Tag Archives: State Senator Tony Avella

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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Local congress members endorse John Liu in state Senate race


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo


In his bid to unseat state Sen. Tony Avella, former City Comptroller John Liu picked up another round of support from local congressional members.

Liu received endorsements on Monday from congress members Grace Meng, Gregory Meeks and Joseph Crowley, who cited his achievements as a councilman and the financial leader of the city.

“John has proven himself to be an outstanding public servant and I’m happy to support his candidacy for the New York State Senate,” Meng said. “His experience as our comptroller and as a Queens councilman make him well prepared to tackle the important issues in Albany, and I look forward to working with him to make our city, state and borough an even better place to live.”

The congress members add to a list of Liu supporters in the District 11 race, which already include Borough President Melinda Katz, numerous unions and city lawmakers.

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his support of Avella. The incumbent also received an endorsement from the Communications Workers of America, District 1.

 

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Mayor de Blasio endorses state Sen. Avella in re-election bid


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday his support for state Sen. Tony Avella in the District 11 race against former City Comptroller John Liu.

“Throughout this past session, Sen. Jeff Klein and Sen. Tony Avella worked tirelessly on behalf of the residents of New York City and helped make progress on issues that had been stalled for far too long,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio added that he looks forward to working with Avella to achieve progressive goals such as increasing minimum wage, expanding affordable housing and passing the DREAM Act.

“Mayor de Blasio has been at the forefront of the fight for progressive Democratic values, and it is my honor to receive his endorsement,” Avella said. “I look forward to working together towards making New York the city that we all deserve.”

Avella also picked up backing from the Communications Workers of America, District 1 in an announcement on July 3.

Not to be outdone, Liu received numerous endorsements from labor organizations in recent weeks as well as Democratic leaders, including Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.

 

 

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Sen. Avella questions security at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File Photo

By Janae Hunter


After a second patient escaped Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in a six-month period, state Sen. Tony Avella will demand answers about security at the Queens Village facility in a press conference on Thursday.

The NYPD said Tuesday that Clifford Brown climbed over a chain-link fence at the center, located at 79-25 Winchester Blvd., and fled. Brown, 27, who was brought to Creedmoor from Riker’s Island for a psychiatric evaluation, escaped at approximately 2 p.m. during recreational time. Brown was found on Wednesday in good health, police said.

The Courier reported that Raymond Morillo, 33, escaped from Creedmoor on January 28 by swapping clothes with a visitor. Morillo was convicted of manslaughter in 1999 and was transferred to Creedmoor in December of 2013. Morillo was found two days later in Memphis, Tennessee and brought back to New York.

Avella and residents are concerned about Creedmoor’s security practices. Following, the first incident, Avella requested that the Office of Mental Health (OMH) investigate the events leading up to Morillo’s escape. In March, the OMH launched a full investigation of security policies not only in Creedmoor, but in all psychiatric centers throughout New York.

The press conference is at 10:15 a.m. in front of the facility.
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State Sen. Avella allocates $200K to renovate Fresh Meadows school auditorium


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre


State Sen. Tony Avella will allocate $200,000 for repairs and electrical upgrades to the auditorium of P.S. 26 in Fresh Meadows. 

P.S. 26 submitted a request for the money to Avella’s office earlier this year for the necessary upgrades since the school stays open year-round and shares the space with P.S. 224 during the summer months.

 

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State Sen. Avella allocates $275K to renew Bayside Hills green space


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

Follow me @liamlaguerre 

 

State Sen. Tony Avella has allocated $275,000 toward the revitalization of the Captain Dermody Triangle on 216th Street.

Avella made the announcement with members of the Bayside Hills Civic Association during their annual Spring Festival on Saturday.

The green space, which was named for outspoken abolitionist William C. Dermody, who was killed in the Civil War, is in need of repairs to its sidewalk, lawn and stone monument at the center of the triangle. 

“The park deserves it,” said Michael Feiner, president of the Bayside Hills Civic Association. “It’s unbelievable that finally the community of Bayside Hills wins something for a change.”

 

 

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Little Neck wants monstrous wall to come down


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Follow me @liamlaguerre 

 

 

Little Neck residents say they can see the writing on the wall for their neighborhood, if a Long Island City-based company moving in has its way.

More than 100 residents backed by local politicians protested on April 22 against watch manufacturer E. Gluck Corporation’s construction of a 35-foot wall, which is so high some said it blocks sunlight after certain hours. Community members fear it will hurt property values and their quality of life.

“It looks like the cross between a concentration camp and ‘The Wall’ from ‘Game of Thrones,’” said Joan Arnowitz, a resident who lives down the block from the wall. “I have an $800,000 house that’s now going to go down in value.”

E. Gluck is moving this year into the empty lot at 60-15 Little Neck Parkway, the former site of electrical wiring company Leviton. Residents and politicians were initially in support of the move, believing that E. Gluck, like Leviton, would be a quiet neighbor based on the wares it manufactures.

The company promised to put a one-story warehouse on the site, according to politicians. But residents woke up recently to find the towering dark gray wall, which sits on a hill that is about 10 feet high off the curb, extending nearly halfway through the block. It appears to be the outside wall of the warehouse under construction.

“We want to be a good, respectful neighbor, and we believe our use of the property is preferable to alternative uses allowed for this site, such as a distribution center that would significantly increase truck traffic on local streets,” the company said in a statement. “We have heard the concerns expressed by elected officials and members of the public, and we are currently evaluating our options based on their feedback.”

State Sen. Tony Avella asked the Department of Buildings (DOB) for a Stop Work Order for the property. He and other elected officials also hope to take away about $13 million in tax breaks that the company was granted from the city for the next 25 years.

“They lied to us. They told us that this would be a small project,” Avella said. “They made us an enemy. They didn’t have to do this, but they made an enemy out of us and we are going to fight for the community. This has to come down.”

 

 

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Queens pols: DREAM Act is not dead


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Follow me @liamlaguerre

 

Maybe it was just a fantasy, but Queens politicians that support New York’s DREAM Act aren’t giving up the fight to make it a reality.

After receiving support from the State Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, on Monday, the State Senate failed to pass the DREAM Act, which would have allocated $25 million in state funding for tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants attending college.

The legislation received just 30 of the necessary 32 votes to pass. Two Democratic senators opposed the measure, along with all Republican members.

Every Queens senator voted in favor of the measure, and now they are hoping to convince Cuomo to add the DREAM Act to the state budget, which is due April 1.

“It’s unfortunate that it didn’t pass. There are people in the state who don’t agree with it. That’s democracy,” said State Senator Tony Avella, who co-sponsored the measure. “There is no question that it’s disappointing, but we won’t give up the fight.”

Cuomo himself voiced disappointment that the Senate failed to pass the bill after the vote, and the same day he released a statement, vowing to fight for it– though it’s not clear if he will put it in the state budget.

“I will continue to work with supporters, stakeholders and members of the legislature to achieve this dream and build the support to pass this legislation and preserve New York’s legacy as a progressive leader,” Cuomo said.

If the DREAM Act had passed the final hurdle in the Senate vote, it would put New York among states such as California, New Mexico, Washington, and even Texas, which is known as a Republican state.

“I think it’s an embarrassment for New York State,” State Senator Malcolm Smith said. “We have always been a progressive state, especially for immigrants. We need to make it happen. I am optimistic that the bill could come up again before we end session in June. I will push for it to come up again.”

 

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Contentious Whitestone sidewalk café bid up for vote later this month


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

An application for a Whitestone sidewalk café will go up for a City Council vote at the end of the month without support from the area councilmember. 

“It was pretty clear that the community opposed it, and I will make my case against it,” Councilmember Paul Vallone said. “It’s just not the right fit.”

The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) approved Nonna’s Pizzeria & Trattoria owner’s bid last year to wrap an outdoor sitting area around his restaurant at 22-30 154th St.

City lawmakers will vote on the application March 26, though Vallone says the legislative body will likely follow suit with his “no” vote and shut it down.

The sidewalk is not wide enough for outdoor seating and too close to residential homes, said Vallone and State Senator Tony Avella.

Some residents also feared it would bring excessive noise and take away parking spaces.

“A sidewalk café at this location is simply wrong,” Avella said. “If this application is approved by the City Council, abutting residents will suffer significantly increased traffic and noise.”

But Joe Lobue, who manages the Italian restaurant, said the sidewalk café would let customers kick back and enjoy a meal in the sunshine.

“I think it would actually help the community,” he said. “It would be a place for them to sit down and relax. I disagree with the negativity.”

Hans Roessel, a 73-year-old regular of the restaurant — who also lives across the street — welcomed the plan.

“It doesn’t bother the neighborhood,” he said. “They’re going to make it nice. Why can’t we sit outside?”

 

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