Thursday, October 2, 2008
Juniper Civic Pushes for Rezoning
Candidates Speak at Monthly Meeting
By Conor Greene
The need to move forward with an effort to downzone parts of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale, along with the upcoming City Council and State Senate elections highlighted this month’s meeting of the Juniper Park Civic Association.
Civic President Robert Holden began the meeting last Thursday in Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village by urging residents to choose carefully during the upcoming elections in November. Citing the Elmhurst gas tanks property as an example, he argued that residents should elect officials who will be proactive in working with the community.
“We had two to three months left before that was going to be a Home Depot,” he said of the Grand Avenue property, which the city is converting into a park. “In three months, we were able to stop the Home Depot and convince Keyspan to give it to the city for one dollar, and now we’re going to have a park,” said Holden. “We expect our elected officials to stand with us and be proactive.
Holden reminded the audience that the civic began the effort of having the area downzoned in October 2005, when 75 members went door-to-door surveying the existing types of development. “We were promised that by 2006 it was going to become law,” said Holden. “It’s now going to be October 2008, and we’re still waiting. Where are our elected officials?”
He questioned whether Councilman Anthony Como, who was not in attendance, has met with Department of City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden regarding the stalled down-zoning.
“The only thing we are waiting for is Amanda Burden to get in her city car and come over here and give [the rezoning] her blessing. Instead, we can’t get her out here, and the [construction] fences are going up, destroying the character of the neighborhood… I want to see a photo of Como with Amanda Burden, not of him giving out another award,” said Holden.
According to Como’s office, the councilman has met with officials from the mayor’s office regarding the down-zoning. During a recent meeting with reporters, he expressed confidence it would move forward.
The Department of City Planning said on Tuesday it is continuing to “gather information from the community on development trends to complete our analysis and refine our preliminary draft rezoning recommendations.
According to spokeswoman Jennifer Torres, the department “is committed to completing the draft recommendations and will be meeting with elected officials in the coming weeks.” She noted that “the study process for this area did not formally begin until September 2006.”
Councilman Joe Addabbo: Senate Candidate
Councilman Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who is challenging Senator Serf Maltese (R-Glendale) for his position on the State Senate, discussed issues including overdevelopment and property taxes with the crowd.
Addabbo said he personally attempted to contact Burden about the stalled down-zoning, even though he doesn’t currently represent the area. He said he has received numerous questions about this from residents as he has campaigned in the area, and contacted DCP in hopes of gaining some answers.
“I hear a lot about overdevelopment,” he said. “It’s often that there’s no answers flowing back to the community, and that’s no good.” Despite his attempts to reach out to City Planning, “we have no information… at this point” regarding the status of the down-zoning, said Addabbo. “We need to make it known that we have very concerned residents here.”
A resident then asked Addabbo about the threat that the city’s property tax rate will increase by seven percent next year, and suggested that the city instead eliminate the $400 rebate and keep the property tax flat.
“Before we even talk of tax increases on any level – either the city or the state – we need to cut government first,” said Addabbo. “We haven’t done it… We can’t raise property taxes at this point in my opinion.” He added that certain cuts can be made to the city and state budgets that won’t affect the quality of services residents receive. “We can make cuts that won’t affect your lives, but at the same time we can’t be freezing senior’s meals to save a few pennies,” said Addabbo.
Council Candidate Elizabeth Crowley
Elizabeth Crowley, a Democrat from Glendale who is challenging Councilman Anthony Como (R-Middle Village) this fall, was invited to address the crowd. She vowed to “fight against any tax increase” and touted overdevelopment as one of the area’s biggest issues.
“I’ve seen the changes – I grew up here,” said Crowley, who holds a Master’s degree in city planning. “We don’t have the infrastructure in place. I know how important it is to put in place this downzoning.” She accused Burden of “avoiding this area” and said the neighborhood “is in danger.”
“I guarantee you that as the City Council representative from the area, I will get the commissioner to come out here and get the downzoning passed,” promised Crowley. She also vowed to continue to fight against the Cross Harbor Tunnel proposal, which would have brought 16,000 trucks a day into Maspeth.
Crowley urged residents to support her in the upcoming election, noting that she lost out to Como by less than a half a percentage point, with less than ten percent of registered voters going to the polls. “It really gives no indication as to what’s going to happen in November,” she said of the special election, which was held in June to replace former Councilman Dennis Gallagher.
Tony Nunziato for State Assembly
Maspeth resident Tony Nunziato, who is a JPCA member, discussed his candidacy to replace Democrat Marge Markey of Maspeth on the State Assembly.
“I want to put my name on the most dysfunctional government in the country,” he told the audience. “I want to make it better.”
Nunziato, who owns a florist business on Grand Avenue, touted previous accomplishments as a community activist including fighting for the Elmhurst gas tanks park, opposing the Cross Harbor Tunnel proposal, working for the preservation of St. Saviour’s church and helping to secure additional funding for the Phelps Dodge property cleanup near the Newtown Creek.
“It was all for the good of the neighborhood,” said Nunziato.
Holden said later that the civic associationhas not yet formerly endorsed any candidates in the November election. He said that Crowley and Addabbo were invited to speak since they attended the meeting. “Once again, Maltese and Como elected not to [attend the meeting], which more than demonstrates their lack of support for the JPCA and our membership,” he said.
Other Items Discussed
Other items discussed at the civic meeting included trains carrying garbage that cause a horrible stench, reduced parking because of the Q45 bus extension to Atlas Park mall and the civic’s victory over an illegal development project in Maspeth.
Holden informed the residents that the civic is collecting signatures for a petition in regard to trains carrying garbage sitting for hours in the middle of the neighborhood. The problem came to a head over the summer when a train sat idling in Middle Village for several hours. The car carrying stinking garbage was uncovered, causing the odor to linger in the air until the train left the area.
He also said the civic has received complaints from several business owners regarding parking near the intersection of 80th Street and Eliot Avenue. According to Holden, a line of metered parking spaces along 80th Street was removed after the MTA decided to reroute the Q45 bus to Atlas Park shopping center in Glendale.
Civic member Manny Caruana reported that the city has forced notorious developer Tommy Huang to remove portions of a house illegally built on Mazeau Street, including the fourth floor. New plans submitted to the city now call for a reduced project featuring a two-family house, instead of a four-family unit originally proposed.
In addition, the contractor building a second house at the site promised to limit work hours to between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays, with no weekend work. “This is a major victory” that came as a result of the pressure applied on the developer and city by the civic members.