.”

“I want the governor to follow up on his commitment to veto these lines,” Peralta said.

Scott Reif, spokesperson for the Senate GOP and LATFOR, says he expects the maps to be approved by both the Senate and Assembly.

“We expect these to be the final lines for the Senate and Assembly,” Reif said. “We held nine additional public hearings [across the state] and we made changes from what we were hearing from different communities.”

Along with the updated maps, LATFOR also introduced legislation that would create a bipartisan commission to draw district lines, a measure many politicians have been calling for. Based on the bill, the commission would be composed of 10 members — two from each party from both the Senate and Assembly and an additional two members chosen by the initial eight.

If approved, the commission would be in charge of deciding district lines the next time they are up for revision in a decade — a length of time deemed unacceptable by many Democrats.

“That’s 10 years from now,” Sobrino said. “Each and every single Republican signed a pledge before they ran last time supporting an independent process. They didn’t say they were going to fix the situation 10 years from now. They said they were going to fix it now.”

Whitestone eyesore cleaned up


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

While the abandoned property located at 24-19 Francis Lewis Boulevard still has a long way to go, the land formerly regarded as an “eyesore” has gotten a little less hard to look at.

After sitting idle for over a decade, the plot, which had become a dumping ground for garbage and out-of-service construction equipment, has finally received some attention as part of an initiative forwarded by Senator Tony Avella and Peter Brancazio of the North East Flushing Civic Association, who hope to convert the derelict property into something of use for the community.

“I am extremely pleased that we were able to work with the city to put enough pressure on the owner to get him to take action,” said Avella.

In January, Avella’s representatives told The Courier that the property’s owner, 2431 Francis Lewis LLC, had failed to pay property taxes since October of 2009, therefore including the property under a list of tax liens — allowing the Department of Finances (DOF) to put the property up for sale. Avella’s representatives alleged that the DOF received a check for $9,772.11 from the property owner on August 3 that later bounced.

Councilmember Daniel Halloran has also remained outspoken about the ongoing project. He alleged that the owner skated fines for inadequate fencing several times in the past by patching parts with plywood when facing a penalty.

“The truck, debris and kitchen sink are gone. However, our work here is not done,” said Avella. “Now we need to focus of getting the fence removed and clearing the weeds and turning that lot into something appealing to the community.”

On February 10, Avella and Brancazio met with representatives from the DOF, Department of Buildings (DOB), Fire Department of New York (FDNY) and Department of Sanitations (DSNY) to discuss the abandoned lot. Since the group met, the FDNY has issued a Notice of Violation for the trash on the site and the DOB has transferred the lot to the Padlock Enforcement Unit. Shortly thereafter, the owner cleared the lot.

 

Pol: Inspect, grade food markets too


| brennison@queenscourier.com

A local politician wants to make sure supermarkets are making the grade — 24 hours a day.

Senator Tony Avella has proposed that the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene be given jurisdiction over food markets in the five boroughs, an authority only the state’s Department of Agriculture & Markets currently has.

Currently, the state’s agriculture department conducts inspections of food stores, from smaller retailers to supermarkets. Inspectors from the Department of Agriculture & Markets routinely examine sanitary conditions, food preparation procedures and storage conditions at food markets.

“I mean part of the problem is that the city has no jurisdiction over supermarkets. I mean obviously the state doesn’t have the proper number of inspectors,” Avella said. “When there is a complaint, there is the issue of a timely inspection.”

There are approximately 115 food inspectors who have jurisdiction over more than 28,000 markets.

Avella brought up the example of the Hillside Avenue Halal Market that had received numerous complaints. One of the complaints was that meat and poultry was being delivered in an unrefrigerated truck, but since the deliveries came at night, there was no way for the Department of Agriculture to find out — no inspections after 5 p.m.

“[The city] makes night inspections, and they can have quicker response time. Why not have the city have some jurisdictions,” Avella asked.

Under the proposal, the city and state would have concurrent jurisdiction.

Avella also said giving the city jurisdiction would stop restaurants from classifying themselves as food markets to evade the city health inspectors.

Currently, the city’s health department inspects and hands out letter grades to restaurants. Avella said expanding the letter grades to markets may be something that is discussed in meetings with the city.

“I think it’s a real consumer issue. This will make sure [markets] are following the code,” Avella said. “There is the opportunity for more routine inspections to make sure it is safer for everyone. I think it’s a no brainer”