Tag Archives: Tony Avella

Pols rally with homeowners for Broadway-Flushing landmark status

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of The Broadway Flushing Homeowner's Association

Local politicians are turning up the pressure on the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to have much of the historic Broadway-Flushing neighborhood recognized as a city landmark district.

The Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association held a rally Saturday in Flushing’s Bowne Park to draw attention to their renewed fight to have their area recognized by the LPC.

A previous attempt to get the neighborhood recognized only resulted in an offer to designate a few homes with landmark status, a compromise that was not accepted by residents.

The community is renewing its efforts due to a change in leadership at the LPC last year.

State Senator Tony Avella and Assemblyman Edward Braunstein were in attendance during the Sept. 12 rally, along with multiple civic groups including the Auburndale Improvement Association, Queens Civic Congress, North Flushing Civic, Northeast Flushing Civic, Bay Terrace Alliance, We Love Whitestone civic and the Bayside Historical Society.

Borough President Melinda Katz was unable to attend, but in a statement said the effort to designate Broadway-Flushing as a historical district has her support. She applauded everyone who has shown commitment to protecting the character of the area.

“The architecture and residential atmosphere found in this part of Queens makes it a special place to live and raise a family. It has also created a shared sense of community,” Katz said. “It would be a shame if we missed the opportunity to protect and preserve this wonderful community for future generations.”

Avella charged that it was unfortunate that the LPC had yet to recognize the threat of Broadway-Flushing losing its distinctive qualities.

“Broadway-Flushing is one of the only remaining New York City bastions of single-family homes on wide avenues and quiet residential landscapes,” Avella said. “We must act now to preserve it, or risk leaving nothing left to save.”

Richard Hourahan of the Queens Historical Society previously told The Courier that the Broadway-Flushing area was developed in the first two decades of the 20th century. The introduction of the Long Island Rail Road pushed the local character from a rural landscape to a suburban community.

Although the area is listed on State and National Registers of Historic Places, residents are seeking landmark status because this would give the structures within its boundary protection against overdevelopment under New York City Landmarks Law.

Meanwhile, Councilman Paul Vallone showed his support for the efforts to landmark the neighborhood earlier in the week, taking a walking tour of Broadway-Flushing with LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan last Thursday.

“No one can deny the unique and historical qualities of the homes that have been meticulously maintained and preserved by the proud homeowners in Broadway-Flushing,” Vallone said.

(Photo courtesy of Councilman Paul Vallone’s office)


$575K upgrade to bring sidewalk to College Point’s MacNeil Park

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Alina Suriel

They’ll soon be walking on solid ground around College Point’s MacNeil Park.

State Senator Tony Avella allocated $575,000 for upgrades to the park, including the addition of a sidewalk around its perimeter.

Avella announced the allocation on Aug. 28 at the park, where he was joined by members of the College Point Civic and Taxpayers Association and College Point residents. In addition to a perimeter sidewalk, the funds will be also be used to create a formalized entrance to the park and plant additional foliage.

According to Avella, residents have been campaigning for the new sidewalk since he was a community activist in College Point.

“This is a great resource but it’s never been given the attention it needs,” he said. “I’m happy that I was able to get money but it really shouldn’t be up to the state. This is a city park and the city should be putting some money into this.”

While residents were happy to see incoming improvements to MacNeil Park, many complained of other issues which are long overdue for upgrades and city attention.

Ongoing complaints included unmowed grass, loiterers bringing open containers of booze and smashing glass bottles, overflow from sewers and growing potholes on a walking path deteriorating along the sea wall. Avella was able to see some of these issues firsthand in a tour of the park.

Resident Jennifer Shannon said that some of the potholes were big enough for a small child to climb inside.

“From what he’s saying, it’s going to make the front of the park beautiful, and that’s great,” Shannon said. “But it’s not going to change what’s going on inside the park. We need the other money.”


City drops its appeal of court’s decision against Willets West development

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYC Economic Development Corporation

Updated Friday, Aug. 21, 9:43 a.m.

Plans for the redevelopment of Willets Point took another hit Wednesday, this time from the City of New York.

The de Blasio administration announced it would not participate in an appeal of a State Appellate Court’s decision blocking the construction of Willets West, a million-square-foot mall on the Citi Field parking lot where Shea Stadium once stood. The court declared that the parking lot is city parkland, and that the parties involved did not reach an agreement to replace parkland lost in connection with the project, violating a state mandate.

The withdrawal came after failed negotiations between the city and the project’s main developers — Queens Development Group (QDG), which includes Related Companies and Sterling Equities — over plans to speed up the creation of affordable housing within the larger redevelopment plans for Willets Point. That demand, according to a source familiar with the negotiations, was not viewed by the developers as being economically feasible.

It also marks a stark reversal for the city, which previously supported the mall’s creation under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The city has thus far spent more than $400 million in purchasing land in Willets Point to make way for the neighborhood’s transformation from an industrial hub to a commercial and residential community.

The source, however, claimed the city’s decision was not a matter of philosophical differences between administrations, noting that the city apparently attempted to leverage the impending appeal into the expedited creation of affordable housing at Willets Point.

“They threw out the baby with the bathwater,” the source said, adding that the city was calling upon the developers to “take a leap of faith” and make a commitment to affordable housing at Willets Point without offering secure economic means to get the job done.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, in an official statement, acknowledged that the city desires “significant improvements that would mean that the public would also see a healthy mix of affordable and market-rate housing, delivered on a real time frame.”

“Nearly half a billion dollars is an enormous public investment to make when the only guarantee is a shopping mall. The deal as it stood did not require any affordable housing actually be built,” Glen said. “We know a lot has gone into this project, and we hope that this team will continue to work towards that goal with us.”

Nevertheless, Queens Development Group is pressing on with its efforts to overturn the Appellate Court’s decision on Willets West and the redevelopment of the area as a whole, according to spokesman Phil Singer.

“We are committed to the redevelopment of Willets Point and are confident that our appeal of the Appellate Court’s ruling will be successful,” Singer said in a statement. “The QDG plan, which was overwhelmingly approved by the City Council, provides an additional $3 billion private investment which will finally clean up the long-contaminated land at Willets and provide the facilities and infrastructure for a brand-new neighborhood.”

Regarding the city’s push for affordable housing, Singer indicated the QDG supports the de Blasio administration’s efforts and is “committed to significantly accelerating the housing portion of this plan.”

“But those efforts need to be backed by a financially viable model,” he cautioned.

Opponents of the Willets West plan hailed the city’s withdrawal from the appeal effort.

“I am pleased to hear that the city administration has decided not to appeal the Appellate Division’s unanimous and well-reasoned decision,” said state Senator Tony Avella in a statement. He charged that the developers, by continuing the appeal, “have refused to see the fundamental flaws in the Bloomberg plan in all its variations.”

Shea Stadium, as pictured in 2007.  (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Shea Stadium, as pictured in 2007. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The Willets Point saga has gone on for nearly a decade. Back in 2007, the city put forth a multibillion-dollar vision of turning industrial Willets Point into a neighborhood featuring more than 5,000 new apartments, many of which were to be reserved as affordable housing. Businesses in the area, however, banded together in an effort to thwart the city’s acquisition plans; many of them eventually settled and agreed to relocate to the Bronx.

Before putting a shovel in the ground, the city is also required to remediate decades of pollution left by industry there and develop basic infrastructure such as sewer and water lines. Completion of the redevelopment is currently projected for 2026.

Meanwhile, in 2012, the city and Sterling Equities — which owns the New York Mets and Citi Field — announced plans for Willets West, including a large mall, a movie theater complex and a 200-room hotel. Opponents of Willets West filed suit, pointing out that the former Shea Stadium site where the mall is to be built is part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park — a claim that the Queens Supreme Court dismissed in 2014 but the State Appellate Court accepted this year.



Bayside civic leader Frank Skala dies at 78

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Senator Tony Avella

Bayside civic leader and retired school teacher Frank Skala died late Sunday evening in Long Island’s St. Francis Hospital.

Skala, 78, was an active community leader, serving as a member of Community Board 11 from 2003 until failing health forced him to step down in the spring of 2015. He also founded the East Bayside Homeowners Association in 1974, and was awarded a Liberty Medal in June from state Senator Tony Avella for his community service.

According to information provided by Avella’s office, Skala was a lifelong Queens resident who lived for more than seven decades in a house purchased by his parents in 1940 on Bayside’s 219th Street.

“To capture the legacy of Frank Skala and his contribution to Bayside, Queens, would require more than several sentences could possibly allow,” Avella said.

Skala completed all of his education in Queens, attending P.S. 41, Bayside High School and Queens College for both his undergraduate history degree and graduate degree in education. His career teaching junior high school American history and geography spanned for a total of 33 years.

Community Board 11 District Manager Susan Seinfeld recounted memories of Skala, who refused modern conveniences such as a cellphone or computer and would always send flowers after hearing of someone suffering from an illness or accident.

“Frank was a very unique person: very opinionated, very old-fashioned,” Seinfeld said. “A real old timer who did not like modern technology but was the most thoughtful person.”

Skala is survived by a son, a daughter and two grandchildren.


Rally at Bayside Jewish Center continues fight against proposed high school

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

File photo

The city should scrap plans to build new schools in Bayside and other parts of northeast Queens, protesters claimed at a rally on Friday.

State Senator Tony Avella organized the protest in Bayside on Friday to oppose a high school planned for the Bayside Jewish Center and two others planned for Linden Place in Flushing and the former Keil Bros. Garden Center and Nursery, which is also in Bayside.

Earlier in the year, the senator introduced a bill to require school construction agencies in highly populated areas to increase community involvement in the site selection process for new schools. The bill has successfully passed in the Senate, and is being carried into the state Assembly by Assemblyman Edward Braunstein.

“People know their neighborhood – they know what will and will not work,” Avella said. “Community boards need to be made aware of the rationale behind these decisions, what alternative options are available, and provide their own feedback.”

The proposals for Linden Place and the Bayside Jewish Center are both still pending, but construction has already begun at the Keil Bros. site.

While the rally was planned to protest all three schools, participants were particularly vocal against the proposal for the Bayside Jewish Center. Urban planner Paul Graziano said the scale of the proposed high school is too large for the plot of land occupied by the Bayside Jewish Center.

“Having a high-rise high school with 800 to 1,000 students crammed on to a single acre may work in an urban neighborhood like Astoria, but in suburban Bayside, or other parts of northeast Queens, it absolutely does not,” Graziano said.

Arlene Fleishman, president of the Mitchell-Linden Civic Association, said her group opposes the plan because they believed the area is already too congested.

“We are aware of the need for additional high school seats but the proposed site is not the right place,” Fleishman said. “This community is inundated with public facilities.”


Whitestone officials pledge action to deal with overhead helicopter noise

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of George Mirtsopoulos

Lawmakers at the city, state and federal level met with Whitestone residents this month to address complaints of excessive noise pollution from low flying helicopters and outline courses of action to lessen the impact on the community.

The meetings follow the collection of data from Stop the Chop NY, a website developed by Whitestone resident Dan Aronoff to collect submitted complaints on incidents of disruptive noise from overhead aircrafts. Aronoff has been working with leaders of the We Love Whitestone civic group to call attention to the issue, and the site has collected nearly 1,800 complaints so far since its launch in June, with most originating in northeast Queens.

As a result of the meetings, some officials have agreed to accept complaints from the site at their respective offices, including Councilman Paul Vallone, state Senator Tony Avella, Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz and Congressman Steve Israel.

Officials also offered individual pledges to action, including a plan from Borough President Melinda Katz to invite stakeholders affected by helicopter noise to roundtables discussing the broader topic of aviation noise, and to facilitate additional meetings among elected representatives from Queens and New York City at large.

As part of their course of action, Avella and Simanowitz are currently in talks with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer’s office to call the FAA’s attention to the issue of helicopter noise pollution.

“There is no reason residents of northeast Queens should be subjected to ever-increasing helicopter noise when alternative flight patterns are available,” Avella said.

Vallone plans to introduce two pieces of legislation. One of the resolutions will call on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to amend a helicopter route along Long Island’s north shore to require helicopters to either fly only over water or at higher altitudes. The second resolution would require the City Council to be notified of annual data relating to the location, routes, rules, regulations and other guidelines that exist pertaining to commercial and tourist helicopter routes.

“The never-ending attack on our quality of life by the helicopter flights across our communities has led our office to start a new united approach,” Vallone said. “Together we discussed ways to address the lack of accountability, data, complaint recording, city, state or federal regulations on this issue.”

According to Aronoff, a meeting with Assemblyman Edward Braunstein will also take place in the coming weeks, and he is expecting to attend meetings in the fall with FAA representatives and helicopter operators. While he expects fewer submitted complaints to the site after the summer due to seasonal decreases in helicopter travel to the Hamptons, he will continue to collect data on his website for later use.

Aronoff said he has received emotionally moving testimonies from users of his site affected by the issue, including music producers unable to hear the nuances of their tunes to mothers of developmentally challenged children disturbed by constant overhead noise.

“There are people who are getting in contact with me as the website developer and telling me how they appreciate what’s going on because it’s become unbearable for them,” Aronoff said. “It’s beyond just quality of life; there are real impacts to people and real lives being affected by this.”


State senators butt heads over Flushing pedestrian plaza plan

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Alina Suriel

State Senator Tony Avella rallied with community activists Monday against a plan which would permanently close down a stretch of Flushing’s Roosevelt Avenue to create a pedestrian plaza.

The project has Avella at odds with a legislative colleague, state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who represents the district where the street is located and supports the plaza proposal. Avella’s Senate district is adjacent to Stavisky’s area.

“If she’s in favor of it, that’s asinine, absolutely asinine,” Avella said, adding that he did not think the street could be shut down without affecting traffic conditions in the whole area. “Toby Stavisky should be ashamed of herself for supporting something that’s going to add significant traffic congestion and make dangerous situations already worse.”

When contacted by The Courier for comment, Stavisky staffers fired back at Avella, taking offense at his involvement in a cause centered in within their district boundaries. Both Councilman Peter Koo — who represents the street in the City Council as part of District 20 — and Councilman Paul Vallone of neighboring District 19 have also supported of the plan.

“Tony Avella has made more crazy allegations than Donald Trump and now he’s at it again,” said Mike Favilla, Stavisky’s chief of staff. “Considering that Tony only received 52 percent of the vote in his last primary, perhaps he should spend more time in his own district, rather than looking for fights elsewhere.”

The Korean American Association in Queens originally proposed the public plaza idea to the DOT last year. The proposal calls for the closure of Roosevelt Avenue between 155th Street and Northern Boulevard, adjacent to Leonard Square.

A public workshop held on April 16 solicited public feedback before two trial street closings, the latest of which occurred on Friday, Aug. 7, with a DOT information booth and children’s activities.

While the targeted street is slightly outside the boundaries of his constituency, Avella objected to not being notified of the plan by the Department of Transportation (DOT), and community groups attending the rally also complained of not having been sufficiently informed.

“I only found out about this on Thursday, and my first reaction was, what idiot came up with this,” Avella said on Monday. He cited concerns of traffic congestion around Northern Boulevard that could be worsened by the change.

Avella said that a side street on which cars would be re-routed from Roosevelt Avenue is too small for such a purpose, and would quickly become overrun by the additional vehicles and back up congestion onto Northern Boulevard.

At the trial street closing on Friday, residents were divided in their opinion of whether the street closure would be an asset to the neighborhood or a nuisance they would be forced to circumnavigate.

“I’m just totally against blocking the traffic here in front of the library,” said Chris Viv, a resident of the neighborhood for nearly four decades who believed that the move would complicate traffic in other areas. “Everyone’s been coming here for years driving up and down. It’s a good flow of motor vehicles, and I think it would definitely be a hazard to the area, especially with kids going around.”

Another resident, Michael Addea, said the street in question would actually be made safer if closed off to cars and that he would utilize the proposed plaza as a spot to eat lunch.

“A lot of times cars are double parked for the restaurants because people are coming out of the strip mall,” he said. “I think closing this off would be a good idea.”

The issue will be discussed again in an upcoming public workshop before being put to a vote by Community Board 7 in September.



In Bayside, activists call to keep unwanted ads away from homes

| rpozarycki@queenscourier.com


Community activists gathered outside state Senator Tony Avella’s office Thursday afternoon to call for an extension of the state’s “cease-and-desist” law, which empowers Queens homeowners to prohibit unwanted solicitations from real estate brokers.

The original law, which expired in August 2014, allowed homeowners to register with New York’s Department of State on a list banning brokers from sending advertisements to the registered addresses.

Once the law expired, Avella stated, local property owners became inundated with “predatory real estate solicitations.” During the most recent legislative session, he introduced a bill extending the cease-and-desist law and strengthening it by expediting the registration process for homeowners. The bill would also designate Queens as a “non-solicitation zone” and double its length of protection to 10 years.

“These aren’t just nuisance fliers, but an aggressive campaign to bully homeowners into thinking it’s time to sell, and time to sell low,” Avella said. “We must bring back the common-sense law that expired last year and pass my real estate ‘cease-and-desist’ legislation.”

Numerous civic activists in the area demonstrated their support for the legislation at Thursday’s press conference.

“Sometimes, the [brokers] are particularly aggressive and call or even visit the homeowners repeatedly to try to broker a deal,” Henry Euler of the Auburndale Improvement Association said. “The ads often promise that the homeowners can get huge amounts of money for their homes and give examples of homes in the neighborhood and what they are selling for or have sold for recently.”


Plans for Willets Point mega mall blocked by appellate court

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of NYCEDC

An appellate court blocked developers of proposed mega mall Willets West last week from using designated parkland without legislative approval, creating a major bump in the road to the project’s construction.

The Supreme Court had previously ruled on Aug. 21, 2014, in favor of the developers, Queens Development Group, who were co-defendants with the city in the suit. That decision was made on the grounds that the development was legal under a 1961 law written to allow for the construction of Shea Stadium on parkland, and effectively dismissed a suit aiming to block the development brought by state Senator Tony Avella and park advocates.

The four appellate judges overturned the Supreme Court on July 2 and unanimously agreed that the project cannot be legally built on the site because it is part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Queens Development Group did not undergo a process called alienation, which allows a municipality to transfer parkland to a nonpublic entity. In this process the municipality must receive prior authorization from the state in the form of legislation enacted by the New York State Legislature and approved by the governor.

Justice Angela Mazzarelli wrote that the law allowing for the construction of Shea Stadium on parkland did not exempt any future projects from having to undergo the proper approval process.

“No reasonable reading of Administrative Code section 18-118 allows for the conclusion that the legislature in 1961 contemplated, much less gave permission for, a shopping mall, unrelated to the anticipated stadium, to be constructed in the park,” said Mazzarelli.

Avella and the leader of civic group Willets Point United, Gerald Antonacci, were glad to have claimed a victory after such a long fight.

“Since 2007, we have battled the city at all times over its plans for Willets Point, which expanded in 2012 against the community’s wishes to include the gigantic proposed ‘Willets West’ mall on public parkland,” said Antonacci. “Today the Appellate Division agrees with what we’ve said all along: The city and developers failed to follow lawful procedure and now as a result their whole project cannot proceed.”

“The fact of the matter is, this land was intended to be parkland, not the development of a shopping mall,” said Avella. “In a city where public land is in short supply, simply handing parkland over is a betrayal of trust.”

Willets West was proposed as the first phase of a major two-part rehabilitation plan for Willets Point which would have seen a retail mall and movie theater constructed on 30.7 acres of parking lot adjacent to Citi Field. These first steps toward redevelopment were to begin in 2015, and would have also included major infrastructure updates, including the remediation of 23 acres of Willets Point, the installation of sewage systems, roads and ramps to access local highways, parking spaces, and the development of a 200-room hotel.

The second phase of the Willets Point development was expected to commence in 2026, and involved the construction of mixed-income housing, a public school and additional acres of open space.

In an emailed statement, Queens Development Group said they would appeal the decision.

“This decision, which overturns a well-reasoned decision of the New York Supreme Court, blocks a plan that has been embraced by a wide variety of stakeholders from the City Council to civic groups to labor organizations and others,” said a spokesperson for Queens Development Group. “We believe the Appellate Division Court misinterpreted the statute, improperly narrowing the broad authority it conveyed which would result in an unacceptable status quo, instead of enabling a widely supported investment that will reverse 100 years of pollution and create thousands of much-needed good paying jobs.”


North Shore Towers residents rally for left-hand signal in Floral Park

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Stephen Vrattos

Residents of the North Shore Towers rallied on June 25 to continue their fight for a left-hand turn signal at a busy intersection near their co-op buildings.

Co-op members charge that the high volume of cars make it treacherous for pedestrians to cross the street at the meeting point of Grand Central Parkway and Little Neck Parkway, but inquiries to state agencies have produced no increase in safety measures. Residents of the building were at the rally, as well at Glen Kotowski, co-op general manager, and Mort Gitter, board president.

“It’s a very dangerous turn onto the Grand Central Parkway side road,” resident Sheila Fejes said.

“We’re not giving up,” added rally organizer Felice Hannah, who serves as both the chair of the Political Action Committee and a co-op board member at North Shore Towers.

State Senator Tony Avella has also been involved in the unsuccessful fight for increased street signage at the intersection.

“Once again, the Department of Transportation is not being responsive to the needs of the community,” Avella said. “Despite DOT denying my request for additional controls, the conditions at this intersection demand further action.”

A representative from Avella’s office said that he previously had put in a request for the installation of a left-hand turn signal in February, but after some consideration the DOT office decided that additional signage was not needed.

To change any existing street sign configuration in New York City, the DOT must complete a study to understand the extent of existing safety risks and determine any possible effects it could have on local traffic. As part of this study, the DOT analyzes reports from the Department of Motor Vehicles on traffic accidents occurring in the last three years in the affected area.

A source in the Queens DOT office said that the agency is currently studying the location after being contacted by Hannah in April, and will share the results with stakeholders once its review is completed.


Open house tour given at alleged illegal hotel in Flushing

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Alina Suriel

State Senator Tony Avella was given a tour of an alleged illegal hotel in Broadway-Flushing as part of the owner’s effort to demonstrate their intention to use the building as a family residence.

The senator had previously appeared at the home, located at 35-20 156th St., to attend a rally planned by the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners’ Association drawing attention to allegations that the home is being renovated to house a transient hotel with 14 bedrooms.

While around 80 people had been in attendance at the demonstration, as well as several local media outlets, the owners of the home were not notified in time to make an appearance on their own behalf. As a way to reach out to the community, Robert Wong, a lawyer hired by the Yang family, set up the meeting attended by Avella, local urban planner Paul Graziano, owner Qin Jin Yang and her husband, and the project’s architect, Shiming Tam.

“They want to carry on with the construction, but complaints are pouring in every day,” Tam said. “And the inspectors are forced to come here, and they pick on little things to justify why they are here.”

On April 27, the Department of Buildings (DOB) notified Qin Jin Yang of their intent to revoke the original building approval because of what deem a “questionable layout for a single family residence.” As part of the tour, the senator was led through the skeleton of a structure, with unfinished walls which afforded peeks of the street outside and a second floor which still had open holes straight through to the level below.

Avella said that he would be willing to discuss the matter further with the family to come to a conclusion.

“I appreciate the fact that you reached out,” Avella said. “That always shows good intentions.”

The Yangs originally submitted a plan for the home to have 14 bedrooms in March 2014, which was approved. After deciding that they wanted fewer bedrooms, the family amended the site plan to include 10 bedrooms and submitted it in April 2015. That site plan was rejected because it had fewer than the 18 bedrooms listed on a 1978 certificate of occupancy. According to Wong, the Yangs will submit a new plan, again with about 10 bedrooms, but the family wanted to first settle any remaining public contention.

Since 1989, the home has racked up 50 complaints with the DOB, but 42 of these occurred before the current owners came into control of the house in October 2013. Many of those complaints have similar allegations of the one-family home being illegally converted to accommodate transient hotel rooms or multiple separate dwellings.

Robert Hanophy, president of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association, has said that when the most recent renovations began, residents feared that they were in another battle against an illegal hotel in their neighborhood.

When asked if he would attend the tour of the home with Senator Avella, Hanophy told The Courier that he felt there was no need to participate because the association did not plan to pursue the matter further if the Yang’s moved in as a single family.

Although the signs may indicate that the community may have been wrong about 35-20 156 St., illegal conversions have been so pervasive in Queens that in March 1997 the Department of Buildings created the Queens Quality of Life Unit (QOL Unit) to oversee the increasing problem.

According to a report by the city Department of Buildings under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, investigating illegal conversions can be a challenging process because inspectors can be denied access to a property by its owner. The inspector would then have to get an access warrant, which can be difficult or nearly impossible to obtain. In 2008, the QOL Unit did not receive access to nearly 40 percent of properties for which they received complaints.


Broadway-Flushing residents renew fight for landmark status

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Alina Suriel

State Senator Tony Avella and residents of Broadway-Flushing are continuing the fight to have the neighborhood designated a landmark district.

A previous attempt to get the neighborhood recognized by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) only resulted in an offer to designate a few homes with landmark status,  a compromise which was not accepted by residents. The community is renewing its efforts due to a change in leadership at the LPC last year.

Although the area is listed on State and National Registers of Historic Places, residents are seeking landmark status because this would give the structures within its boundary protection against overdevelopment under New York City Landmarks Law.

“This community has, through the civic association, fought to maintain the quality of life, going to court, spending their own money, for probably two decades at this point,” Avella said. “They shouldn’t have to do that. That should be the city’s job, protecting their neighborhood.”

According to Richard Hourahan of the Queens Historical Society, the development of the Broadway-Flushing area came at a time when the local character was changing from rural to suburban with the introduction of the Long Island Rail Road. Most of the homes in the area were built in the same time period in the first two decades of the 20th century.

“It’s a historical epoch that has been identified as being a progressive era [in the] United States,” Hourahan said. “It was the beginning of suburbanization of Queens.”

Maria Becce, a member of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners’ Association, said that suburban life in a big city offers the best of both worlds and this an important aspect of the area.

“Instead of having to move to New Jersey or Long Island, or upstate New York, Westchester, here we are, 21 minutes by Long Island Rail Road to Penn Station, and I get exactly what I’m looking for — a one-family neighborhood, with a front garden, backyard, and where there are trees on the street and neighbors know each other,” Becce explained.

Sandi Viviani, a former president of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners’ Association said achieving landmark status would preserve Broadway-Flushing’s history even after the current residents are gone.

“This is one of the most important things we are trying to do is to preserve this community for generations to come,” she said.


Community shows strong support against alleged Flushing hotel

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Alina Suriel

Scores of residents attended a rally Thursday that state Senator Tony Avella and the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners’ Association held against a single-family home they allege will be turned into an illegal hotel on 156th Street.

“We will not stand by and watch this property be turned into an illegal hotel that disrupts the lives of each and every one of the residents in this neighborhood,” said Avella before a crowd of about 80 people. “The work that was approved for this site authorizes a single-family residence only, but all signs point to a hotel.”

Paul Graziano, a local urban planner and consultant who is heavily involved in the efforts against the house, said that much of the suspicion stems from the interior design of the house, which he believes indicates the house’s true intended purpose. Graziano alleged a room situated in the center of the first floor seemed positioned as if to host evening musical events, and that that a half-wall built into the home was designed to serve as a reception desk for the residence.

“Single-family homes do not have a reception areas,” Graziano said.

There were so many people at the rally that the crowd spilled onto the street of the otherwise quiet neighborhood, with onlookers peering into the commotion to view signs with messages such as “single-family only” and “enforce zoning.”

“Definitely there’s something up here, and that’s why I’m concerned,” said Tom Otto, a neighborhood resident. “I wouldn’t want to see this happening here, or anywhere else for that matter.”

Members of the homeowner’s association have said that if the building department were able to inspect the building, the issue would be determined much more easily. According to a report by the city Department of Buildings under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, investigating illegal conversions can be a challenging process because inspectors can be denied access to a property by its owner. The inspector would then have to get an access warrant, which can be difficult to nearly impossible to obtain.

Avella said that this issue has spurred him to introduce legislation which would require anyone who applies for a construction permit to allow the Department of Buildings access to the property whenever the agency should request it. According to Avella, if access is not granted, building permits for the any application will be revoked.

The association has been circulating information that says the three-floor home, which is at 35-20 156th St., will be renovated to have 14 bedrooms and eight bathrooms to accommodate visitors at an illegal hotel. The owners of the home, however, maintain that they will be living there with their own extended family of nine people.

In a released statement, the family said that although original plans for the home had 14 bedrooms, they sent in an amended plan on April 15 to reduce the number of bedrooms to ten which was rejected by the Department of Buildings.

Robert W. Wong, an attorney whom the family retained Wednesday night, said that his clients are recent  immigrants from China, some of whom do not speak fluent English and cannot understand why they are under so much scrutiny. He said that he is looking to meet with members of the association and Avella to straighten out the situation, and that his clients have good intentions which have been distorted by outside assumptions.

“Ms. Yang together with her family are hardworking Chinese immigrants from the Fouzhou province of China,” Wong said.


Study aims to improve northeast Queens buses

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

File photo

Major changes could soon be underway for mass transit users in northeast Queens.

In their most recent meeting last week, Community Board 11 members updated the community with news of a $500,000 allocation in state funds to study bus service restoration in northeast Queens.

The funding was secured by state Senator Tony Avella during negotiations before the state budget was passed on March 31. As part of the deal, the MTA is now required to immediately begin a yearlong study on ways to improve bus service and examine the effects of budget cuts implemented in the last five years.

As part of the study, the MTA is also required to seek public input. Representatives of the transportation agency have already been meeting with community boards in affected areas to facilitate the dialogue and present the preliminary results of an assessment study on northeast Queens bus service which is slated to be finished in May.

Chris Petallides, co-chair of Community Board 11 Transportation Committee, said that although the board did submit a wish list of needs and particular concerns, how to ultimately streamline and improve bus service is a decision that rests with the MTA.

“Not that I want to downplay our input, but we are not experts in this,” Petallides said. “The best we can do is give them our personal experiences about delays, specific lines.”

Workshops have also been held to assess public opinion on what services are needed for bus riders in northeast Queens. Issues raised at these meetings included requests for more routes, requests for later service on existing routes, and complaints of drivers not stopping to pick up customers because buses are crowded, among other concerns.

In a released statement, Avella underscored the lack of transportation options faced by his constituents.

“Northeast Queens, and specifically the 11th Senatorial District, has always been underserved in terms of bus service and mass transportation options,” said Avella. “That is why it is vitally important for the MTA to do this study and thoroughly examine the feasibility of extending or rerouting existing bus routes in these neighborhoods.”



Briarwood station name shortened

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Assemblyman David Weprin

What’s in a name? A lot, according to the MTA and local subway riders.

The subway station formerly dubbed “Briarwood-Van Wyck Boulevard” will now simply be known as “Briarwood” after a name change on Friday. State Senator Tony Avella, Assemblyman David Weprin and Briarwood Community Association President Seymour Schwartz unveiled the renaming outside the station, which is located near the Briarwood library at the intersection of Main Street and Queens Boulevard.

The original name of the station came from its proximity to Van Wyck Boulevard, a thoroughfare later widened and converted into the Van Wyck Expressway. Residents have long campaigned to have the name changed to avoid confusion for newcomers finding their way around the community.

“It took us 14 years, but we did it, and the initiative taken on our behalf by our representatives, Assemblyman David Weprin and state Senator Tony Avella, helped us to reach this terminal goal,” said Schwartz.

“It is about time that the name of this neighborhood’s only train station reflects the people who live here, not a street that once ran through the area,” Avella said.

The station is served by the E and F subway lines and is adjacent to the Van Wyck Expressway, a major thoroughfare running from JFK Airport to Northern Boulevard.