Tag Archives: Tony Avella

Residents march against MLS stadium plans


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence M. Cullen

Less than a week after Major League Soccer (MLS) held meetings on consecutive days regarding its planned stadium for Queens, residents opposed to the project took to the streets to march against it.

“Parkland is sacred,” said State Senator Tony Avella. “And it shouldn’t be taken away for a money-making proposition.”

Avella, also a candidate for borough president, and Councilmember Julissa Ferreras headlined the protest march on Sunday, December 9.

Two other massive projects — expansion at Willets Point and at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center — begin at the same time a new soccer stadium would be built. Avella said that would create gridlock and make access for parkgoers nearly impossible.

“You not only have the discussion about a soccer stadium,” Avella said. “You also have the tennis stadium, the tennis association that wants to expand, and you have Willets Point — all of these projects supposedly are going to be done at the same time.”

Ferreras said the project could not move forward without bringing the community into play. The future of Flushing Meadows needed to reflect the community, she said, and what it needs regarding greenspace.

“We cannot make any deals behind closed doors,” Ferreras said. “We cannot have such an important part of our community — the lungs of our community — be negotiated in City Hall. This is important for our community; I cannot be supportive of a project that says it’s at the finish line, when we are only at the beginning.”

Luis Gonzalez, a member of advocacy group Make the Road New York, said that while the residents around the park love to use its amenities to play soccer, that does not mean the community, as a whole, wants to have a stadium in the middle of open space.

“I play soccer in the park,” he said. “Our community loves soccer. But that doesn’t mean we want a soccer stadium right in the middle of the park. The kids in our community desperately need open space to exercise.”

Vallone officially announces borough president bid


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Photo by Alex DiBlasi

Councilmember Peter Vallone’s holiday surprise wasn’t all that surprising.

Vallone announced his bid for Queens borough president at his father’s annual holiday party on Tuesday, December 11, surrounded by friends and family. Throughout the year, rumors have swirled about the Astoria councilmember’s potential run for Borough President Helen Marshall’s soon-to-be-empty seat. However, Vallone never officially stated until the party that he intended to run for the borough presidency.

“I’ve been considering [running] for a long time now. I’ve been out there fighting for the borough I love for a long time. I’ve got a track record of doing that. I understand what Queens is about. I’m a product of Queens. I’m going to spend the rest of my life in Queens. I’d like to work with all of you to continue to make Queens even better and better,” Vallone said.

So far, Vallone has raised roughly $1.5 million for his borough president campaign — significantly higher than any other potential candidate.

Former Councilmember and Assemblymember Melinda Katz, Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik, State Senator Jose Peralta and State Senator Tony Avella have already announced their intentions to run for Marshall’s seat. Councilmember Leroy Comrie, a favorite of the Queens County Democratic Party, is rumored to be running for BP as well.

Vallone said his business background separated him in the crowded field.

“I understand Queens. I’ve spent my whole life here — raised my family here. I still live around the corner from my dad,” he said. “The law firm has been there since 1932. Queens is made up of small business owners like the people in this room, and I am the only candidate with any business experience.”

Legislature leaves co-op, condo owners in the lurch


| mchan@queenscourier.com

City co-op and condo owners may have to ante up more in taxes after lawmakers said the state Legislature may not reconvene this year to pass promised relief.

“We had hoped the Legislature would meet and pass the annual abatement. It looks like we’re not going back,” said State Senator Tony Avella. “It’s going to be a huge cost to co-op and condo owners and a retreat from everything that we’ve worked on thus far.”

Co-op and condo community leaders said the state Legislature left them high and dry at the end of June, when lawmakers adjourned the session without extending the city’s J-51 program and its tax abatement program, which expired June 30. A bill that would put a halt to skyrocketing property tax valuations was also not addressed by the end of the session, they said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the Assembly, Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo had reached an agreement in July on “landmark” tax relief legislation that would be signed into law later this year when legislators return to Albany.

But lawmakers now say the Legislature may not meet before the year is out, meaning co-op and condo owners may have to brace for bigger tax bills in January.

“I’m very disappointed. They all agreed that a special session would be called, and it’s obviously not happening,” said Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Owners, Inc. “This just goes to show that actions speak louder than words, especially when it comes to politics.”

Friedrich said his community could lose out on about $1 million, which he said would eventually come out of shareholders’ wallets.

“In an economic environment like this, people can’t afford these massive increases,” he said. “It would be crushing.”

The J-51 program gives owners partial property tax exemptions for capital improvements, and the abatement reduces the difference in property taxes paid by Class 2 co-op and condo properties and one, two and three family homes in Class 1 — which are assessed at a lower percentage of market value.

Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said residents would pay up to an additional $1,200 a year in maintenance costs without the abatement.

“If the state of New York wants to drive affordable housing out of the city, it’s very easy,” he said. “Don’t renew the tax abatements. But if you want us to stay, do it, and it’s not that difficult. All it takes is going back to Albany and having a vote.”

The governor’s office did not respond to calls for comment.

According to a summary report released by the Department of Finance (DOF) this year, taxes are expected to rise by 7.5 percent for co-op owners and 9.6 percent for condo owners across the city. Last year, officials said, some co-op and condo valuations saw astronomical increases as high as 147 percent.

A pair of audits also released this year by the city comptroller’s office found the DOF at fault for causing upheavals in condo and co-op property values — a determining factor in property taxes — when it changed its formula for calculating them in fiscal year 2011-12.

Avella announces borough president run


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Tony Avella

A northeast Queens legislator has joined the large circle of Democrats vying for next year’s borough presidency.

State Senator Tony Avella, 61, announced he will run to replace outgoing Borough President Helen Marshall.

“I think Queens needs a voice, and I don’t think we’ve had that,” said Avella, who won re-election to his Senate seat earlier this month. “The office of the borough president could be much more involved in handling the borough-wide issues. I just think we could do a much better job.”

The former two-term city councilmember said he is “continually frustrated” at unhandled problems in Queens, including tree maintenance, curb replacement and school issues.

Superstorm Sandy, Avella said, could have also been less devastating if the borough leader fought for resources that instead went to other parts of the city.

“It runs the gamut,” he said. “What really made the decision for me was the lack of preparation and response to Queens after the hurricane. I thought the office of the borough president could have been much more visible and much more active.”

Other big name Democratic candidates who have announced their intent to vie for the seat include Councilmember Leroy Comrie, State Senator José Peralta and former legislator Melinda Katz.

Councilmember Peter Vallone and Deputy Queens Borough President Barry Grodenchik are also rumored to be eyeing the position.

“I think I have widespread name recognition throughout the borough,” Avella said. “I think I take a much more hands-on approach, which I think is really necessary.”

Avella said he would seek an endorsement from the Queens County Democratic Committee but would run regardless of the party’s support.

Bank cleared to clean lot


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A major bank has been granted legal permission to clean and maintain an abandoned six-acre lot in Whitestone, which neighbors say has become a hotbed for wild animals and overgrown weeds.

The undeveloped 150-33 6th Avenue site has been neglected for more than a year, according to the site’s next door neighbor, Artie McCrossen. It is currently in the midst of a foreclosure action by OneWest Bank.

Four-foot high weeds, wild raccoons, possums and mosquitos started to call the unkempt yard home, McCrossen said, after property owner Whitestone Jewels stopped maintaining the land.

OneWest Bank announced two weeks ago it has gained court approval to access and fix the vacant site, according to State Senator Tony Avella.

“This is welcome news for residents of Whitestone,” Avella said. “This vacant property had become an eyesore in the community for far too long and it is a shame that it was allowed to deteriorate like this.”

Still, McCrossen, who is surrounded on three sides by the problematic land, said he will only “believe it when he sees it.”

“People talk and nothing goes on. I haven’t seen anything in two weeks,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. The issue was never resolved. It’s a shame, and it really annoys me that the city isn’t taking any kind of action against the piece of property.”

McCrossen, 59, said he has seen trucks illegally dumping dirt and materials onto the land and has taken it upon himself to repair damage made to the property after superstorm Sandy.

“There’s a garage right next to me, and metal pieces of the roof were flying off. I had to go screw them down so they wouldn’t hit me, my son or my wife when we walk outside,” McCrossen said. “It’s now a safety issue. I don’t think the bank knows.”

The retired firefighter said he even had to shell out $400 when a rogue possum attacked his dog in his backyard at night.

“Every time I let my dog out at night, I’m concerned there are going to be more possums or raccoons. I don’t know what the hell is back there,” he said.

Pol red over lack of Greenstreets


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of the Department of Parks and Recreation

A state senator scolded the city for making changes to a green program that has left some turf in his district deserted.

Unused road areas have been turned into leafy green spaces since 1996, under the city Department of Parks and Recreation’s Greenstreets program, but now only pieces of land in flood-prone areas are being considered by the agency.

State Senator Tony Avella said the “abrupt” modifications to the program’s initiative has led the Parks Department to reject many requests made from northeast Queens residents who had hoped to have blights near their homes beautified.

“Unfortunately, with this new, restrictive criteria that [the Parks Department] has instituted, additional locations will be rejected,” Avella said, adding that he had secured several Greenstreets throughout his district, including ones along Francis Lewis Boulevard. “As a result, these locations continue to deteriorate and become blights in the neighborhood.”

But the program’s priorities now lie beyond surface-level aesthetics, according to the Parks Department, which in 2010 changed Greenstreets’ focus to capturing storm water, reducing the burden on the city’s sewer system. They are only now constructed where they are “absolutely necessary,” a spokesperson said.

More than 870 Queens spaces have been turned to Greenstreets, the Parks rep said, and more will be built after the agency secured additional funding from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

“We would welcome funding from Senator Avella to build additional Greenstreets in other areas,” the spokesperson said.

Pol: Trees at root of flooding problem


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A local legislator lambasted the city for turning a blind eye to Queens homeowners tangled in sidewalk tree root problems.

The roots, which stretch out underground and penetrate through residential main sewer and water lines at least once a year, cause basement flooding and constant sewage backup, said State Senator Tony Avella.

But the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation, Avella said, has denied responsibility, saying the problems likely stem from “a pre-existing leak in the pipe itself.”

“Tree roots cannot damage sound pipes, but sometimes grow into a sewer line if there is already a leak because they follow water availability,” a Parks spokesperson said. “Therefore, the best way to prevent this from occurring is for the homeowner to have his or her sewer line repaired.”

In a November 25 letter to Avella, Parks Borough Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said maintenance and repair of sewer systems are the responsibility of property owners, later adding that homeowners may be eligible for reimbursement for monies spent clearing their sewer lines if they file a claim with the city’s comptroller within 90 days of the incident.

“For the city to deny responsibility that the roots can’t get into a pipe is ludicrous at best,” Avella said, adding that arborist groups he has spoken to agree the city’s position was indefensible. “Tree roots will invade the pipes.”

Jamaica homeowner Shah Ahmed said he’s been plagued by the issue for years and has to shell out at least $1,400 once, sometimes twice, a year to relieve flooding, replace carpeting and fix damages to his home.

“The water is stagnant everywhere. My plumber cleaned the sewer and showed me the roots that were in the pipe. This led to a sewer backup in my basement, creating a foul odor and a health hazard,” Ahmed, 64, said. “I complained to the Parks Department many times, but nothing happened.”

Lawrence McClean, district manager of Community Board 13, said the problem affects some 7,000 residents within the community board.

The area was once served by Jamaica Water Supply Company, which made pipe repairs, but when the city took over in 1996, homeowners were then held responsible for maintenance, McClean said.

“People who bought homes in Queens initially bought homes where the agreement was that repairs would be done by the service provider, only to have the city come in and say that situation has changed,” he said. “The damage done to people like this is insurmountable. If you have a family and you want to put your children in college, then you have to make a decision between paying for this and putting your children through college.”

Little Bay Park comfort station back on track


| mchan@queenscourier.com

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Long-delayed plans to construct a comfort station at Bayside’s Little Bay Park are back on track after seven years of derailment, officials said.

The bidding process for the capital project has begun and will last until July 31, said a spokesperson for the city’s Parks Department. While the spokesperson said a construction time line will only be available after all bids are received and evaluated, State Senator Tony Avella said he expects shovels to hit the ground by the end of the year.

“After years of bureaucratic delays, I am pleased that this project is finally moving forward,” Avella said. “It is a real shame that a great park like Little Bay Park, which has what I consider the best dog run in the entire city, does not have a comfort station.”

The senator rallied with Bayside community activists and residents last November to urge the Parks Department to begin the revitalization project. Avella, who previously allocated funding for a dog run in the park, apportioned $1.3 million for the public restrooms seven years ago at the same time Congressmember Gary Ackerman secured a $4.1 million federal transportation allocation to reconstruct and expand the Little Bay parking lot and rebuild the Cross Island Parkway bridge overpass at 212th Street.

Neither project has commenced, and three port-a-potties are currently stationed in the park.

The project came to a pause after funding provided by the state’s Department of Transportation required additional review and time for comments, a Parks spokesperson said. The site’s coastal wetland location and the need for new sewer connections also called for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation and city’s Department of Environmental Protection to provide approvals on design and construction documents. The agency said the funding was secure and had not been reallocated.

Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, suspected the project slowed to a halt after the Parks Department bundled the $5.42 million in city and federal funds together — a move he said was “not a good business procedure.”

“For some reason, everything seemed to come to a stop,” he said. “I don’t think there was any wrongdoing or corruption in handling the funds. It just wasn’t handled properly.”

But a Parks spokesperson said combining city and federal grants was not unusual when funding municipal capital projects.

Schreiber also pushed for the agency to make Requests for Proposals available to the public to see if any changes have been made to the seven-year-old plan.

“It could still be at least another 18 months before we actually get to use the comfort station at that location,” he said.

— Additional reporting by Michael Pantelidis

Little Bay Park project stall is little ‘comfort’


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Michael Pantelidis

Bayside elected officials and community leaders are campaigning for relief for visitors of Little Bay Park and hoping that millions of dollars in funding hasn’t been flushed by the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Senator Tony Avella united with Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, and residents of the Bayside community on November 29 to urge the Parks Department to begin the revitalization project of Little Bay Park – which includes the construction of a comfort station.

Avella, who previously allocated funding for a dog run in the park, apportioned $1.3 million for the public restrooms seven years ago – the same time Congressmember Gary Ackerman secured a $4.12 million federal transportation allocation to reconstruct and expand the Little Bay parking lot and rebuild the Cross Island Parkway Bridge overpass at 212th Street.

Neither project has commenced, and three port-a-potties are currently stationed in the park.

“This seems to be systematic of the Parks Department – getting money and then not moving ahead with the project,” said Avella, who believes usage of the park has increased by 1,000 percent in the past decade. “It is unfair to the community to have to wait seven years for something they have been asking for, and it is unfair to tax payers because each year you delay a capital project, costs go up. I would hate to even ask the Parks Department what this project would cost today.”

The senator blames the delay on a lack of communication and transparency and says he plans to introduce state legislation requiring all city agencies to provide information on their web sites about all pending capital projects, including where funding is coming from, the anticipated start and completion dates and where the projects are in the construction process.

“These were important funds that I fought hard to secure for our community,” said Ackerman. “It’s well past time for these projects to move forward. Hopefully, all agencies involved can cut through the bureaucratic red tape so that shovels can finally get into the ground as soon as possible.”

During the press conference, community leaders emphasized that there is “great fear” that the money is being used for other projects.

“It’s obvious that the planned park and traffic enhancements have somehow been derailed. It’s time to get them back on track,” said Schreiber, who called the Parks Department one of the most difficult agencies to deal with. “At some point you have to wonder if the money is still there or if it was used for another purpose.”

According to a Parks Department spokesperson, a number of outstanding issues exist that are preventing the initiation of the project, including state approval to build close to a coastal zone, state approval to handle archaeological finds – if any are discovered on site – due to the recent discovery of archaeological material within half a mile of the park, and permission from several agencies to utilize a sewer line owned by the FDNY.

“The total budget for the comfort station and parking lot is approximately $4 million,” said the spokesperson. “This includes both federal and city funds. The funding is secure and has not been reallocated. Because the project contains federal grant funds, the state is obligated to review all plans before Parks can bid or begin to build.  We’ve been working closely and actively with the State Department of Transportation (DOT) to address their comments and requests.”

After learning of the press conference on November 29, Avella says Parks Department officials and the Department of Transportation contacted him and arranged a meeting to discuss the project.

“At this point, I am optimistic that the Parks Department recognizes this is a serious issue for the community,” Avella said. “Hopefully they will realize that we need communication and transparency and we are here to work together to move this project along.”

Residents Gather to Mark Tenth Anniversary of 9/11


| jlyons@queenscourier.com

911-Memorial-4

North Shore Towers residents were joined by local elected officials and members of law enforcement as they marked the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Board President Bob Ricken began by acknowledging Towers residents Tom Lyons and Todd Heiman. Lyons responded to Ground Zero following the attacks while Heiman worked at the Staten Island recovery site.

“All of the events of September 11 will forever live in our memories. We will never forget the images of planes flying into the World Trade Center, or the smoke rising from the Pentagon,” Ricken said. “We’ll always admire the courage and compassion of the heroes who also entered the burning building to save the lives of our countrymen.”

Ricken also said that the day of remembrance requires reflection, as it is determined how best to honor those who sacrificed their lives.

“The highest honor we can pay to those we lost is to do what our adversaries fear the most – to stay true to who we are as Americans, renew our sense of common purpose and not let the act of a small band of murderers threaten and divide us,” he said. “On this day and the days to come we should choose to honor the fallen, protect our families, our way of life, and support the first responders and servicemen throughout the world.”

Following Ricken’s opening remarks, Sergeant Polly Jill MacAlpine of the NY Army National Guard sang the National Anthem. Rabbi Randy Sheinberg then gave an invocation, during which she noted that people all over were “coming together as a community in tribute to those whose lives were lost tragically 10 years ago and waving flags of patriotism, of pride and of hope in the future.”

Located elected officials Senator Tony Avella, Assemblymember Ed Braunstein and Councilmember Mark Weprin were also on hand for the ceremony and gave remarks, talking about the importance of never forgetting and the way New Yorkers came together following the terrorist attack.
“New Yorkers are tough spirits and we love this city and we love this country,” Weprin said. “We are going to make a statement that you’re not going to scare us out and we’re going to stay united together.”

North Shore Towers General Manager Glen Kotowski, who worked at Ground Zero off and on following the attacks, also read a letter from Mayor Michael Bloomberg sent for the event. In addition to welcoming the 250 to 300 people in attendance, Bloomberg’s letter spoke of the opening of the World Trade Center Memorial and said that lower Manhattan is “more alive than ever.”

“In the days and weeks after the event, we vowed that we would never forget and that we would work together to create a brighter future,” Bloomberg wrote, adding that New York continues to keep that promise.
The event concluded with MacAlpine singing “God Bless America” as residents joined in.

Neighbors protest meat market


| mchan@queenscourier.com

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Neighboring residents of a local meat market in Bellerose rallied to shut the market down on Monday, September 19.

Dozens of angry nearby homeowners protested alongside New York State Senator Tony Avella outside the store. They said Super Halal Meat Market, located at 253-06 Hillside Avenue, defies building and health codes and severely impacts the neighborhood’s quality of life.

“It’s about two American dreams colliding,” said neighbor Jennifer Newsom. “He is here in America and he wants a business. We’re here in America because we want the American Dream of a home with a white picket fence — in quiet.”

Newsom, who lives two doors down, said that among “a lot of different things,” she’s concerned about the noise from the air conditioner, the smell from the garbage and meat and the traffic jams on the street.
“I’m sad that the community has come to this. Now we have a divide in the community where it doesn’t need to be,” she said.

According to the Department of Agriculture and Markets, Super Halal Meat Market has failed three inspections since they opened last October. During this month’s inspection, the market was pinned for two critical deficiencies. The meat in the cooler was not cold enough — destroying 162 pounds of meat — and flies were present in the meat processing area, said spokesperson Michael Moran.

“No matter who you are in this city or state, if you run a business, you have to be a good neighbor and you have to follow the law,” Avella said. “It’s clear the owner of Super Halal Meat Market thinks he can fail on both counts. He’s not a good neighbor and he’s not following the law.”

The market has also racked up over $25,000 in total violation fines from the Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Department of Buildings and the Environmental Control Board.

The fines have not been paid as of Monday, Moran said.

“There comes a point where you realize these people have no interest in resolving the complaints. I’ve decided it’s time to get the agencies to close them down,” Avella said.

Market owner Sheraz Khan said he is paying “pending fines” but still has to go to court for each violation. He said he has paid about $10,000 already.

“I never received any other bills. They were never fines. They were just warnings,” he said. “It’s pretty unfair. A lot of things have changed. We messed up in the beginning, but I’m fixing all the mistakes that were made. It’s not like I’m ignoring them. It doesn’t mean that we should be harassed.”

For neighbor Cecil Outram, besides the fact that traffic blocks the street and noisy trucks come “at all hours,” he said he doesn’t mind having the store across the street.

“It brightens the area in a way. They’re open 24 hours a day and I take the bus at 4 o’clock in the morning. It makes it safer,” he said. “They have to make a living too.”