Monday, October 20, 2014

Illegal conversions are number one DOB complaint

From the Forum:

It seems that Queens continues to keep the city Department of Buildings very busy.

That was the story Tuesday night at the Community Board 9 meeting as DOB officials detailed how active the borough is with complaints, inspections and penalties.

“In the city, there were 278 access warrants [filed] last fiscal year,” said Anthony Iuliano, director of intergovernmental affairs for the DOB, referring to building-inspection documents, “Two hundred seventy two were in Queens.”

Iuliano also noted that illegal curb cuts remain an issue throughout the borough.

“[Homeowners] have to correct the condition,” he explained, adding that property owners can have curb cuts installed as long as they adhere to codes or resolutions. “Legalize it, or remove it.”

Still, the most pressing DOB issue in Queens is illegal dwelling conversions, Iuliano said. Of all borough building-condition complaints made via the city’s 311 system, more than half are for illegal conversions.

Doctors handing out food coupons at Elmhurst Hospital

From the Daily News:

Visits to the farmer’s market could soon replace trips to the pharmacy for some patients.

Elmhurst Hospital is the latest city hospital to adopt the Wholesome Wave Fruit and Vegetable Prescription program targeted to overweight or obese children.

Doctors write fruit and vegetable “prescriptions” for their young patients. The writeups are then turned into so-called Health Bucks at certain greenmarkets.

Health and Hospitals Corporation officials said the average prescription translates into $14 of food for a family of four.

Protesters link Crown Heights to Astoria

From the NY Times:

Negotiations over the fate of Astoria Cove, the first new city development to opt into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing program, have attracted no shortage of advocates and critics hoping to influence the process.

Housing advocates are pushing for the developer to increase the number of cheaper affordable units. Local officials are concerned about transportation and density. Real estate executives are worried that the city’s sharpened focus on affordable housing will cut into profits.

But on Sunday, the back-and-forth over the Queens project found a new set of stakeholders from another rapidly gentrifying neighborhood: Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The developer of the 1,700-unit Astoria Cove, Alma Realty, owns about 700 units around Prospect Place and is seeking to take them out of rent regulation.

“Mayor de Blasio, don’t fail this test!” pleaded one sign at a rally outside one of the buildings on Prospect Place in Brooklyn on Sunday, when elected officials and tenant organizers urged the City Council not to approve the Astoria Cove project unless Alma Realty rolls back the rent increases in Crown Heights and addresses concerns about its plans in Queens.

The City Council is holding a hearing on whether to approve the project on Monday morning. Council members can push the developer to change its proposal before accepting or rejecting the project.

Councilwoman Laurie A. Cumbo, who represents Crown Heights, said she could not support the Astoria Cove project in part because of what she said was Alma’s history of underpaying black and Hispanic construction workers.

“They’re demonstrating irresponsible development,” she said, adding that she would tell Alma that in order to win her vote, “we need you to come back and clean up your act.”

Since the administration announced in September that all new real estate projects requesting a zoning change from the city would have to build affordable units in exchange, Astoria Cove, which overlooks the East River, has become something of a litmus test for how developers and the city will negotiate future projects.

Part of me wants to say that Alma's chickens are coming home to roost. But then there's the part of me that doesn't see the City Council voting down a megadevelopment project.

Introducing Progress Queens

Dear All :

I have launched a news Web site called Progress Queens, which will primarily report about news and politics in the borough of Queens, but it will also include articles about New York city and state politics.

The site, which was launched on September 15, can be found here :

I'm currently looking for partners, to help me expand this platform. I envision Progress Queens to be supportive of an aggressive reform agenda and an opposition publication against the corrupt status quo.

-- Louis

Calling 311 an exercise in futility

From Cleanup Jamaica Queens:

New York loves the motto, that came about after 911, "If you see something suspicious, say something, tell a police officer, blah blah blah............."\

But don't always expect something to be done.
Case in point. Saturday, October 18th, a small apartment building is going up at the corner of 170th and 90th Ave (89-28 170th St) and they have been in the process of putting in water/gas lines. Now this past summer, 170th Street was paved and an individual in Queens Borough DOT told me that once streets are paved they should not be torn up for x amount of time except for an emergency. Well the developer of this building in the past few weeks have torn up the road several times and this past Saturday was at it again from 7:30am to around 5pm (constant jack hammering, tamping down of asphalt, etc) and the whole time, the street was closed off. The permit is for work only on Monday through Friday. When I approached the man in charge and asked if he had a variance permit on Saturday, his answer was "Ah, yeah, I think it was done the other day, but I don't have it with me. But we are working on an emergency." Actually there was no emergency, they were just finishing up their job, which was probably behind schedule. Of course when you call 311 about this, they tell me DOB will eventually come out in x amount of days. Of course said work is already done, so they will see nothing and the developer gets off the hook.
Since the part of 170th Street was closed, the illegal trucks that use 170th then had to detour on another residential street, 90th Avenue, so then you had several of these trucks, many carrying chemicals barreling through several very narrow residential streets. A complete day of illegal activity and quality of life issues.Makes you wonder sometimes about reporting anything anymore, especially in Queens and especially in Jamaica.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oakland Lake is now closed

From the Times Ledger:

Oakland Lake is closed to visitors until next fall.

Recreational enjoyment is off-limits at the 15,000-year-old spring-fed, glacial kettle lake as it undergoes a major transformation to upgrade the sometimes flooded path and improve the water quality.

According to a spokeswoman from the New York City Parks, the project includes the installation of stone swales and drywells “to collect water seeping from surrounding slopes and divert water from the pathway.”

Parks said while construction is underway, “it is necessary to keep the park closed in the interest of public safety.”

Oakland Lake, originally known as Mill Pond, has been closed off since the end of last month. The lake was renamed for the 19th century estate on the site called The Oaks, because of the abundance of oak trees in the area.

Once the project is concluded, “the original stream bed will be re-established and slopes will be stabilized with boulders,” the spokeswoman said.

In addition, the reconstruction will also clean out the existing drainage system and, in some areas, the contractor will install new native wetland plantings.

The work is part of the city Parks and Department of Environmental Protection capital improvement project to restore the 46-acre Oakland Lake Park.

As part of the DEP’s Bluebelt Program, workers will also install storm sewers in the streets near the park in order to prevent erosion.

1 down, one to go

From the Daily News:

All traces of a longtime Queens eyesore have been replaced by a smooth, wide sidewalk.

The city has paved over the site of a tattered, shuttered newsstand on the busy corner of Metropolitan Ave. near Fresh Pond Road, which residents and civic leaders have complained about for years.

“Persistence pays off,” said City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who held a press conference at the site to highlight the issue over five years ago.

Wow, congratulations, Liz! It only took you 5 years! I guess she'll need another 5 years in office to demolish the dilapidated former gas station across the street.

Eviction rates are sky high

From AMNY:

More New Yorkers are turning to the city to avoid getting kicked out of their apartments.

In the 2005 fiscal year, the City's Human Resources Administration paid $48 million in emergency grants to landlords to prevent eviction for 31,478 households that had fallen into rent arrears.

In the 2013 fiscal year, the number jumped to 43,412, and the city doled out $121.6 million.

"We've never seen this many people in trouble. In my life, I've never seen anything that even approaches this," said Sally Dunford, executive director of the West Bronx Housing and Neighborhood Center, who said her agency serviced more than 1,300 people last year for eviction prevention.

While a job loss or illness is most often to blame for a tenant falling behind, landlords of stabilized units who illegally hike rents "hoping no one would catch them," are aggravating the loss of affordable units, she said.

Because legal increases are permitted after a vacancy, the more churn there is in the market "the more rents go up," she noted. Overcrowding is at epic levels, she added.

While the number of completed evictions -- about 30,000 annually -- has wavered only slightly in the last three years, more New Yorkers are facing the nightmare that is housing court.

The number of eviction cases filed in the city jumped from 119,263 in 2004 to 138,732 in 2013 -- with the number of cases in the city's poorest borough -- The Bronx -- rising from 40,387 to 50,134 during the same time period.

There are more cases than evictions because many people finally come up with money owed after their landlords have filed suit (sometimes, with the help of a one shot grant) or they move voluntarily.

DeBlasio files suit against AirBnB

From the Observer:

Bill de Blasio is not amused by Airbnb, the bane of modern hotels, and, as of Friday, he’s going big stick on some of the properties that use the site for listings.

Mayor de Blasio has filed a motion against the buildings at 59 Fifth Avenue and 5 West 31st Street, which have allegedly been renting out vacant apartments as illicit hotel rooms. Hosting a few guests overnight doesn’t exactly seem like a crime, but according to government officials, it’s one more obstacle that city dwellers must overcome to actually dwell in the city.

“Illegal hotels and apartment rentals destroy a neighborhood’s quality of life, and I applaud the City’s actions to crack down on this irresponsible and inconsiderate behavior,” NYC Council Member Rory Lancman said in a press release.

Result of rezoning Queens Blvd

From Curbed:

The 69-unit building is being developed by Steve Cheung (based in Bayside) and will be designed Michael Kang (an architect based in Flushing). It will entail 55,000 square feet of residential and 5,500 square feet of commercial space. There will also be a small communal space and an asymmetric rooftop that will form penthouse terraces, plus a garage with room for 59 cars. According to YIMBY, about a quarter of the development was backed by foreign money (probably Chinese) under the EB-5 visa program, which grants green cards to foreign investors whose projects will produce American jobs.
Above is a screenshot from Google Street View of the site. The lot is across the street from the former St. Mary's elementary school. I'm not sure why there's a pedestrian bridge depicted where the Entenmann's outlet store is in the rendering. I wonder what kind of prices they'll get being a block away from the Metro Motel (hot sheets/family homeless shelter).

Although Curbed & YIMBY made a big deal about this being in Elmhurst (and Curbed actually linked back to this blog, thanks) the project is actually in Woodside which was rezoned along with northern Maspeth in 2006. (Elmhurst wasn't rezoned at all.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Vibrant and diverse street signs

From the Queens Courier:

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Dalia Hall, the Queens Borough Commissioner of the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT), revealed the new Welcome to Queens street signs, which include the tagline describing Queens as “The World’s Borough.”

The phrase is meant to reflect the cultural diversity in the borough, which is home to residents representing more than 120 countries and speaking more than 135 languages, according to a statement released by Katz.

“You haven’t really seen New York City unless you have experienced the diversity that is in Queens,” said Katz, adding that the new signs with the slogans will help “to get that word out.”

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg praised the signs and said they “proudly highlight the level of diversity making Queens unique among the five boroughs and also nationwide.”

Yes, in case you haven't gotten the message yet, our borough is diverse! (So please excuse its appearance.)

And how about a caption for this photo gem...

3 politicians bought a small order of buffalo wings at Queens Restaurant Week?

DOB fines going unpaid

From the Epoch Times:

Every time someone is ticketed for littering, not shoveling their sidewalks, or any other “quality of life” violation, the city’s Environmental Control Board (ECB) is charged with holding hearings and issuing judgments and fines.

In fiscal year 2014, the 13 agencies issuing these types of tickets sent ECB 567,000 violations.

To date, New York City has $1.48 billion of uncollected debt stemming from these violations. Half of it comes from violations over two years old. About $350 million of that is interest on the uncollected fines.

Council members have been pushing for more efficiency in collecting this debt for years. In 2011 the Independent Budget Office (IBO) had released a report with these numbers at then-council member Gale Brewer’s request.

On Oct. 14, the Finance Committee discussed legislation to require the ECB to start submitting annual reports to the council so there is more transparency in the process.

Elizabeth Brown from IBO testified at the hearing in favor of annual reports, and suggested they be made available online as well.

“In the past IBO has been able to provide snapshots of the city’s unpaid fines. However, regular reporting would add another layer of transparency,” Brown’s testimony states.

In a 2007–2009 report, IBO found that the biggest share of unpaid fines came from violations issued by the Department of Buildings ($200 million).

Will Centreville finally get sewers?

From The Forum:

To Centreville residents, or those who live close to Albert Road in Ozone Park, the mere mention of the now 30-years-overdue sewer and infrastructure project for the area will likely be met with more than a bit of skepticism.

The project, first proposed as far back as the Koch administration by the city Department of Design and Construction, is essentially a $42 million plan to alleviate flooding and improve drainage in the area bounded by Linden Boulevard to N. Conduit Avenue, Cross Bay Boulevard to Hawtree and Cohancy streets.

And although the three-year construction plan, which calls for the installation of new catch basins, curbs, sidewalks, pedestrian ramps, sewers and roadway throughout Centreville and the Albert Road area, looks to be finally getting underway, a hard and fast start date continues to be elusive.

Part of the reason for the project’s seemingly endless delays may be rooted in the fact that the city had to acquire private property in order to replace and rebuild sidewalks. And, those familiar with the process say it is both lengthy and time-consuming while residents relocate and await property payments from the city.

At a presentation to the Ozone Park Civic Association this past June, DDC officials listed spring/summer 2015 as the “anticipated” start dates for the major construction.

Glendale may get its own zip code

From the Queens Courier:

Is it Glendale or Ridgewood? You can’t tell from the ZIP code.

But the confusion may be a thing of the past if new legislation, introduced by U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, gets passed.

“For years, the residents of Glendale have sought to obtain a ZIP code for their community and now I join them in their fight,” Meng said. “Most areas in the borough are recognized by their neighborhood names, which provide a sense of identity and pride for local residents. That is true for Glendale, and it’s time for the Postal Service to accept and recognize that by creating a ZIP code that the community can finally call its own.”

The pleas for a Glendale ZIP code have been constant for over a decade but have continually fallen on deaf ears, according to published reports. The neighborhood currently shares its 11385 ZIP Code with Ridgewood.

Big property sales in the borough

From the Queens Courier:

Downtown Jamaica’s development boom is expected by many sometime in the future, but one recent sale suggests developers may be springing into action already.

The nearly 90,000-square-foot building and parking garage site at 163-05 and 163-25 Archer Ave. in the heart of the downtown area traded hands for $22 million, according to property records filed Tuesday.

Gertz Plaza sold the site to Jamaica Tower, which has yet to file any building or demolition plans on the site, but it has tons of development potential, according to Massey Knakal Realty Services.

It is a developer’s dream with 719,736 square feet of buildable space near a gigantic transportation hub of subways, LIRR, the AirTrain and dozens of buses.

From the Daily News:

Bulova is putting its longtime corporate headquarters in Woodside on the market for $30 million, and brokers are hoping to lure another big-name business to Queens.

Real estate agents said the 93,000-square-foot building with a 200-space parking lot is a steal for a suburban-style corporate campus located just minutes from Manhattan.

“There is truth to the adage, if you build it they will come,” said David Schechtman, a director at Eastern Consolidated, which is brokering the sale.

The building is zoned for commercial and light industrial uses, and can be built out with an additional 60,000 square feet of space, Schechtman said.

Old-school manufacturers continue to leave the boroughs, but there has been growth in the city’s technology sector. Schechtman says it’s likely that a tech company could move in, or an entrepreneur could turn it into an incubator.