Tag Archives: Whitestone

Star of Queens: Devon Michael O’Connor, president and founder, Welcome To Whitestone


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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NIKKI DJOKOVICH

Community Service: In 2011, Devon Michael O’Connor formed the non-profit Welcome To Whitestone Commercial and Residential Civic Association (WTW).  This fourth generation Whitestone resident gave other area residents and local businesses a voice backed by an association that would address their issues and concerns. WTW has formed relationships with other local associations, political leaders and city organizations in order to ensure action on the public’s issues and concerns. The association also promotes and produces family-fun events that benefit the local community.

Background: “This is my home. I’ve played in all the parks, graduated from the local schools and I shop in the local businesses. Now, as a business owner myself, I continue to urge the residents of Whitestone to support their local businesses,” O’Connor said.  To quote a friend of O’Connor’s, “It’s important to keep the unity in community.”

Favorite Memory: O’Connor’s most inspirational and spiritual memory is when he began collecting needed supplies for all who were affected by Sandy. Backed by an immense amount of support from the community, his civic group managed, in under 48 hours, to collect, sort and deliver over 600 large bags of food, clothing and toiletries to several shelters in the Rockaways.

Biggest Challenge: “One of the biggest challenges I faced was overcoming the political opposition I received when forming my civic group,” O’Connor said. He is very grateful for the Whitestone community being so accepting of the various projects that WTW has implemented.

Inspiration: O’Connor is inspired by individuals that understand that the future is a direct result of what is done in the present. Also by the people who are able to find solutions to the problems that others may have given up on. “If your goals are for the purpose of benefiting others in a positive way, the word ‘can’t’ is not an option,” says O’Connor.

 

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EXCLUSIVE: Incoming Councilmember Paul Vallone names staff


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Councilmember-elect Paul Vallone has picked the team he’ll take to City Hall in January, The Courier has learned.

The seven-member staff consists mostly of longtime supporters and includes two former employees of Queens elected officials and the aunt of a local assemblymember.

“These are people who believed in me five years ago, when I first started,” Vallone said during an interview at his family’s Flushing law firm. “They’ve been with me since day one. They’ve grown with me, bled with me, laughed with me. They did everything with me. I trust them.”

The incoming lawmaker appointed Jonathan Szott as his chief of staff, snatching the top aide from his term-limited brother, Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr.

He is also taking Michael Yon from his part-time gig at Assemblymember Ron Kim’s office to work constituent services and community outreach in the Korean communities.

Both workers received blessings from their former bosses before the switch.

“For me, it was easy to decide, even though it’s really not a lot of time,” Vallone said. “It’s really only been a month since the election. It was probably harder to cut down the list.”

The hires were finalized last week, the freshman legislator said.

They include Communications Director Lionel Morales, Director of Constituent Services/Treasurer Vito Tautonico and part-timers Breeana Mulligan and Ahmed Nazar.

Kate Boehme, the aunt of Assemblymember Ed Braunstein, will also help part-time in the communications department. Boehme and other members of Braunstein’s family helped a lot with campaigning, Vallone said.

“They were with me this summer from beginning to end. She’ll be a big asset,” he said.

There may also be room to add one or two more positions, including legislative director, Vallone said.

Also up in the air is where the incoming councilmember will work.

The Flushing branch of the family’s law firm at 25-59 Francis Lewis Boulevard will close after five years, as Vallone prepares to transition into a full-time elected official.

High hopes of transforming the office into his City Council headquarters may be dashed since the bathroom is not yet wheelchair accessible.

“It’s going to be hard parting with this place,” said Vallone. “My wife and I did everything here. I mean everything, from kids’ homework to the Clinton Democratic Club to both campaigns.”

Vallone starts his new job January 1. He will be officially sworn into the City Council January 8 and will have a local inauguration January 5.

But work has already begun, Vallone said, and calls have been pouring in from constituents in need.

The lawmaker-to-be said he has already gotten commitments from the city’s School Construction Authority officials, saying they will move away from building a school in Whitestone.

And while it is too late to change plans for a Bayside school at the former Keil Bros. site — something Vallone said he opposed, despite other claims — the city pledged to keep the school zoned for School District 26 only, Vallone said.

“It’s still an unfortunate location, but that’s a major victory,” he said.

Vallone replaces Republican Councilmember Dan Halloran, who was indicted on corruption charges earlier this year.

 

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Late night fire tears through Whitestone auto body shop


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Welcome to Whitestone Civic Group

A Whitestone auto body shop erupted in flames late Saturday night, fire officials and residents said.

More than 100 firefighters responded to a two-alarm fire at 150-15 14th Road, the site of Whitestone Collision, at 11:13 p.m. on November 30, according to the FDNY. It was under control by 12:20 p.m.

There were no reported injuries, an FDNY spokesperson said.

“The fire was huge,” said Devon O’Connor, president of the Welcome to Whitestone Civic Association. “Whitestone Collision is on 14th Road, and I saw smoke down by 11th Avenue.”

The civic leader said firefighters filled the street to extinguish flames at the 1.5-story car body shop around midnight.

Nearby residents posted photos on Facebook of billowing smoke coming from the blazing building.

O’Connor said several ambulances were on scene but he “didn’t see anyone hurt.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EXCLUSIVE: City eyes two more northeast Queens school sites


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

The city’s School Construction Authority (SCA) is looking for more than an acre of Queens land to build a new high school, The Courier has learned.

The SCA has allocated funds for the future institution, poised to alleviate Queens high school congestion, but is still scouring the borough for a site slightly larger than an acre to build it on, according to SCA Director of External Affairs Mary Leas.

“We’d love to find a nice, big site for a high school,” Leas said. “Over an acre would be best. It’s not easy to find a site that size. Then when we do, we really want to investigate it and see if we could make it work. An acre is a lot of property in the city.”

The SCA briefed Community District Education Council 26 (CDEC) Thursday on its proposed $12 billion capital budget for 2015 to 2019, which includes the new high school.

A Department of Education spokesperson told The Courier the city is eyeing a site in Whitestone that “has not been identified.”

Residents in the area, in September, said they saw SCA scouts surveying the vacant Whitestone Jewels Property at 150-33 6th Avenue. The six-acre site is in the midst of a foreclosure action by OneWest Bank.

State Senator Tony Avella said the location is not “viable” for a school, due to lack of infrastructure and public transportation options.

“The city would have to put in sewers and water mains. It would be a transportation nightmare for parents and students,” he said.

The authority ruled out a Little Neck school site — long suggested by the CDEC — due to its “remote” location near 58-20 Little Neck Parkway, on the border of Long Island.

“It’s very hard to site a high school in a community,” Leas said. “Just even looking at a site could cause quite a flurry of activity amongst communities that don’t want the high schools.”

The SCA’s preliminary five-year plan also includes building a 465-seat elementary school in either Oakland Gardens or Fresh Meadows.

Partial funds have been set aside for the potential elementary school, but the SCA has not found a site yet, according to Monica Gutierrez, an SCA community relations manager.

The City Council last week passed a controversial plan to build a pre-kindergarten through fifth grade school at 210-11 48th Avenue in Bayside. According to the SCA, it will likely take about three years to open. Its design process, which has not yet begun, is expected to be finalized in about a year.

The SCA gave the presentation to seek feedback from the school district that encompasses Bayside, Douglaston and Little Neck.

To suggest site locations to the city, email sites@nycsca.org.

 

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BP Marshall OKs city’s plan to dispose of vacant lots too small to develop


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Borough President Helen Marshall approved the city’s plan to dispose of four vacant lots that are too small to develop.

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) wants to remove the properties from its inventory in order to sell in the future.

Community Board 7 gave the department the green light last month.

The tiny plots of land in Mitchell-Linden, Flushing, College Point and Whitestone were created erroneously, according to DCAS senior planner Christian Grove. Some are as small as a patch of grass in between homes, Grove said.

The four properties were all acquired by the city for free, between 1955 and 1988, through the in-rem tax foreclosure process, according to a DCAS spokesperson.

DCAS representatives said the department would offer each of the four plots to adjacent owners but did not plan to subdivide and sell in pieces. Marshall said “every effort should be made to contact” them.

The borough president also followed suit with the community board in approving a second DCAS application to disown another property at 135-15 40th Road in Flushing.

The department plans to dispose of the property to NYC Land Development Corp, an entity of the city’s Economic Development Corp, which will then sell the land to developer Success 88 for $1.5 million.

Success 88’s $3.5 million project includes building a six-story building with commercial and office space and a community facility, which includes a school for English learners.

 

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Hundreds show up to sign petition opposing Whitestone school site


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Devon O'Connor, president of Welcome To Whitestone Civic Association

CRISTABELLE TUMOLA AND ANGY ALTAMIRANO

Hundreds came out to Whitestone Saturday afternoon to sign a petition asking the city’s School Construction Authority (SCA) to propose alternate sites for a high school.

Residents, after hearing rumors of a school coming to an abandoned six-acre along 150th Street and 5th Avenue, said they were upset they weren’t involved in the decision process.

The lot would not be appropriate for a school because there are no major streets and no public transportation nearby, said City Council District 19 candidate Paul Vallone.

“We must be the voice that is heard and considered first when it comes to new construction in our neighborhoods,” he said following the petition signing.

According to Vallone, almost 600 petition signatures have been collected.

Vallone, upset by the lack of information, gathered with community leaders and residents on Wednesday to speak out against the SCA’s “unilateral site selection powers,” present them with other sites for the school, and let the SCA know the community wants to be involved.

According to State Senator Tony Avella, the Department of Education (DOE) said there is no official proposal to bring a school to that location.

“I stand with the community to not use this site for the school, but [Wednesday's] rally seems premature,” said Avella. “There’s no proposal. It’s all just rumor.”

DOE spokesperson David Pena said there has been no official decision made to place a school at the Whitestone site.

Anyone who wasn’t able to sign the petition Saturday can sign an online petition. A paper copy can also be picked up at Vallone’s campaign office at 25-59 Francis Lewis Boulevard.

 

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Whitestone school rumors met with rally


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Paul Vallone

Whitestone residents are upset they weren’t involved in the decision process after hearing rumors of a school coming to an abandoned six-acre lot in the heart of their community.

After residents had seen city employees and School Construction Authority (SCA) surveyors measuring a vacant lot located along 150th Street and 5th Avenue, they began to ask questions and then heard of a potential school being proposed for the site.

Upset by the lack of information, City Council District 19 candidate Paul Vallone gathered with community leaders and residents on Wednesday, October 2 to speak out against the SCA’s “unilateral site selection powers,” present them with other sites for the school, and let the SCA know the community wants to be involved.

“It’s the process we are upset with,” said Vallone. “No one is going to tell you we don’t need a school. We need a school. It’s just the location that’s a problem.”

Vallone said the lot would not be fit for a school because there are no major streets and no public transportation nearby.

The lot is in the middle of a foreclosure action by OneWest Bank, which was granted legal permission to clean and maintain the abandoned vacant property last year after it stood neglected by owner Whitestone Jewels.

State Senator Tony Avella said he has spoken to the Department of Education and there is no official proposal to bring a school to that location. He has also let the DOE know the community does not want a school at the site.

“I stand with the community to not use this site for the school, but the rally seems premature,” said Avella. “There’s no proposal. It’s all just rumor.”
Both Vallone and Avella believe the site would serve better as an open park space where children could participate in recreational sports.

According to DOE spokesperson David Pena, there has been no official decision made to place a school at the Whitestone site.

“As we do throughout the city, we always take preliminary surveys of areas where we have identified a need for new school construction,” said Pena. “This is just one area in the city we are surveying. We go through a public process before there is any approval on a particular site.”

The SCA did not respond as of press time.

 

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Police: Long Island office shooting suspect shot himself


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Nassau County Police Department

The Long Island office shooting suspect whose body was found in the Hudson River earlier this week shot himself.

Sang Ho Kim, 63, a Fresh Meadows resident, died from drowning, according to Nassau County police. A self-inflicted gunshot wound to the mouth as well as a heart condition contributed to the drowning. A suicide note was not found.

His body was discovered Monday morning near the Bear Mountain Bridge several miles from Cold Springs, Putnam County, where the shooter’s getaway vehicle was found abandoned last week.

Kim walked into Savenergy, an energy efficiency company in East Garden City, on September 25 and shot two employees, killing one, officials said. He then fled in his vehicle.

Savenergy CEO John Choi was seriously injured in the shooting, and employee Zacharia Yong Jae Shin, a 25-year-old Whitestone resident was killed, according to reports.

Authorities said Kim, a vendor working with the business, may have shot the two men over a disgruntlement he had with the company.

 

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City looking to sell four undevelopable lots in northeast Queens


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Graphic courtesy of DCAS

Community Board 7 gave the city permission this week to dispose of four vacant lots that are too small to develop.

The city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) needed approval from the board on September 23 to remove the properties from its inventory in order to sell in the future.

The tiny plots of land in Mitchell-Linden, Flushing, College Point and Whitestone were created erroneously “when somebody just made a mistake in the 50s and 60s,” according to DCAS senior planner Christian Grove.

The four properties were all acquired by the city for free, between 1955 and 1988, through the in-rem tax foreclosure process, according to a DCAS spokesperson.

DCAS representatives said the department would offer each of the four plots to adjacent owners but did not plan to subdivide and sell in pieces.

“These are small. These are not developable, like we could put a house on. You would just walk right by them,” Grove said. “But they do have some value to the adjacent owners.”

“It could be a patch of grass in between the homes, and they just don’t realize it’s city-owed,” Grove continued. “Here’s an opportunity for them to keep it.”

One three-foot-wide lot in Murray Hill is 1,500 square feet and borders 22 privately-owned buildings between 161st and 162nd Streets and 35th Avenue and Northern Boulevard, according to DCAS.

Another is only 252 square feet and joins three properties in College Point near 119th Street and 9th Avenue.

It was unclear how much money the city would seek for the properties.

None of the four lots have been appraised yet, a DCAS spokesperson said.

Community Board 7 also approved a second DCAS application to disown another property at 135-15 40th Road in Flushing.

DCAS plans to dispose of the property to NYC Land Development Corp, an entity of the city’s Economic Development Corp. The land will then be sold to developer Success 88 for $1.5 million.

A representative for the developer said the proposed six-story building would have commercial space at its base and office space above.

It would also have a community facility, which includes a school for English learners, and would have energy-efficient components.

If the $3.5 million project is approved by the city, construction would begin in 2015, the community board said.

 

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Whitestone, Malba residents angry over noise from low-flying helicopters


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan / Videos courtesy of Alfredo Centola

A recent helicopter route change meant to spare Long Island ears from a barrage of choppers could be the reason why some parts of Queens are now dealing with the rumble.

“There are days my home vibrates,” said Alfredo Centola, president of the Malba Gardens Civic Association. “Things fall off the shelves.”

Some 1,500 homes in Whitestone and Malba have been bombarded with low-flying helicopters daily, according to local leaders and residents.

On weekends, they say, crisscrossing choppers fly over their homes once every 30 seconds for about 12 hours a day.

“When they get really low, you feel it through your body,” said Joe Bono of Whitestone.

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandate last August ordered helicopters flying to and from the city and eastern Long Island to follow a route along the north shore of Long Island between Huntington and the North Fork, according to the National Business Aviation Association.

The ruling came after a push from U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and noise complaints from residents, aviation leaders said.

But while it bars helicopter traffic over Long Island’s most populated areas, it directs a higher concentration of choppers to repeatedly fly over Whitestone and Malba, according to the Eastern Region Helicopter Council.

“As a direct result of Senator Schumer’s mandatory North Shore route — which we strongly oppose — the number of flights over the Throgs Neck route has dramatically increased, just as it has over the North Fork communities in Long Island,” said a spokesperson for the Council, Jeff Smith.

Max Young, a spokesperson for Schumer, pointed the finger of blame back, saying the Eastern Region Helicopter Council “has resisted all reasonable efforts” to cut down the noise in order to fly low and save money.

The above water route mandate does not begin until the middle of Long Island, according to the aide.

“The Eastern Regional Helicopter Council is either ignorant, lying or both.” Young said. “They could solve this entire problem by simply flying over water and flying higher, but so far they’ve refused.”

Queens leaders and residents said the helicopter noise has been ongoing for a little over a year but intensified in the last six months.

“You live in a borough with two airports. Living with airplane noise has sort of been a fact of life. That’s bad enough,” said Assemblymember Mike Simanowitz. “You have dozens of helicopters flying over this community on a daily basis. There’s no consideration given to the residents of this community.”

Simanowitz and State Senator Tony Avella said the problem is both a local noise and national safety issue.

“Terrorists are getting smarter and smarter,” Simanowitz said. “Every time we think of a better way to protect ourselves, they think of a better way to strike fear into our hearts. This would be a catastrophic way to do it.”

The pair of legislators has requested a briefing from the Department of Homeland Security and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“The very fact that . . . anybody can buy a ticket and get on, it’s a pretty scary thing,” Avella said.

In a statement, the FAA said it “does not have the authority to prohibit aircraft from flying over a particular area” unless the operation is unsafe.

“It’s getting outrageous,” said Kim Cody, president of the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association. “It’s destroying our quality of life and striking fear into homeowners.”

 

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Water vendor killed in Whitestone car crash


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

One man is dead and two injured after a car jumped the curb on the Whitestone Expressway Monday afternoon.

Michael Munoz, 42, a water vendor, was hit and killed when a 78-year old male driver of a dark Toyota Camry lost control of the vehicle and rushed up on the sidewalk in front of the E-ZPass building in Whitestone around 2:15 p.m., cops said.

Munoz’s skull was split open and blood ran from his head, nose and mouth on the ground, witnesses said. The elderly driver and an aged female passenger suffered minor injuries and were transported to New York Hospital Queens, police said.

Munoz had been staying at Extended Stay America, a hotel next to the E-ZPass building, for about four years with his father, hotel workers said. He sells water and Gatorade to drivers that stop near the expressway service road. He would stand on the sidewalk and wait for people to wave him over when they stopped at the light.

Friends and hotel workers said he was in between jobs, but started vending the drinks a few months ago.

“He was very friendly, funny and talkative,” said Maria Stefanidis, a worker at Extended Stay America who frequently spoke with Munoz. “I’m still in shock. I feel really bad for his father.”

Cops are still investigating the accident.

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Gator greets kids at Queens Library


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Queens Library

A reading came alive for some local children when an alligator visited the Whitestone branch of the Queens library.

Children’s Librarian Susan Scatena promised that if at least 300 children registered for summer reading, and they collectively read at least 4,000 books, she would read a story to a “big, scaly, live alligator.”

According to the Queens Library, they surpassed that goal, with 344 children registering and completing 4,595 books.

On Thursday, Scatena read Mercer Mayer’s “There’s an Alligator Under My Bed” to Wally, a five-foot female alligator, and hundreds of neighborhood kids.

Wally was handled by reptile trainer Erik Callendar, who taught the children about alligators during the reading.

Yesterday’s reading wasn’t the first time Scatena has motivated her young readers with a “wild challenge.”  Each year, she promises that if they meet their summer reading goals, she will perform an over-the-top stunt. Previously, she has sat in a tub of JELL-O; dressed in a rabbit suit and kissed a bunny; and cuddled an enormous python.

 

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Whitestone co-op board sues to get rid of pet pig


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

A porky problem is rattling one Whitestone cooperative.

Danielle Forgione lives in the Clearview Gardens co-op with her husband, six kids and their pet pig, Petey.

“He is as gentle as a big, cuddly bear,” Forgione said about her porcine pal.

However, the co-op’s Board of Directors is suing the city’s Health Department, saying they want the pig out, according to unofficial court documents.

In December, co-op officials discovered Petey living on the premises, and after investigating a complaint, the Health Department said the oinker had to go no later than July 1. But, despite putting their condo up for sale in January, the Forgiones haven’t been able to move out.

Since adopting Petey, the family has received several citations from the Health Department, including one stating they “dispose” of their pet. However, Forgione said she has been in contact with the Health Department and that the pig “is here legally.”

“I’m not looking to defy the law,” she said. “We’ve been cooperating with the Health Department. They know he’s here.”

The family picked up Petey after Forgione’s brother, Peter, was killed in a motorcycle accident in March 2012. She was searching for a pet to console her children, but ran into a problem when she discovered their six-year-old son had a pet dander allergy The Courier reported in February.

With that, a pediatrician suggested they consider a pig, and Petey, named after Forgione’s late brother, became part of the family.

But the Board claimed Petey is “dangerous to the public,” and has the potential to bite and scratch other residents in the 1,800-family cooperative, according to unofficial court documents.

They also said the animal is being walked around the common property within Clearview Gardens and has “placed residents in fear.”

Forgione denies those claims and said Petey has never come into contact with anybody else, and that if anything, people ask to take a picture.

Since news of the lawsuit surfaced, Forgione said she has neither been served any papers nor heard from any Clearview Gardens officials. The city Law Department additionally said they have yet to receive the case.

Clearview Gardens management did not return multiple requests for comment as of press time.

In the meantime, Petey will stay with the Forgiones until they can find a more “pig-friendly” home.

Photo via Facebook

 

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Identify this place in Queens


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

where

Do you know where in Queens this photo was taken?

Guess by commenting below!

The answer will be revealed next Friday.

 

Last week’s answer to “Identify this Place”:  St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Whitestone 

New life for Queens youth football league


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

When College Point resident Mariella Toufos was searching for a youth football league for her son, she held the same concerns most parents do.

Will the contact be too rough? How about the coaching?

Then she heard about the Whitepoint Wolverines. Online reviews were positive and the team’s website looked attractive with its pictures and videos. So she decided to give the team a try. And after taking her son to his first practice with the Wolverines’ travel team at Memorial Field in Flushing, her worries were gone.

“I’m very excited and my son is very excited,” Toufos said. “Based on what I’ve seen today, it seems like they’re very organized, very structured, so I’m looking forward to the season.”

Over the past two years, the Wolverines have reintroduced themselves to the Whitestone, College Point and Flushing neighborhoods with a new system and fresh coaching.

The league currently has about 300 players spread out in various age divisions, with the oldest players age 13.

Decades ago, it was a flourishing program with thousands of children, but gradually diminished after developing a bad reputation from coaches that treated young players too harshly, according to parents and league administrators.

Then Mike McCutchen stepped in as president and about two years ago began to reform the league. He focused the program more on teaching the young players the fundamentals of the game from every aspect rather than focusing on winning.

He also got former standout college players, semi-pros and high school coaches to pitch in. Now even a player with NFL experience has signed on to coach the children.

Native Brooklynite Jeremiah Brown, who played for Wagner College in Staten Island and was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars, started to help coach the league this year.

“New York City is rough for football players to reach their dreams or come close to getting a scholarship sometimes,” Brown said. “I just have that passion to give back to the youth, period.”

There are flag football and tackle football divisions along with the travel team, which is for older players looking for more competition.

Many of the athletes go on to local high school teams such as Cardozo, Bayside and Flushing high schools, McCutchen said.

Games do not begin until September, but every Saturday morning until the season starts the league is holding free clinics about fundamentals at Memorial Field.

“Our main goal here really is to teach the game and keep children out of trouble,” McCutchen said.

 

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