Tag Archives: State Senator Tony Avella

Alleged coverup of contaminated College Point soil brought to light

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Tony Avella's office

Officials and College Point residents are looking for answers after fuel-contaminated soil was found and left unreported at the Linden Place Project of the College Point Industrial Park.

Dr. James Cervino—a College Point marine pathologist and Community Board 7 (CB 7) member working as a consultant on the project—uncovered the contamination on a recent trip to the site.

A dug-up portion of a runway previously used by the former Flushing Airport revealed visible pools of fuel in the soil underneath. Workers in the area were wearing face masks for protection, and Cervino said that several of them had reported feeling ill.

Cervino then alerted the contractor and on-site engineer for the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) of his findings.

“I did what I was supposed to do, thank God, and I reported it,” Cervino said. “The engineer was very upset and said, ‘You’re going to stop this project if you report this.’”

According to Cervino, CB 7 and local civic groups had received multiple reports from College Point residents regarding a smell of petroleum believed to be related to the ongoing projects in the College Point Corporate Park.

When he contacted the community board to follow up on the issue, he was alarmed to find that the contaminated soil had still not been reported. It was at this time that he contacted state Senator Tony Avella for his help in calling attention to the issue.

“It was pretty crazy, and it’s unfolding as we speak,” Cervino said at a community board meeting Monday.

Avella held a press conference on Monday near the site to address the issue, and said public safety should not depend upon the conscience of a lone whistleblower. He demanded that the EDC halt their project pending an investigation and answer the allegations.

“To knowingly conceal petroleum-contaminated soil and repurpose it use throughout the city is utterly disgraceful and borders criminality,” Avella said. “EDC has shown that it is willing to expose people to a substantial health hazard, if it means preventing a delay on their project in College Point Corporate Park.”

In a statement released to The Courier, an EDC spokesman said that the organization was investigating the claims of contamination.

“We are working closely with the Department of Environment Conservation to assess the area and determine if additional needs must be addressed in our mitigation efforts. In the meantime, no work is ongoing on this portion of the site.”

The NYCEDC manages the College Point Corporate Park on behalf of the City of New York.

According to the EDC website, the College Point Corporate Park contains more than 200 companies and 6,000 employees in various industries. These include The New York Times’ printing plant and other firms involved in office operations, light and heavy manufacturing, construction equipment suppliers, printing, distribution and retail.

The reconstruction of Linden Place began in spring of 2009 and the street is currently open to traffic today. Portions of the area at 132nd street are still under construction.

Linden Place road connects from 28th Avenue to 23rd Avenue, providing direct access to the Whitestone Expressway and will alleviate traffic flow within the park. The planned extension of 132nd Street will connect 20th Avenue and Linden Place and will also help to alleviate traffic.


Pols call for rejection of resubmitted proposal for Pan Am homeless shelter

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

The fight continues for Elmhurst community members who continue to stand together hoping the city will again reject the proposal to convert the former Pan American Hotel into a permanent homeless shelter, which was resubmitted last month.

Local elected officials gathered with residents and community activists on Tuesday morning outside the facility to call for the rejection of Samaritan Village’s proposal that would turn the emergency shelter into a permanent one.

“We cannot address the growing homeless population at the expense of homeless families and children, or the community as a whole,” said state Senator Tony Avella, who previously voiced his opposition of the homeless shelter and its conditions. “We must look to fix this broken system.”

The emergency homeless shelter at the former hotel was supposed to close last December, yet even after facing large opposition from community members, an application was submitted to convert it into a permanent shelter under a five-year, $42 million contract with the Department of Homeless Services.

In May, the proposal was rejected by the office of Comptroller Scott Stringer due to health and safety concerns, such as fire code violations and lack of kitchen facilities in the units, but it was resubmitted on June 12 and now Stringer must decide to accept or reject it by next week.

“Mr. Stringer, as an elected official, as a civil servant and as the comptroller of the city of New York, we demand that you permanently reject the Pan Am contract,” said Anna Orjuela, a member of Elmhurst United and an Elmhurst resident for more than 30 years. “It is time for you to restore the people’s faith in our system of government and remind everyone that no one is above the law, regardless of their wealth, title or position of power.”

During Tuesday’s rally, elected officials also urged the state Assembly to pass companion legislation to state Senator Jeff Klein’s bill, which would require the city’s Planning Commission to hold a public community forum before the approval, modification or rejection of a homeless shelter site. The bill has already passed in the state Senate.

This process would allow community members to learn about the shelter and also provide their input on the idea, according to Klein.

“This situation is playing out across the city. An emergency homeless shelter moves into a neighborhood without community input and then the city seeks to make it permanent. This is simply unacceptable,” Klein said. “The residents of this community deserve to be heard, and the residents in this family shelter who live with rat infestations, improper garbage disposal and other serious health violations deserve better.”

Last week, grassroots organization Elmhurst United, which has been voicing its opposition to the shelter since day one, sent out a newsletter looking to inform local residents as to why the shelter is not suitable for the community and also encourage people to reach out to their elected officials.

In the newsletter, the group highlights issues such as School District 24 being the most overcrowded in the city, lack of a child care facility at the site, numerous FDNY violations, a façade violation, and much more.

“Everyone should care about what happens in their neighborhood,” the newsletter reads. “Speak up now before it is too late. Once the contract is signed, it becomes a much harder fight.”


Residents rally against high school planned for Bayside Jewish Center

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

Residents living near the Bayside Jewish Center rallied with state Sen. Tony Avella on Thursday against a proposed high school planned for their neighborhood.

Around 75 people showed up at the intersection of 32nd Avenue and 204th Street and largely complained of overcrowded traffic and buses due to the existence of several other schools in the nearby vicinity, including a number of elementary schools and Bayside High School, which serves a student body of more than 3,000 only four blocks away.

While the protesters agreed that new schools should be built for local students, they did not think that their community could accommodate a school with a planned capacity of between 800 and 1,000 students.

Avella said the School Construction Authority (SCA) has systematically chosen school sites without the support of residents and elected officials, citing an unsuccessful 2013 outcry against an elementary school being built on 48th Avenue. He is introducing legislation which would amend education law to require detailed analyses to be made available upon the proposed construction of a new school in a city of over a million in population.

“Too many times, SCA has been allowed to barge into a neighborhood and construct a monstrous school wherever they choose,” said Avella. “We cannot allow this to keep happening.”

Henry Euler, first vice president of the Auburndale Improvement Association, said that he and many others were frustrated with the lack of participation afforded to the community in the decision-making process for a new development.

“Above all, what they should be doing is consulting us, and asking the residents, what do they want, what should we put here, what do you need,” Euler said.

Members of Community Board 11 spoke before the crowd to offer their objections at not being consulted on the location of a new school.

“Come to the community and ask,” said board member Paul DiBenedetto. “They don’t know, they just look on a map.”

Some attending the rally even placed blame on the owners of the Jewish center for selling the property to the SCA, asserting that the building’s owners did not take enough care to choose an appropriate buyer to fill their place.

“They shouldn’t turn their backs on their neighbors, and impose on them an outsize school that would completely demolish the quality of life,” said Lance Premezzi, a resident of 32nd Avenue since 1950.

Councilman Paul Vallone, however, indicated that while compromises with the community will have to be made in the process leading up to the school’s construction, he looks forward to seeing a new school in his district, whether it is installed at the former Jewish center or at an alternative site.

“Any project of this size will always have opposition but in the end, we must weigh the merits of the site against the overwhelming demand for additional seats,” Vallone, who was initially an outspoken supporter for the creation of the proposed high school at the Jewish center, said in a statement. “The significant overcrowding in our schools is an issue that has been put off for too long and will only continue to worsen if it is not addressed.”


Whitestone neighbors rally against overdevelopment

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photos by Rob Trombley and Liam La Guerre/Renderings courtesy of JLS Designs

About 125 residents, politicians and activists assembled in front of the 18-acre Whitestone Waterpointe site on Sunday to protest overdevelopment in the neighborhood, venting years of frustration over developers’ plans.

The We Love Whitestone Civic Association-organized rally reflected the unity of neighbors, who have fought against overdevelopment plans on the site at 151-45 Sixth Rd. for nearly a decade, to stay strong and hold current developer Edgestone Group to a community-supported plan for 52 single-family homes instead of one for 107 townhouses.

“We want to make sure what they say stays,” said Alfredo Centola, president of the civic group. “How do we know that they are not going to turn around and pull a fast one by trying to appease the community for now?”

Last month, Edgestone unveiled a plan for 107 townhouses with a total of 203 units — quadruple the original 52-home plan, which was decided years prior. The developer switched back to the original plan after facing community pressure.

Opponents said the larger proposal would harm the community, because the population increase could put a burden on public services and institutions, such as sewers and schools. Additionally, they want to protect the contextual character of the neighborhood.

“I was born and grew up in Whitestone. It’s a beautiful town and they would destroy it with all this construction,” said resident Donna McCutchen. “This whole area has one-family homes. That’s what we want to keep it like here.”

The 52 single-family residences could retail for about $2 million each, according to the architect Joe Sultana. About 40 will be between 2,000 to 3,000 square feet with private yards and garages. The remaining 12 will be bigger, more luxurious homes, closer to the waterfront.

An environmental cleanup of the site will begin later this year. After the site has been cleaned, Edgestone will reapply to update the original special permit to construct the 52 homes.

That special permit, which expired a few years ago, symbolizes the community’s opposition to overdevelopment of more than just the Waterpointe site.

“The one great thing about this plan when it was approved is it was a template for future development,” state Sen. Tony Avella said. “We’re not going to let that template be destroyed and all of a sudden a new developer comes in and they say, ‘Well they were allowed to do more.’ The line in the sand is here.”


Politicians allocating more than $700K to expand Little Neck’s Udalls Cove

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Eco-friendly advocates may see more green for the park known as Udalls Cove.

Councilman Paul Vallone, Borough President Melinda Katz and state Sen. Tony Avella are allocating a combined $710,000 toward acquiring more land for the 30-acre inlet of Little Neck Bay, which has marshes and wetlands inhabited by various wildlife and plants.

The money will allow the city to purchase and add to the park the “Callender Property,” which is a vacant 11,800-square-foot site near Sandhill Road that borders the park, at the request of the nonprofit Udalls Cove Preservation Committee (UCPC).

“This will preserve the future and expand the area [of the park],” Vallone said. “We don’t have many spaces left like that.”

A house was on the property until 2006, when it was demolished. Recently the site hit the market for sale and members of the  UCPC, which has been advocating to protect the wetlands since 1969, has been hoping to purchase it out of fear that a buyer will want to redevelop it.

Potential developers of the site may try to build a large home, meaning it would tower over the park, and debris and materials from the construction could flow into the wetlands, potentially harming the environment, said Walter Mugdan, president of the UCPC.

“If those properties were ever allowed to be developed, it will waste all the money the city has put into Udalls Cove,” Mugdan said. “Suddenly the park would be ruined. It would destroy the ecosystem.”

A map of part of Udalls Cove, showing the “Callendar Property” outlined in red.

A map of part of Udalls Cove, showing the “Callender Property” outlined in red.

A variety of wildlife inhabits Udalls Cove, including egrets, herons, ducks, geese, swans, raccoons, foxes, osprey, many kinds of fish, frogs and turtles.

Since officially recognizing Udalls Cove as a park in 1972, the city has acquired private lots around it and expanded it. The Parks Department currently has identified about a dozen other parcels that it wants to buy from private owners. Together it would take a few million dollars, according to Mugdan, so they have been focusing on buying some at a time.

Vallone and Katz are allocating $250,000 each, and Avella will allocate $210,000. The UCPC and another neighborhood organization has collected about $45,000 to help purchase some more parcels. Mugdan said the asking price for the “Callender Property” is $575,000, so they should have enough.

Besides the potential of harm from construction, Mugdan said that since the home was torn down nature has reclaimed the land, and plants and animals now call it home. They want to preserve the area that way.

“In urban areas, preserving the wildlife space that we have should be among our top priorities as elected officials,” Avella said. “Udalls Cove is home to several species of plants and animals that need our help to ensure that their habitats are not disturbed.”


Controversial Bayside elementary school to start construction this summer

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy the Department of Education 

The School Construction Authority is collecting bids to find a company to construct a controversial four-story, 468-seat elementary school in Bayside on the former Keil Brothers Garden Center and Nursery site.

The school, P.S. 332, will cost between $46.2 to $48.6 million and should be open for students from pre-K through fifth grade in September 2017, according to a Department of Education representative. Although a specific time wasn’t given, construction on the nearly 80,500-square-foot facility is expected to start in the late summer, the spokesperson said.

Dozens of residents held a rally two years ago in front of the site at 210-07 48th Ave. to protest the new school. Homeowners nearby said it would impact parking and present dangerous traffic problems for students.

The City Council gave the green light for the project in November 2013 after a vote. Councilmen Mark Weprin and Peter Vallone Jr. were the only legislators who voted against it. However, state Sen. Tony Avella, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and Community Board 11 also opposed the project.

Supporters of the plan said it would relieve congestion from the district’s schools, which, like schools in many other parts of the borough, are suffering from overcrowding.

That could be the reason why the size of the proposed school inflated over the years. Original plans were for a 456-student institution.

Construction companies have until May 22 to submit their bids.


More than 100 townhouses, park and ‘eco dock’ planned for Whitestone Waterpointe site

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy Joseph Sultana Architects

Many Whitestone residents recently exhaled when they learned the new owner of one of two massive vacant development sites in the area agreed to work with the community’s wishes and construct dozens of single-family homes.

Now community members may start holding their breaths again.

Edgestone Group, which owns the 18-acre vacant Waterpointe site at 151-45 6th Rd., plans to construct 107 residential buildings on it — more than double the number of units that were originally promised for the property years ago.

Plans for the project, which were revealed at a Community Board 7 committee meeting on Tuesday, call for 97 two-family townhouse homes and nine additional single-family houses. In total there will be 203 units and most of the units will be two-bedrooms.

Years ago, developer Bayrock Group, which paid $25.7 million in 2005 for the property, originally had Department of City Planning special permits to build 52 single-family homes on the property. This plan was also supported by the community. However, the company fell apart financially and Edgestone purchased it at a discounted $11.3 million in 2012, city records show.

State Sen. Tony Avella has already declared war on Edgestone’s project, because its much larger than the original 52-home plan, although it still meets zoning regulations.

“This kind of threat to the neighborhood will not be tolerated,” Avella said. “It is time for us to take a stand against overdevelopment once and for all.”

In Edgestone’s plan, there will be two-car parking for the townhouses. Also, the new community includes a park at the waterfront with a walking path, a playground, a marina, a pier and an ‘eco dock’ from which people can go kayaking. There is also a 107th building that residents can use as common space for events.

Members of the community board were very cold toward the plan. Kim Cody, a member of the board and president of the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association, pointed out that the project will flood the community with hundreds of new residents, which will burden schools, roads, sewers and other public systems.

“You’re going to put a lot of stress on our community,” Cody said. “It’s unneeded stress.”

Edgestone representatives said at the meeting that single-family homes wouldn’t “make sense,” because they would have to retail for $2 million each, and that would take too long to sell.

Architect Joseph Sultana, who grew up in Whitestone, added the more affordable townhouses gives younger potential residents the ability to purchase homes in Whitestone, one of Queens’ more affluent neighborhoods, and elderly residents will also benefit.

“My parents are getting older and they have a nice house in Beechhurst, but they don’t need a big house,” Sultana said. “They need to figure out where to live because they are thinking about selling their house.”

Currently, Edgestone is still working to remediate the site, which is covered by toxic soil that the former owner brought in. Representatives of the firm said they hope to start trucking contaminated soil from the site in September at the earliest.

This didn’t help warm the mood of the meeting, as members of the board are afraid toxic dust from the soil can spew into the community during transport.

“What I learned tonight is this is going to have a much [more] major impact on the community than I originally thought,” said Joe Sweeney, a member of CB 7. “In the end, yes it might be affordable, but at the detriment of the rest of the community.”


New owner of massive vacant Whitestone site pledges to stick to zoning with development plans

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Christopher Bride/PropertyShark

The new owner of a contentious massive development site in Whitestone is going to give the community what it wants: single-family detached homes.

Tim O’Sullivan paid $13.6 million at an auction on April 10 for the 6-acre site near at 150th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, which is zoned for smaller residential properties, and hopes to build two-story, single-family detached homes on the land. The property was previously known as the Cresthaven Country Club and was used for years by the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) as a summer day camp.

Residents and community leaders were planning to fight any development on the property that didn’t meet zoning, such as high-rises or other large properties, hoping to protect the character of the residential neighborhood.

O’Sullivan, who grew up in Whitestone, said he understands what the residents are feeling and wants to be on their side.

“We are looking forward to working with the community, state Sen. Tony Avella and our architect, Frank Petruso, to produce a development befitting this beautiful Whitestone neighborhood,” O’Sullivan said. “I grew up in Whitestone and I am happy to contribute to the neighborhood in a positive way.”

The site was part of the former Cresthaven Country Club and then was owned by real estate firm Whitestone Jewels LLC, but has been in foreclosure since 2007 after the firm defaulted on its mortgage.

Whitestone Jewels LLC purchased the site in 2006 for $23.3 million from the Catholic Charities, Diocese of Brooklyn, according to city records.

As the April 10 auction date was approaching, Avella and residents began to warn potential buyers about overdevelopment, and the new civic group We Love Whitestone was hoping to convince the city to purchase the property and transform it into parkland.

“Whitestone is a residential area dominated by one-family homes,” Avella said. “This lot sits immediately across from homeowners who do not want their community to be overtaken by large buildings that tower over their houses. I am happy to support a project that will preserve the look and feel of the surrounding community.”



Avella hopes to stop plans of overdevelopment on massive Whitestone vacant sites

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Christopher Bride/PropertyShark 

Winter may be coming to an end, but state Sen. Tony Avella isn’t planning a warm welcome for anyone who purchases a controversial site in Whitestone if they plan on overdeveloping the property or building something that doesn’t comply with zoning.

The large property, which comprises six acres of vacant land near the intersection of 150th Street and Fifth Avenue, will be up for sale on April 10 in an auction. The site was part of the former Cresthaven Country Club and then was owned by real estate firm Whitestone Jewels LLC, but has been in foreclosure since 2007.

Avella is planning to also contest plans for development that doesn’t meet zoning on another large vacant site near the waterfront, which comprises of about eight lots around 151-45 Sixth Rd., because he and community leaders want to preserve the look of the community. The site is also zoned for smaller–sized residential uses.

“Now that both are potentially moving forward with construction, it is imperative that the developers do not stray from doing what is best for the community,” Avella said. “Whoever decides to purchase and develop these areas must do so in a way that will not damage the character of the surrounding low-density residential neighborhood.”

Whitestone Jewels LLC purchased the six-acre site in 2006 for $23.3 million from the Catholic Charities, Diocese of Brooklyn, according to city records, but defaulted on its mortgage soon after.

It became the subject of a potential new school in 2013, however, residents rallied against any possible School Construction Authority plan.

The second development site, which is bigger and near the waterfront, had approved plans for 52 new single-family houses by developer Bayrock Group, according to Avella. But because of the recession the firm could not complete the plan, Avella said.

Then in 2012 Edgestone Group purchased the site for $11.3 million, according to city records. There is nearly 900,000 square feet of space of the lots that were purchased, records show, but they are zoned for smaller residential uses and Avella and community groups are determined to make developers stick to the zoning.

“We are a small community and do not want high-rise buildings or condominiums,” said Kim Cody, president of the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association. For both pieces of property, we want the developers to come in knowing that the community wants single-family homes, and to bring in anything other than that would be detrimental to the community.”


Oakland Gardens residents gain support in bid to save woodland

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

The tree huggers are gaining some political muscle.

A group of Oakland Gardens residents have been building support over the last few weeks to stop a developer’s plan to break a deal made with the city by paving over hundreds of trees and shrubbery in the area for a parking lot and community building.

Now they’ve gained the support of state Senator Tony Avella.

“I’m opposing it. I see no reason to support it,” said Avella, whose coverage area includes the endangered strip of trees that runs along 77th Street between Springfield Boulevard and 217th Street.

Avella continued, “There’s the issue of the effects this would have on the quality of life,” adding: “This may violate the original agreement.”

The 1,200-foot-long strip of land is owned by Windsor Oaks Tenants’ Corp., which also owns co-op buildings in the area. The agreement to keep the land forested was reached in 1950 when the city allowed the property owner to break several zoning laws to construct the co-ops that still stand today. In exchange, the corporation agreed to leave a strip of land undeveloped that separates the co-ops from several blocks of private homes on 77th Street.

But the corporation now wants to renegotiate its deal with the city that would allow them to  turn the woodland into a parking lot and a community building, according to city records.

“We just couldn’t believe that they are trying to take this beautiful piece of land away,” said John Hatzopoulos, who has lived in one of the private homes on 77th Avenue with the unbuilt land directly behind his home. “So you can imagine my joy when [Avella] decided to support our cause.”

Avella plans to meet with Hatzopoulos and several other residents who have been circulating a petition against the development.

“This application rubbed me the wrong way,” Avella said. “The opposition is very clear and strong. We have a great chance to defeat this.”

Community Board 11 will consider the corporation’s request on March 2 during a public meeting. The corporation wants to create a parking lot with 98 spaces with an entrance on Springfield Boulevard and a community building.

The decision will ultimately be up to the Board of Standards and Appeals, the city panel that determines whether zoning variances can be granted.

Windsor Oaks Tenants’ Corp. didn’t return calls for comment.


New bills proposed by state Sen. Avella would address abandoned homes

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Abandoned homes have been a problem in Queens neighborhoods since Superstorm Sandy and the recession. But a breakaway group of state Senate Democrats, including Senator Tony Avella, has introduced a proposal they claim will solve much of the problem.

A bill they’ve called the “Zombie Property Act” would force lenders, including banks, to maintain abandoned homes in New York so that neighborhoods are not dotted with dilapidated properties abandoned by the owners and taken over by mortgage holders.

The measure is one of several bills that are being put forward by the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, of which Avella is one of five members, as part of the group’s “Invest New York” agenda.

“We’re catching squatters and kids going in these abandoned homes,” said Joe Thompson, who runs a civilian patrol in Howard Beach. The neighborhood is ailed with dozens of destroyed homes that were abandoned after Sandy.

“These squatters are getting in there and doing drugs and high school aged kids are putting graffiti all over the place,” Thompson said. The homes pose a danger to people in the area, he said, and they also severely reduce the value of neighboring homes.

“It was kind of like their playhouse,” he said. Last year Thompson tackled the problem by investing his own money in cleaning and maintaining a home on 155th Avenue and 77th Street. He boarded the windows, cleaned the surrounding lawn and even enlisted another resident to power wash the walls.

If the zombie bill, which is co-sponsored by Avella, passes, lenders that hold mortgages on the abandoned properties would be given the responsibility of doing what Thompson is doing.

“These abandoned homes are a waste of resources that could be developed into great things,” Avella said.

Within the Invest New York agenda, Avella will be tasked with pushing through bills that address paid family leave, providing affordable housing for veterans and a proposal that would grant seniors a 10 percent discount on any DMV transaction.

“I’ve always worked toward these things,” Avella said. “This will help people because these are people issues.”


Plans resume to turn historic T Building into affordable housing

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A proposal to turn the historic T Building on Queens Hospital Center’s grounds into 206 units of affordable housing has resumed after several years of missteps and controversy, according to local leaders and a politician.

As part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing initiative, the city has restarted the process of turning the former tuberculosis center in Hillcrest into a residential building.

But plans to do something with the medical building go back to at least 2012 when the Queens Hospital Center worked with a nonprofit human services agency to develop the dilapidated 10-story building on its campus into 251 units of affordable housing. Community leaders and politicians like state Senator Tony Avella killed that plan, along with others.

“The new proposal is much better than the original proposal,” said Avella, who has been working closely with the community and city officials to develop plans. “Are there still things that have to be worked out? Of course. We want some more details. And we will continue to crystalize the plans.”

The city’s plans for the building are still in the early phases, and the city hasn’t publicly released any details. But, according to Avella, the new proposal addresses all of the issues raised by the community – from preserving the historic building to making sure that the community is comfortable with who the new residents will be.

During a recent Community Board 8 meeting, board members expressed concern over plans to make 75 of the apartment units into studios that will be occupied by hospital patients who are discharged and have nowhere else to live.

“It makes no sense,” said Maria Deinnocentiis, a community board member. “We said we needed affordable housing, not this. I’m worried that these homeless people will be there so close to our schools and children.”

But Avella confirmed that the city and a private consulting firm they hired, Dunn Associates, would do a rigorous background check for the hospital patients who become residents. Plans haven’t been finalized and it might be more than a year before any construction starts.

“I was the one that led the fight to kill the original proposal,” Avella said. “They learned that they have to talk to the community and that’s what they’re doing. We’re approving a general theme to work out. It’s a step in the right direction.”


Sen. Avella calls conditions at proposed Pan Am permanent shelter ‘horrendous’

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

State Sen. Tony Avella has joined the opposition to the planned conversion of an emergency homeless shelter at the former Pan American Hotel into a permanent facility due to what he called “horrendous” conditions at the site.

Avella, who is chairman of the Senate’s Social Services Committee, joined residents and local leaders to speak out against the proposal to convert the shelter at 7900 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst to a permanent facility under a $42 million contract with the city.

“It is an outrage to take an abandoned hotel, warehouse homeless families inside it, ignore shocking City Code and HPD violations, waste an exorbitant amount of taxpayer dollars in the process, and then award a $42 million contract to a questionable-at-best organization, making the entire situation permanent,” Avella said.

According to the senator, the shelter houses over 700 residents, made up of families of which many have small children. Each unit at the shelter holds four to five people.

Because the shelter uses former hotel rooms, they are not equipped with cooking facilities. The senator and organizations such as Elmhurst United claim this goes against a NYC Administrative Code requiring that each unit at a family shelter have a kitchen, and in order to do this, there would need to be major renovations at the site.

Photo courtesy of Sen. Tony Avella's office

Photo courtesy of Sen. Tony Avella’s office

The shelter has also had a large number of violations such as failure to provide hot water or heat for days, reports of bed bugs, peeling of lead paint in one unit, and garbage left sitting in front of the entrance to the children’s play area, according to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

“As chair of the State Senate’s Social Services Committee, I understand the vital importance of addressing our growing homeless population and I am committed to working to resolve these issues,” Avella said. “However, this cannot be at the expense of homeless families and children or the community as a whole. We must look to fix this broken system, not warehouse those people that need our help most.”

Due to all these conditions, Avella said he calls on the city to reject the contract that would covert the former hotel into a permanent homeless shelter because he believes it is “not fit for long-term housing for the homeless.”

According to the city’s Department of Homeless Services, the hotel was remodeled before the agency began using it as a shelter. The building also always has hot water, yet sometimes there is a lack of pressure, and hot water has been at full capacity since Dec. 7. Additionally, there have been no problems with the heat. Bedbugs were identified in five units and are currently being treated by an extermination company, and the facility has been lead-free since July.

“We have worked swiftly with our provider to respond to all concerns in the building,” said a DHS spokesperson. “Providing adequate shelter for families in need is a priority for this administration, and it’s heartening to see the community concern about the welfare of these families – an encouraging development after unfortunate and regrettable opposition to this shelter.”

The city is wrestling with a record number of homeless people. More than 59,000 people are currently in the shelter system.


Parks Department postpones decade-long Whitestone project

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Parks Department

The completion of Little Bay Park’s comfort station is being postponed yet again, officials said.

The Parks Department said the most recent delay was due to a harsh winter and an unusually high amount of soil that had to be removed from the construction site.

The new deadline for completion is set for next spring and, once finished, it will end a project that has sputtered along for a decade.

State Sen. Tony Avella and former U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman secured millions of dollars in 2004 to install bathrooms and expand the parking lot.

As of now, visitors to the park and Fort Totten must use portable toilets.

The department finally broke ground last year and announced that the whole project would be finished this fall.

But that deadline is going to be missed, according to a spokesman for the Parks Department.

While the bathrooms won’t be completed until next year, the Parks Department plans to complete a 100-space parking lot and install bioswales to absorb stormwater runoff this fall.

The current budget for everything is $6.659 million, a higher amount than Avella and Ackerman collected in 2004.

As construction continues, the majority of the park, which is named after the bay it faces, is fenced off.


Bellerose library to reopen after $1.66M renovation

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy Queens Library

The Bellerose branch of the Queens Library will reopen Wednesday following a $1.66 million facelift and technological additions.

The revitalization features fresh decor, a new teen area with computers, self service check out and fully automated 24/7 self check-in, so members can return books at any time.

Library officials will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, with face painting and balloon animals for kids.

Funding for the project was allocated by Councilman Mark Weprin, Assemblywoman Barbara Clark and state Sen. Tony Avella.