Thursday, September 24, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Residents, Business Owners Protest Waste Management Expansion Plan

By Conor Greene

Civic leaders and elected officials gathered in front of Waste Management’s Review Avenue property on Monday to call on the city to reconsider its solid waste disposal plan, which will increase the amount of local truck traffic in West Maspeth.

The press conference, which included Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), members of the Juniper Park Civic Association and local business owners, was called in response to a plan by WM to expand its waste transfer station under the city’s Solid Waste Management Plan.

Residents and officials are objecting to the plan because it would require the company to truck residential waste from Review Avenue, where it is delivered by city sanitation trucks, to the Maspeth Rail Yard at Rust Street, a trip of about 1.5 miles each way. Instead, the community is calling on WM to either purchase a nearby property that has access to the existing rail line running through the area or the adjacent Newtown Creek, or to at least build a rail spur on the Review Avenue property, which is next to the track.

“This is just one more example of the city not reaching out to the community to find appropriate solutions,” said Avella. “We’re calling on the city to take a second look at this plan and… together come up with a plan that works. This doesn’t.”

The solid waste management plan was approved by the City Council in 2006. Then Councilmembers Eric Gioia, who represented that section of Long Island City and Maspeth at the time, and Dennis Gallagher, who represented parts of Maspeth, both voted in favor of the plan, according to city records.

The facility is currently permitted to receive up to 958 tons of trash per day. Under the new arrangement, the site will be able to handle up to 2,100 tons per day and will typically receive about 1,150 tons per day. As a result, there would be at least 65 round trip truck trips each day between Review Avenue and the Maspeth Rail Yard.

Crowley, who holds Gallagher’s old seat, said she is “outraged” by the current plan and suggested that WM instead look into using other nearby sites that have creek and rail access, such as the former Phelps Dodge property. She said “it’s not fair for our families” to have the amount of trucks in the area increased, especially since the local asthma rate is “through the roof.”

“Waste Management has to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that will work for our community,” added Crowley.

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, noted that the WM facility is located on contaminated land. “So they’re going to build on a toxic site and then pollute the air,” he said. “This whole plan stinks to high heaven.” He also criticized the city for allowing WM to run public hearings on the proposal. “A private company ran a public hearing notifying the public on what’s to come,” he noted.

Holden called on Mayor Bloomberg, who is seeking reelection to a third term in November, to intervene. “If he wants to be mayor for four more years… We haven’t heard any indication that he wants to work with the community,” the civic leader said.

Maspeth civic leader and business owner Tony Nunziato made it clear that this isn’t a case of residents demanding that the project not take place in their backyard. “We’re not saying keep it out – we’re saying put it in the right spot… This is not a case of NIMBY,” said Nunziato. “It’s an easy request.”

Richard Sherman, the second generation owner of Williams Valve Corporation – located on one side of the driveway used by WM to access the facility from Review Avenue – accused the city of ignoring the needs of small businesses. “When it comes to us, they don’t really care,” he charged. “They’re going to permit the expansion of a toxic waste dump… We feel as taxpayers that we have the same rights as anyone else.”

While the WM expansion will only create about 10 additional jobs, Avella pointed out that there ultimately will be a net loss of jobs in the area because neighboring employers are leaving the area as a result of the project. He lamented that the city continues to ignore the input of those living and working near the site. “These people have good suggestions – it’s time [the city] started listening to them.”

Last week, a WM spokeswoman said the company is taking into account the community’s input but wouldn’t say if construction of a rail spur or the purchase of a nearby site is being considered. “We continue to listen to the community comments regarding the Review Avenue project and are evaluating our future options in response to these concerns,” wrote Rachel Amar. “Waste Management can’t speculate on the basis of any rumors.”

A LIRR spokesman said the agency has "not yet received any specific proposal" on allowing WM to use the tracks and will evaluate the plan once it is officially presented.

Arborcide at Lefferts Playground

9-11 Memorial Trees Destroyed by Vandals

A plaque mounted just inside the gates of the Lefferts Playground in South Ozone Park was placed there to commemorate the grove of trees planted at the back of the park as a living memorial to the victims of 9-11.

In September 2003, the trees were dedicated and were intended to stand as a constant reminder of those who were murdered in the terrorist attacks. But this past weekend, just after the eight year anniversary of 9-11, vandals savagely destroyed the trees--bending, breaking and tearing the limbs off.

Donna Gilmartin, president of the Locust Grove Civic, says the surrounding community is heartbroken. “When you come to this beautiful park and see what has happened to these trees it leaves you with a feeling you can’t describe. This is not just about the senseless act—it is so much more about what these trees signify.” Gilmartin says she is exploring all avenues to replace the tress.

Last week, The Forum West reported on 12 trees that were also victims of arborcide in nearby Juniper Park in Middle Village. On September 13, sometime before 4 a.m., ten cherry trees and two oaks were cut down with a power saw. All of the trees were part of a new planting. This was the fourth time in one year that vandals struck trees in the popular park with more than 20 trees being victimized.

“Arborcide is a serious criminal offense and an assault on our communities, and the loss of 19 trees in Queens – 12 at Juniper Valley Park and seven at Lefferts Playground — is a blow to our quality of life and environmental health. Trees are a valuable asset, providing shade and oxygen, cleaning the air, and creating homes for wildlife,” said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski told The Forum that both incidents in Queens over the past two weeks are not typical of others involving arborcide or damage to trees. “We don’t see this on a scale like this. It’s very disheartening and very frustrating.” The commissioner said that the Parks Department had reached out for the local precinct and that she expected the police would assign personnel to the case.

Forum Publisher Patricia Adams has scheduled an appointment to meet with Commissioner Lewandowski to formalize plans to replace the trees. “The damage done to these trees is criminal but the destruction of the symbolism is unspeakable. Right now the most important thing is to replace them as soon as possible,” said Adams.

During their conversation Adams said she and the commissioner both expressed their hopes that someone in the community would step forward and offer information about the incident. “I hope that if someone knows who is responsible for this action that they would report it to the authorities,” stated the commissioner.

An appointment has been set for the upcoming weeks when Lewandowski, Adams and several community leaders presently forming a committee will meet to oversee the replacement of the trees. Further details will be released when available.

Council Candidates Discuss Education Views

Barbs Later Exchanged Over Crowley’s Early Exit

By Conor Greene

The two candidates for the 30th District City Council seat – Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Crowley and Republican challenger Thomas Ognibene – discussed their views on education at a forum hosted by Community Education Council 24.

Residents in attendance on Tuesday night at PS 49 in Middle Village heard mostly about Ognibene’s views, as Crowley left early and missed the question-and-answer portion of the session. Instead, her chief of staff, Lydon Sleeper filled in for her to respond to questions on topics such as parental input and overcrowding.

Both candidates were first given a chance to introduce themselves and present their general stance on education. Crowley began by asserting that “there is no greater issue now facing the city” and touted her experience as a former educator and endorsements by the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors, which represents local principals.

“I have an investment like many parents here tonight” as the mother of two school-age children. She vowed to “make sure our children have the best tools” available and said education has been a “main focus” for her since taking office nine months ago. Of the $5 million she funded for local capital projects, a “large chunk” went towards schools. “I’m going to continue what I started,” she added.

Ognibene reminded the audience that he represented the district from 1991 to 2001, when he was forced from office due to term limits. “Not much seems to have changed” since he left office, as the community still “has to confront the same challenges” including overcrowding, which he said is “again a significant issue and really has to be addressed.”

The Middle Village Republican focused much of his comments on parental input, which was one of the major aspects of the recent debate over mayoral control. “The parents were supposed to have a lot more input into the educational process,” he said. “Parents don’t have that kind of input.”

He also recalled serving as principal for a day at PS 87 in 2001, shortly before leaving office. The school doesn’t have enough bathrooms or a proper gym and parents have been pleading with the city Department of Education for an expansion since the school expanded to a PS/IS facility nearly a decade ago. “It struck me as unusual,” said Ognibene, adding that he was “stunned” to learn the addition project never occurred.

“If I were councilman, that’s the first thing I would address because that’s really unfair to the children of PS 87,” he vowed. “I thought it was something we had accomplished” during the tenure of his predecessor, disgraced former Councilman Dennis Gallagher. By that point, Crowley (D-Middle Village) had left to go to other local meetings. Ognibene decided to stay to answer audience and board members’ questions, with Sleeper filling in for Crowley.

During the question-and-answer portion, the biggest difference that emerged between the candidates is their efforts to identify potential sites for new schools, which Ognibene said was a priority during his two terms in office. “The most important thing facing us then and facing us now is findingspace to build new schools,” adding that he had staffers dedicated to searching the district for appropriate sites. “We didn’t rely on the SCA [School Construction Authority]. We were more aggressive.”

When Sleeper mentioned that a site near Grover Cleveland High School is being looked at as a potential school site, Council President Nick Comaianni interjected that it was actually him that had identified that site. He asked Sleeper, “What have you found?” to which the chief of staff responded, “None so far, but we’re open to suggestions.”

When asked about PS 87, Sleeper said Crowley “started fighting for PS 87 immediately” after taking office. “We understand how ignored that school has been,” adding that the councilmember wrote letters and had SCA officials tour the facilities with her. “We’re fighting very hard to make sure that expansion happens,” said Sleeper.

Throughout the evening, Ognibene stressed that he would have an advantage in terms of getting a response from city agencies due to his relationship with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is supporting his campaign. Ozone Park resident David Quintana asked Ognibene why he is aligning himself with the mayor, who “has failed us over the past eight years.”

Ognibene responded that he feels Bloomberg is “head and shoulders” above his opponent, William Thompson. However, he stressed that he and the mayor have disagreed on many things, and he isn’t afraid to let the mayor know when that’s the case. “Once he’s elected there are going to be things I’ll be able to work with him on,” he said.

Finally, board member Brian Rafferty asked whether they feel Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has the best interests of District 24 in mind. Sleeper said he doesn’t know Crowley’s exact stance on this issue and declined to answer. Ognibene said he doesn’t think Klein is an “evil man” but said overall, “the answer is no.” While he doesn’t think that Klein should be fired, he added, “I believe I can get that message across” if elected.

On Wednesday, Ognibene criticized Crowley for leaving early and accused her of scheduling other meetings to avoid having to answer questions from board members and residents. “This is typical. She made the appointment to go to these other meetings after she had confirmed this educational panel, and that’s offensive to me,” said Ognibene. “To use a decent, non political organization such as the Sons of Italy as an excuse, that was very, very offensive.”

In response, Crowley’s press secretary, Meredith Burak, said the CEC meeting was one of five stops the councilmember made that evening that had been scheduled for months. Instead, Burak argued that it was inappropriate for the CEC to even hold a candidates forum. “The bottom line is the forum never should have been held,” she said, adding that this is the only race the CEC is focusing on, even though that district includes parts of six separate council districts.

Burak accused Comaianni of having a “vendetta” against Crowley. “This was based solely on political purposes and had nothing to do with education. Politics should not be brought into the mix, and by bringing politics into this arena, Nick Comaianni is jeopardizing his position because he is abusing his power.”

Crowley expressed her concerns in a letter to the DOE. In response, a department official wrote, “Prompted by our inquiry, our legal office reviewed the matter and advises that holding such a candidates forum as part of CEC’s regularly scheduled calendar meeting is not an appropriate exercise of the CEC’s statutory powers and duties.”

Comaianni wasn’t available for comment on Wednesday morning. However, during the CEC meeting he alluded to the fact that the DOE didn’t want the forum to take place and said the board decided to go ahead with it anyway so that parents would have a chance to hear directly from the candidates on education issues.

Too Slow to Clean up After Her Dog: Pregnant Woman Issued Ticket

By Conor Greene

A Maspeth woman is vowing to fight a ticket issued to her for failing to immediately clean up after her dog, which had just finished pooping on a patch of grass in front of her house. The woman, who was nine-months pregnant at the time, was sitting on her front steps when an officer issued her the ticket earlier this month.

Alicia Fernbacker, a 19-year-old local college student, was sitting outside her father’s 57th Drive home on September 14 with her dog while waiting for a friend to pick her up before class at Queensborough Community College, where she is pursuing a liberal arts degree. Several minutes after her dog, Kimmy, did her business on a patch of grass, a Sanitation Department officer walked up and began writing a summons because she allegedly “made no attempt to remove dog feces in a legal manner.”

Fernbacker, who eventually gave birth on September 18 – twelve days past her due date – says the officer was sitting in his parked Sanitation Department car with his seat reclined while she was outside with her dog. After the mutt pooped, the officer got out of the car and asked for identification while he wrote up the $250 ticket. She told the officer that she was about to go inside the house to get a napkin, but “he said it doesn’t matter.”

“I said that I was going inside for a tissue and that it was my property, but he said it didn’t matter and that I should fight it in court,” Fernbacker told The Forum. “I think he was being unfair. I wasn’t going to leave dog poop in front of my own house.”

In an e-mail statement, Sanitation Department spokesman, Matthew Lipani, said that officers write summons “when they see a violation” and noted that the Canine Waste Law has been in effect for 30 years. “Anyone who believes they received a summons in error can plead their case to the Environmental Control Board,” he wrote.

Lipani did not response to a question asking how quickly an owner must clean up after a dog goes to the bathroom, or whether the officer should use discretion when dealing with pregnant or elderly residents.

Fernbacker, who is on a leave from school after undergoing a Caesarean section last week, says the $250 fine is a hardship, especially with school and the baby, who she named Scarlett. To add to her stress levels, the baby’s father Mike Leser is a Marine who just completed basic training and expects to soon be deployed to Afghanistan.

“I’ve never been to court before, so whatever you have to do to fight the ticket, I’ll do,” she said of her October 15 hearing. “I just think it’s completely ridiculous [since] I didn’t do anything wrong to get a ticket,” she added. “If he had waited in the car he would have seen me come out of the house again [with a tissue]. He just jumped out of the car” and began writing the ticket, she said.

Ognibene Launches City Council Campaign

Challenging Crowley for 30th District Seat

By Conor Greene

Middle Village attorney Thomas Ognibene kicked off his City Council campaign last week with a fundraiser featuring Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and wasted little time in recent days criticizing his opponent’s performance during her first nine months in office.

Ognibene, who represented the 30th District from 1991 until term limits forced him from office in 2001, is challenging Democrat incumbent Elizabeth Crowley this November for a four-year term representing parts of Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Glendale, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven. Crowley won the right to serve the final year of former Councilman Dennis Gallagher’s term when she defeated Anthony Como last year.

In an interview Wednesday morning with The Forum, Ognibene said his fundraiser last Thursday in Middle Village “was very successful.” He was particularly pleased that “even though there is some friction within the Republican party, both factions showed up to support me.” He has also been quick to tout the benefits his connections to Mayor Bloomberg would bring to the district.

Ognibene, who unsuccessfully ran in last summer’s special election won by Como to replace Gallagher, said he was prompted to give it another shot because of the direction the district is headed in. “When I pick up the newspaper now it seems that the problems are growing and are not being addressed. We do not have aggressive leadership in this community, especially from our elected officials,” he said, adding that Crowley is “content to just give lip service and send out press releases.”

In contrast, Ognibene said his philosophy when dealing with constituents was to “look at what the problem was, what the law was and what all our options politically and legally were” before deciding on a course of action. “It was a very proactive service. The current councilmember, I have to be honest, talks about a lot of things she did, but I don’t see it reflected in the council finance records or capital budget. I’m worried that what she says and what she does are two different things.”

One example of this, according to Ognibene, is when Crowley took credit for pushing through the downzoning of parts of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale. “She took credit for the whole thing, which is disgraceful,” he said. “When I confronted her on it, she said she sped it up by making a phone call. You and I know that’s nonsense and that people worked for four years to get this done but she wants to believe that as a councilmember elect she made a phone call and things happened.

“It doesn’t seem like anyone is doing anything aggressively,” added Ognibene. “The philosophy of my opponent is that if something good happens you take credit for it and if something bad happens you blame someone else, and you can’t lead that way.”

Ognibene acknowledged that his campaign’s relationship with the mayor has its benefits but could also turn off voters who aren’t supporting Bloomberg’s bid for a third term. “My feeling is, in the past I’ve argued with the mayor on issues I thought were of importance,” he said. “I think Michael Bloomberg and his record is head and shoulders above anything offered by the Democratic party. People can make the same value judgments as I have, but I hope that people go beyond just the mayoral race and look at my record, and whether they feel this community is going in the right direction.”

In Ognibene’s opinion, “ninety-eight percent of things that affect people’s everyday lives are in the control of the City Council, so you better have somebody that has the experience and willingness to defend the community. Otherwise, we will face some serious setbacks over the next four years. I live here, so I don’t want to see that happen.”

Group to Pursue Charter School Application

Intends to Open Academy of Science in District 24

By Conor Greene

One of the men behind a proposal to start a charter school within District 24 says his group plans to move ahead with its plans in hopes of opening next September.

The group, City Academy of Science Charter School, came under fire when its representatives failed to attend the July Community Education Council 24 meeting for a scheduled public hearing on the plan. This week, applicant Furkan Kosar said nobody attended because they weren’t aware the hearing had been scheduled. He said his group is working with the state Department of Education to complete the application process.

A spokeswoman for the state DOE said Tuesday that the application is still under review and the Board of Regents is scheduled to take action on it in December. At that point, the application could be approved, rejected or sent back to the group for additional details. She said that attending the public hearing is not mandatory and not doing so won’t affect the status of the application.

Kosar stressed that his group “has nothing to hide” and was simply unaware of the scheduled hearing. “We are willing to go to a public hearing again, but they told me they don’t think it’s possible,” he said. “That part of the application is not mandatory, but of course in terms of the reputation and credibility of the application, it’s good to have the public’s support… We’re here to serve the Queens community.”

The plan remains to open a science and technology based school in September 2010 within District 24. Kosar said his group is working with several local realtors to secure a facility at an appropriate location, but declined to say where within the district he is considering. “As soon as the DOE gives me the green light, I have a couple of investors that really believe in our project who will put the money down and renovate the facility,” he said, adding that he has three properties under consideration. “I don’t want to scare people [but] as soon as I hear from the DOE I will make it official.”

An executive summery of the proposal says only that the group is looking into properties in Maspeth, Glendale and Long Island City.

According the proposal summary, the college preparatory-level school would initially serve students in grades 7 to 9 before expanding to 12th grade. The group expects first-year expenses of about $2.8 million, against projected revenues of about $2.6 million. The shortfall is expected to be made up by private donations or loans of $200,000 from an “unspecified source.” It isn’t clear how much of the group’s revenues would come from public funding.

“I want to send the message that I’m here to the community,” said Kosar. “I would like to give the opportunity for students who don’t have enough challenges and didn’t find the right environment to improve themselves in the local district. I’m not here to create miracles, but eventually I can promise the student’s scores will improve. Our goal is to motivate them to four year colleges and to do something good for their community.”

Now You See It; Now You Don't

Graffiti Disappearing from Ulrich’s District

By Patricia Adams

One month after introducing an aggressive initiative to eliminate graffiti in his district, Councilmember Eric Ulrich issued a report this week detailing the program’s progress. Since the program began in late August, graffiti removal crews have completed a comprehensive clean-up of three of the district’s most problematic areas:

--101st Avenue between 75th Street and 111th Street

--Rockaway Boulevard between 75th Street and 111th Street

--Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard between Atlantic Avenue and the Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge.

“The difference is night and day. One month ago, you couldn’t walk a block without seeing a storefront or a private home that had been vandalized,” said Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “Now, we are turning the tide. Not only is this program beautifying the area, but it is also sending a clear message to graffiti vandals that we will no longer tolerate their criminal behavior, and that our neighborhoods deserve respect.”

The Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation (GWDC) who partnered with Ulrich in the initiative acts as the administrator for the $30,000 in discretionary funding from Ulrich.

GWDC Executive Director Maria Thomson said, “Thanks to Council Member Ulrich’s funding, we have been able to restore people’s pride in their community. While there is still so much work to be done, I know that we are going to win the war on graffiti vandalism. I’d say we’re off to a great start!”

In the coming months, crews will perform regular monthly maintenance to keep these areas graffiti-free. In addition to the scheduled clean-up sectors, 64 constituent complaints have also been addressed. The Council Member urges all of his constituents to take advantage of this FREE program. All complaints are routed to the clean-up crew who is then dispatched in a timely manner.

School Construction Projects Moving Forward in Forest Hills

SCA Announces PS 196 Expansion; Metro Ave Campus on Time

By Conor Greene

The city Department of Education and School Construction Authority is making progress in its effort to provide additional seats for students in Central Queens, with several projects in Forest Hills moving forward as planned.

The SCA recently announced that the capacity of PS 196 on 113th Street will receive more than 400 new seats through an expansion and renovation effort that began recently. At the same time, work on the Metropolitan Avenue complex – which will be home to two separate schools – is progressing on budget and should be completed by September 2010, as scheduled.

Construction has begun on a three-story addition to the existing PS 196 building that will provide 408 new seats when completed in September 2011. In all, the expansion will include 644 seats, as some temporary classrooms now housed in trailers will be replaced with the new permanent building.

The expansion will result in 17 new standard classrooms serving students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The fully air conditioned building will also include a student cafeteria with a full kitchen, a special education classroom, a music room, art room, science lab with prep room, medical and administrative offices and other support spaces.

Once the expansion is completed, renovations of the existing two-story building will begin and should be finished by February 2012, according to the SCA. That will include a newly expanded library, a new elevator and various building system upgrades. At that point, the school will have capacity for 1,260 students.

In all, the PS 196 project is expected to cost $29.8 million, according to the SCA.

Meanwhile, work is progressing at the Metropolitan Avenue site, which is at the intersection of 65th Avenue and will be home to two new schools. One will serve 700 intermediate and high school students, while the other will be a 1,000 seat high school. Construction on the $158 million project began in 2007, although the project itself dates back nearly a full decade.

Each school will have its own administrative area, instructional spaces, library, cafeteria, gym, exercise room and meeting rooms. The schools will share an auditorium, base building services and outdoor recreational areas, and the high school will feature a competition gymnasium.

The campus will include space for about 200 District 75 special education students. In addition, about 500 seats have been set aside for students in nearby District 24, which is the city’s most overcrowded education district.

There currently are about 200 construction workers on site daily, with work about two-thirds completed, according to the SCA. While it remains on schedule for its September 2010 opening, there are still some outstanding issues regarding traffic in the area.

Effort Underway to Bring Supermarket to Maspeth

By Conor Greene

Maspeth residents’ wishes for a supermarket might be one step closer to reality now that a local union representative is working to match a local site with potential tenants. Residents have long complained that they are forced to pay sky high prices for items such as milk and bread due to lack of competition among area stores.

Steve Pezenik, special projects director for Local 338, which represents local supermarket workers, attended last week’s Maspeth West End Block Association meeting at the urging of Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). Residents in that area of Maspeth have been hoping for a new supermarket since the closing of C-Town on Fresh Pond Road several years ago.

“When Liz calls, you come because she has done a lot for us,” said Pezenik during the session last Thursday in Trinity-St. Andrews Church. He said a supermarket is important because it “anchors an area” and provides local jobs. “I would love to bring a market to you,” he told the several dozen residents in attendance.

News that he was showing a potential site at Metropolitan Avenue and Tonsar Street to C-Town representatives the following day was met with enthusiastic applause. However, Pezenik did not respond to several messages seeking comment on how that meeting went. A spokeswoman for Crowley said her office is still waiting to hear feedback from the union on the meeting.

Many residents in that area of Maspeth have been clamoring for a full-size supermarket since the closing of the Fresh Pond Road C-Town, which was replaced with a Staples. Pezenik said the owner didn’t want to give up his store, but was forced out when Staples offered the landlord more money. Residents say that all the local bodegas quickly increased their prices once that happened, meaning those without a car are forced to overpay for basic items.

If a company operator decides the Metropolitan Avenue site, or another nearby property, is suitable for a supermarket, the business could be open in less than a year, said Pezenik. He said the three things necessary to bring a market to the area seem to be in place: demand from consumers, efforts by the union to bring company representatives to check out possible sites and cooperation from the local councilmember to help with issues such as zoning changes or variance requests.

Crowley said that residents should contact her office with any other suggestions for a location if the Metropolitan Avenue site doesn’t work out. She said the city Department of Education is also eyeing that site for a possible school, but refuted rumors that housing might be constructed on the site instead. “It is really a great disservice to this community to not have a grocery store,” she said. “It’s something that most neighborhoods can take for granted… It’s a shame Staples came in.”

Patients and Officials Rally for Federal Medical Imaging Funding

Hundreds of cancer patients and doctors joined the Emergency Coalition to Save Cancer Imaging and several council members last week on the steps of City Hall to demand that the federal government does not cut funds for medical imaging.

Since 1999, the city has experienced a 171% increase in wait time for mammography screenings, according to a recent Congressional study. The currently proposed federal cuts would result in a further 40% percent reimbursement reduction for some imaging services, putting more providers and patients at risk, argued Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who is seeking to preserve funding for procedures such as PET and CT Scans and MRIs.

“We need to be expanding access to healthcare, not reducing it,” said Crowley. “Medical imaging is at the forefront for early cancer diagnosis and treatment, and every day a patient has to wait for a screening the more at risk they are. We should be focused on extending access to these services not undercutting these vital programs.”

According to a 2007 Congressional study, New York City has lost 67 imaging clinics, or 26% of the facilities offering mammography screenings, since 1999. As a result, women must now wait on average more than five weeks for an appointment and in some cases must wait as long as six months. Brooklyn and the Bronx have an average wait time of 8 weeks, the longest of the five boroughs, and Queens has an average wait time of 4 to 6 weeks.

“Medical professionals clearly advise that early detection is crucial in the fight against breast cancer and other deadly diseases,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “It’s incredible to think that the federal government is considering cutting life saving technologies which have helped so many women and patients across New York City. Preventative health care should be a top priority, not cutting vital services.”

The proposed cuts, in addition to existing major cuts for imaging providers from the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, could threaten access to important radiology services—especially for women and the elderly—and exacerbate the already extremely long wait times for critical services, such as mammography.

“These cuts would have devastating impacts to local New York services including forcing the closing of local providers and dramatically increasing wait times for doctor visits and diagnoses,” said Dr. Eric Schnipper, cofounder and spokesman of the Coalition. “The proposed cuts will only worsen what is already an extremely unhealthy situation. These rate changes could not only cost the government and patients more money, it could cost lives.”

As detailed in multiple recent Congressional reports, many of New York’s medical imaging providers, in particular mammography, have had to close their services due to previous federal cuts and high costs. The proposed cuts are expected to force the closure of many additional providers throughout New York and the country and further limit access to these essential cancer detection services.

Since July 2009, Council Member Crowley and the Emergency Coalition to Save Cancer Imaging have gathered over 25,000 petition signatures from downstate New Yorkers in support of protecting these vital cancer screening services.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Botched Ozone Park Robbery Turns Deadly

By Patricia Adams

Tragedy struck an Ozone Park family last Wednesday night when two masked men pistol whipped a 61-year old pizzeria owner and fatally shot his 29-year-old son in the head.

Romeo Antoniello had just arrived home when he was accosted by two bandits authorities believe followed him home to steal the receipts from the family pizza shop. Sources report the thieves were carrying rope and duct tape in order to tie up the family.

But something went terribly wrong in the attempted robbery. Geraldo Antoniello rushed to his fathers rescue as the men pushed their way into the house, striking Romeo in the head with the butt of a pistol. He fell to the floor and then his son fell next to him after also being struck by the gunman in the head.

Details about what transpired next are still not clear but reports say that Romeo’s wife, Gaetana was screaming to her husband and son from the basement of the house on her way upstairs after hearing the scuffle. Law enforcement officials speculated that Gerry was shot because he went up against the attackers.

A source close to the family who spoke to The Forum on condition of anonymity said Romeo was unconscious for a brief time after being struck and does not have full recollection of what transpired while he lay on the floor. “All we know is that one of these animals said something and then fired his gun into the back of Gerry’s head,” the woman said.

Published reports and family sources all agree on the fact that an unidentified woman came to the door shortly before the elder Antoniello arrived home and was asking for directions to an obscure location out of the neighborhood. It is that woman whom police believe was sent to the house to get information for the two men stalking the family.

Police continue to hunt for the killers and are pursuing a vigorous homicide investigation. Deputy Inspector Joseph Courtesis of the 106th precinct says the crime, which occurred in his command is being investigated at the highest level of priority. “We have thus far investigated every lead and tip that has come through and we will continue to do so.” Courtesis told reporters a large number of personnel have been assigned to the case.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-577-TIPS, by texting TIP577 to CRIMES, or by going to

A Family's Heartbreak

Ozone Park Murder Victim Geraldo Antoniello Laid to Rest

Everything was going right for Geraldo Antoniello. His job at a janitorial/maintenance company had just yielded a promotion and an impressive pay raise. The 29-year-old had taken another big step in his life—he bought himself a condo. In fact, he was excitedly preparing for his big move in the upcoming week.

But instead, Gerry was remembered last week by friends and family members as a “sweet guy who would do anything for you”, after a tragic turn of events last Wednesday evening left the 29-year-old dead at the hands of would-be robbers.

Hundreds gathered outside the Church of Nativity B.V.M. in Ozone Park early Monday morning for the funeral. A sea of uniformed officers from the NYPD lined the sidewalks outside the church in a show of respect for Gerry’s brother, 39- year-old Carmine, an 18-year NYPD veteran.

In the crowd were dozens of friends and customers from the family business, Romeo’s Pizza. Huddled together and waiting for the funeral procession to arrive they shared stories about Gerry and about his family. Over and over they expressed their shock and disbelief that this could happen.

"You couldn’t get a better guy," said friend Carmella Roffomagno. "It's just so unbelievable." Her son Frank was one of Gerry’s best friends. “He was looking forward to moving,” Frank told reporters. “He was going to have us all there for Sunday football.”

Inside the church, Father Paul Palmiotto spoke to Gerry’s family and friends. “We cannot explain the violence or the evil in this world. You might feel abandoned by God right now but you must remember that nothing can take your son’s love from you or yours from him. Gerry will live forever in your hearts.”

Gerry was the youngest of three Antoniello brothers and a close family friend told The Forum he was very close to his parents. “Gerry told his mother he would be leaving his bedroom set behind when he moved so that if his father was well enough to go away hunting, he would come home to sleep. He would never leave her alone in the house.” It is believed that the mother and son were packing things up for the move on the night Gerry was killed.

According to friends, the family is dealing with many hardships including Romeo Antoniello’s battle with cancer and extensive chemotherapy. “Every place they turn there is so much heartache,” said a regular customer at the store, Steve. “Now whenever you go to work you will remember where it began. And what about going home? How can this poor family ever face going home?”

Request for Maspeth Parkland Highlights CB 5 Budget Hearing

Dry Harbor Playground, South MV Street Repairs Also Requested

By Conor Greene

Impassioned requests by Maspeth residents to set aside money to purchase and convert the former St. Saviour’s property into a public park highlighted the fiscal year 2011-2012 budget hearing, held during Community Board 5’s monthly meeting.

Other requests made by residents and board members during last Wednesday’s session included funding for senior housing, upgrades at Dry Harbor Playground, reconstruction of the 80th Street bridge, repaving of streets in south Middle Village and additional manpower for the 104th Precinct in Ridgewood.

Board District Manager Gary Giordano said the board’s Executive Committee met Monday and devised a list of 35 capital budget items to be considered this year. Each board member will have the chance to rank the items in priority order with the final rankings scheduled to be voted on by the full board on Oct. 14. The expense side is handled in a more informal manner, with the Executive Committee reviewing last year’s list to determine if changes need to be made regarding those requests.

“There was obviously a lot of testimony in regard to residents wanting the city to build a park at the former St. Saviour’s site,” said Giordano. “The Executive Committee took all of that into consideration, as well as all the other budget requests we have to make,” he said. “You’re talking about requests that cost more than $1 million so often times you have to advocate for some time
to get the project funded.”

Park at St. Saviour’s Property

Almost immediately, the focus was on the former St. Saviour’s property on 58th Street in west Maspeth. While the historic church structure has been dismantled, removed from the property and will be rebuilt on a site in Middle Village, local residents haven’t given up the fight to preserve the actual property for use as a park.

The property, which comprises a full block and has been listed for $8.5 million, is privately owned and zoned for commercial use. The city doesn’t have the funding needed to buy the land and build a park, so Christina Wilkinson of the Newtown Historical Society has been working with local elected officials in hopes of arranging a land swap using city-owned land to compensate the St. Saviour’s property owner.

The budget hearing featured a handful of Maspeth residents, including several who live across from or near the vacant property. Wilkinson started by reminding the board that the idea of acquiring the land and church building for use as a park and community center was first raised three years ago. “While the church building has been saved, there is still more work to do in order to be able to call this endeavor a success,” she said.

Wilkinson added that Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has indicated that the department would be receptive to taking possession of the land provided that funding for its acquisition and maintenance is set aside by local elected officials. In addition, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and Borough President Helen Marshall are working “on acquiring the site at minimal cost” and a local company has offered to donate clean fill that could be used to repair the land.

“I request that you continue to list this project as a priority because now we are closer than even to making this proposal a reality. The property is still available and the elected officials are on board and actively working to make this happen – something which was not true in the past,” said Wilkinson. She noted that the property “represents the last sizeable tract of undeveloped land in Maspeth,” which has just 12 acres of park to serve more than 36,000 residents.

Dorie Wolt, who lives a block from the property, called the site a “dumping ground” and said “it’s a disgrace what they did” including cutting down dozens of trees. “I really think they should do something about it,” she said, before reading a statement by the Historic Districts Council advocating on behalf of a park there.

“While the building is now unfortunately gone, the site still remains a welcoming natural open space in an area grievously underserved by parkland,” the HDC statement argued. “For over 150 years, St. Saviour’s was the center of the community… Returning the land to such a purpose is a chance to preserve a piece of the area’s past while giving to its present and future.”

A resident who said he has lived in Maspeth his entire life said the neighborhood is the second oldest town in the state and suggested that a museum be created on the site, while another noted that the area’s closest greenspace is Maurice Park, which is difficult for many residents to get to.

Others, including Anthony Lewandowski lamented the destruction of what was once the centerpiece of the neighborhood. “You allowed a beautiful piece of land to be destroyed,” he told the board. “It’s now a dirt pile surrounded by a fence that’s covered with graffiti.”

Other Budget Requests

Other testimony included a request from Glenridge Senior Center Executive Director Albert Juszczak for the board to consider funding for senior housing, which he called “so critical for our community.” He said it is an issue the center’s board is working on and noted that, “despite the fact that [housing] prices have been falling supposedly… they are still way too high for many seniors.”

Board member Brian Dooley, president of the Glendale Property Owners Association, suggested that money be set aside for phase two of the Dry Harbor Playground improvements, including lighting at the basketball courts and softball field, along with fencing around the children’s playground. “I think these [are the types of requests] that in these tough economic times are obtainable,” he said.

On the expense side of the budget, Dooley suggested that the board call for additional manpower at the 104th Precinct. “It benefits all of us,” he said. “Little by little, I do think we are seeing some increases in the quality of life type of things” such as graffiti.

Board member Cathy Sumski asked that repairs of streets in south Middle Village be prioritized this year. “It keeps getting pushed back... and 73rd Place is full of potholes and sinking sewer covers,” she said. “I think it’s becoming dangerous.” According to Giordano, that project includes streets south of Metropolitan Avenue between 73rd Place and 80th Street north of the LIRR tracks. He said that 73rd Place is “probably the busiest roadway in that area” and described it as “kind of like a country road” that gets a lot of traffic during the day. While the project includes 73rd Place, it doesn’t include 80th Street.

Flooding, Parks, Libraries and Transit

Giordano said on Tuesday that he expects measures to help prevent future flooding to be highly prioritized by the board. “I think we continue to be very concerned about the need to reduce the potential for street and basement flooding conditions, so I expect that should be a very high capital budget priority, trying to get new, larger sewer lines installed,” he said. “So that continues to be an important priority, as do the parks, the roadways and public transit. This board has always been a big advocate of renovating the libraries and the schools and I don’t think that is going to change much.” He added that he would like to see an addition at PS 81 in Ridgewood highly prioritized.

Honoring Richard Allen Pearlman: Remembering a 9/11 Hero

By Patricia Adams

September 11, 2001 is a day people recall vividly—without having to close their eyes. Most remember exactly what they were doing when they learned that Americans were under terrorist siege. And most can remember the sensation of paralysis that came over them when they felt the presence of terror in their midst.

But there were those people who had a unique reaction to the horror of 9/11. Upon learning of the events they rushed to the site of the attacks. They abandoned all sense of selfish reasoning and with no regard for obvious danger, they moved forward to help others whose might still be alive.

Richard Allen Pearlman was the youngest victim of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The Howard Beach resident was working for a law firm as a messenger and was delivering a package to One Police Plaza when he learned what was happening not far away. Pearlman immediately headed for the World Trade Center.

Upon arriving, the 18-year-old rushed into a building to aid in the rescue effort. Despite the chaos at the scene, Richard’s heroics were later confirmed by a Newsweek photo that shows him helping a woman covered in blood, but alive, from one of the towers. After getting her to safety, he ran back in to find more survivors. Shortly after, the towers came down. Richard Pearlman was on the missing list.

Last Friday night, eight years later, the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps held a ceremony, unveiling a wall created in honor of Richard Pearlman’s dedication to the department, his heroics on 9-11 and his achievement as a member of the corps.

Following a tearful invocation by corps member Michael Rizzo, Alan Wolfe, president of the Corps, was among the first to remember Pearlman at the ceremony. He described Richard as energetic - always excited to do his job. “One year ago today, I promised that we would create a wall in his honor,” said Wolfe. “Sometimes in the face of horrible tragedy, ordinary people do extraordinary things, now everyone who visits the Corps will be able to see what type of a hero Richard was.”

Chief Daniel Exler told attendees that he and Richard didn’t always see eye to eye. The chief joked with Pearlman parents, Dorie and Barry, about his disagreements with their son. But Exler turned serious as he shared what he saw as the real Richard Pearlman. “Richie could have lived anywhere, but he would have found his way to Forest Hills.”

And that sentiment was shared by everyone present who had words to say about the young hero of 9-11. Speaker after speaker associated an extraordinary dedication by Pearlman for his beloved ambulance corps.

At the end of the speeches the crowd was asked to move to the inside the building for the unveiling of the wall. Once assembled inside, with Pearlman’s parents standing by, a cord was pulled revealing the fruits of the effort put forth by the corps to honor their hero.

Photos, certificates and newspaper articles fill the space, telling the story of heroic action taken by Pearlman on 9-11.

Visitors filed by to view the wall as Pearlman’s mother looked on. When asked what the dedication meant to her, Dorie Pearlman told The Forum, “The corps and the Boy Scouts were everything to my son. They were his life,” said Dorie Pearlman. “This day means my son is not forgotten. It means he never will be forgotten.”

Street Renamed in Honor of Local Leader

Hundreds of residents joined the family of Frederick T. Haller, Jr., members of the Glendale Civic Association and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley at a ceremony last weekend to rename a portion of the Union Turnpike after the longtime community activist.

As a member of the Parks and Recreation Committee on the City Council, Crowley successfully lobbied her colleagues to approve the measure, which co-names the stretch of Union Turnpike between Myrtle Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard the Frederick T. Haller, Jr. Way. At last Saturday’s ceremony, she hailed Sept. 12, 2009 as the Frederick T. Haller Day in New York City.

“Frederick Haller showed endless generosity to our community through his charitable endeavors,” said Kathy Masi of the Glendale Civic Association, who helped organize the event. “He is missed by all the people in the Glendale community who are fortunate enough to have known him. He was a great man who not only left an impact on our community but a family dedicated to service for the greater good of their communities.”

“I am pleased to stand here before you to honor a remarkable member of our community,” said Crowley (D-Middle Village). “It is a privilege to be with Frederick Haller’s children and family to our community to recognize the impact their father made here on the people of Glendale. His children and their dedication to community service is, perhaps, Frederick Haller’s greatest legacy.”

Haller’s accomplishments include helping organize the first Home School Association at Sacred Heart School, serving with the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society, founding the Greater Ridgewood YMCA, serving as past president of the Glendale Kiwanis Club, chairman and member of Community Board 5 and a member of the Board of Trustees of Wyckoff Heights Hospital. Before his death on Dec. 30, 2007, he celebrated fifty years serving as an attorney at law to the Glendale and Ridgewood community.

As one of the original homeowners on Union Turnpike, the renaming has significant meaning to the family. Devastated by a family tragedy, the Haller family moved from their home in Glendale down Union Turnpike to Forest Hills. The conaming ceremony, held at the Greenstreets Triangle at Myrtle Avenue, marked a homecoming for the Haller family.

Masi later said she thought the event “went phenomenally” and said the turnout exceeded her expectations, despite the bad weather. “It was amazing, and had a lot to do with the fact that this was a guy who everyone loved,” she said. “In a whole year working on this, I didn’t come across a single person who asked why we were doing it… It’s a really good thing and I’m glad it finally happened.”

Cross Harbor Tunnel, Dog Run and Garbage Plan Discussed at CB 5 Meeting

By Conor Greene

This month’s Community Board 5 meeting was highlighted by three old issues that are familiar to many local residents – the cross harbor tunnel project, which is again being discussed, the push for a dog run in Juniper Valley Park, which has come down to money, and Waste Management’s plan to expand its Review Avenue transfer facility.

Cross Harbor Tunnel Plan Resurfaces

District Manager Gary Giordano informed board members and residents that the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York has scheduled a meeting on September 30 for members of the project’s Stakeholders Committee. The meeting will not be open to the public or media and individuals who were not invited will not be allowed to attend.

The Port Authority has taken over as local sponsor for the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, and the meeting is being billed as a chance for various elected officials and civic leaders to provide input in hopes of developing consensus, according to an e-mail sent by Laura Shabe, who is managing the project for the Port Authority.

The plan features a tunnel beneath New York Harbor connecting rail yards in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and Jersey City. The Long Island Railroad’s Bay Ridge line would be upgraded and a huge intermodal facility would be built in West Maspeth. Trains would travel through the tunnel and continue to the Fresh Pond Rail Yard in Glendale before switching to an LIRR line to finish the trip to Maspeth. Cargo would be loaded into trucks for transport to destinations around the city, resulting in about 15,000 additional trucks on local streets each day.

Local civic groups protested loudly when the plan was first presented nearly a decade ago by Rep. Jerrold Nadler. In 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his opposition to it during a Juniper Park Civic Association meeting, arguing that the project “really would destroy neighborhoods here in this area.” However, speaking at a July press conference in Brooklyn, the mayor indicated he might support the plan in the future. “There is not going to be tremendous impact on any neighborhoods because they can design it in such a way with multiple terminals and so forth so no particular neighborhood has unmitigated consequences as were feared a number of years ago,” said Bloomberg.

At last Wednesday’s CB 5 meeting, Giordano warned that the project “is being resurrected.” While the September 30 meeting is not open to residents, “eventually they’re going to have to come out to the public with the plan,” said Giordano. “I don’t know who resurrected this, but here we go again… It seemed like a bad plan to a lot of us, but this whole idea is upon us again.” He added that while the area’s rail infrastructure needs to be better utilized, the original plan would have resulted in too large of an impact on Maspeth, which already suffers from heavy truck traffic.

In the message to stakeholders, Shabe noted that the Federal Highway Administration, the lead agency on the project, has broken the EIS into two phases. The first will analyze the marked demand for an improved New York Harbor rail crossing, while phase two will focus on specific site impacts, “resulting in traditional project-level environmental documents.”

Dog Run Funding Questions

While the proposal to have a dog run created in Juniper Valley Park wasn’t raised during CB 5’s budget hearing (see related story), it was discussed later in the meeting in light of a feasibility study recently completed by the city Parks Department on the idea.

Kathy Masi, co-chair of the board’s Parks Committee, reported that “we’ve come to a problem” regarding a request by a group of local dog owners to have a fenced in area created in an area of the park currently used during off-leash hours. “Obviously, what we have now is a group that wants a dog run put in the park,” said Masi. In light of that, the Parks Department conducted a feasibility study to see what could be created if funding can be found to pay for it. The study found the project would cost about $750,000, “which the CB and dog group will have to raise if they decide a dog run is appropriate for the park and the community,” according to a Parks Department statement.

One of the sticking points for opponents is the proposed location within the park, so Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) is instead looking into acquiring vacant land from CSX railroad. “Where we’re at now is, where do we get the money?” added Masi. “I personally, in today’s economic time, just don’t see where those numbers make sense to me,” she said referring to the cost of acquiring the land and building the dog run. Still, the community board has created a subcommittee to further investigate the idea. “This does not put an end to our efforts,” said Masi.

In a statement, a Parks Department spokesman said a plan submitted by the local dog owner group was reviewed by the capital team, which recommended the size be reduced to .75 acres “to better fit the proposed area and preserve ornamental trees in the area.” Other minor changes were also recommended, including a retaining wall. The submitted design was “very preliminary and simple” featuring just an aerial map of the park and a footprint of where the dog run would be located under the dog group’s proposal.

Waste Management Transfer Station

Discussions also continued over Waste Management’s plan to expand its garbage transfer station on Review Avenue to accommodate residential trash from community boards one through six. Earlier this year, board members objected to the plan because it requires trucks to transport the trash from Review Avenue a mile and a half through Maspeth to the rail yard at Rust Street. Instead, the board and local officials are pushing the company to construct a rail spur on its property to eliminate the need for additional truck trips.

Giordano told the audience that officials are pushing Waste Management “to go a little further on the community board’s recommendations for a rail spur.” Since the facility is adjacent to the Newtown Creek, officials are also urging the company to consider barging the trash from the area. “We need to make sure that if more garbage is going to be transported by rail, it be done in a better manner than has been done,” he said.

However, board member Robert Holden later said that he doesn’t think the community should be pushing for a rail spur. Calling the Review Avenue property “an environmental nightmare,” Holden instead argued that the company should look into another site that isn’t heavily contaminated. “We should be encouraging cleanup first and should be asking the mayor to stop this in its tracks,” he said.

Giordano noted that the board had suggested the company pursue other nearby sites such as the former Phelps Dodge property.

A Waste Management spokeswoman said the company is taking into account the community input, but wouldn’t say if construction of a rail spur is being considered. “We continue to listen to community comments regarding the Review Avenue project and are evaluating our future options in response to these concerns,” wrote Rachel Amar. “Waste Management can’t speculate on the basis of any rumors.” She noted that the solid waste plan, of which facility expansion is a part of, will greatly reduce overall truck traffic and create between 15 and 20 new jobs. However, it will lead to an increase in local truck traffic due to the trips between Review Avenue and the Maspeth rail yard.

City Approves Ridgewood Historic District

Area Comprised of Distinctive Mathews Flats Homes

The effort to have Ridgewood’s historical neighborhoods recognized by the city took a step forward with the approval of the Ridgewood North Historical District and a public hearing on a plan to establish a similar adjacent zone to the south.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve the designation of the Ridgewood North Historic District, which consists of 96 distinctive multi-family residential and commercial tenement buildings built starting in 1908. Marketed towards working-class immigrants, the homes are known as Mathews Flats because they were built by the G.X Mathews Company.

Built on former farmland along Gates, Fairview, Grandview and Forest avenues and Woodbine and Palmetto streets, the three-story buildings were constructed in long rows of repeated designs with buff-and-amber-colored brick facades. Each included six separate residential apartments with five rooms and a full bathroom, as well as ample light and air supplied by central light shafts.

“These lively buildings were a substantial upgrade from earlier tenements, and served as a model for affordable housing at a time when New York City’s population was growing rapidly,” said LPC Chairman Robert Tierney. “They were innovative in plan, striking in style, and, remarkably, have remained unchanged since their completion nearly 100 years ago.”

The G.X Mathews Company was a prolific construction firm that was founded by German immigrant Gustave Xavier Mathews and his two brothers in Ridgewood in 1904. The company’s tenements in the district have Romanesque and Renaissance Revival-style details and feature geometrically patterned brickwork, stone entrance enframements, ornate cornices with decorative swag and garland and bluestone stoops.

The Mathews Flats design was thought to be such an improvement over previous forms of affordable housing that they were exhibited at the Panama-Pacific Fair in 1915. The company ultimately constructed more than 300 model flats in Ridgewood and hundreds of other buildings elsewhere in Queens, including Woodhaven, Corona, Woodside, Astoria and Long Island City before closing after Mathews’ death in the late 1950s.

“Today’s actions speak to the commission’s ongoing commitment to extending its protective mantle in every borough,” said Tierney. “Since 2003, the commission has designated a total of 21 historic districts across New York City, including a record 12 historic districts outside of Manhattan, more than any other administration in the commission’s 44-year history.”

In a separate action, the commission held a hearing on the proposal to create the Ridgewood South Historic District, which is adjacent to the north district and contains 210 buildings developed later. “A cohesive collection of speculative urban architecture, the tenements in the proposed Ridgewood South Historic District retain extremely high levels of architectural integrity and represent an important part of the development of the housing in New York City,” a document outlining the proposal states.

Ridgewood civic leader Paul Kerzner said he thought the hearing went “very well” with nobody speaking against the proposal. He hopes that the south district will be approved by the end of the year, and noted that 2,982 buildings in the neighborhood were added to the state and federal historic registers in the 1980s, meaning the city is just beginning to catch up. He said the ultimate goal is to gain landmark status for the remaining 2,626 buildings the city hasn’t yet considered. “If we do it in the same process as they’re doing it, it will take about four to five years,” he said. “We’ve done three of 18 areas [including Stockholm Street years ago] so I promised the commissioner I’ll be back 15 more times.”

Kerzner noted that the LPC’s standards are “very high,” meaning approval of the historic district carries a lot of weight. “Those of us who have spend a lot of time in Ridgewood or who own Mathews Flats are kind of jaded and don’t see them as significant, just as housing,” he said. “I thanked the LPC technical staff for bringing to our attention the significance of these buildings, which were built for working class people, and 100 years later they are still being used by working class people.”

Stimulus Money to Help Prevent Future Flooding

By Conor Greene

Borough residents may finally get relief from constant property flooding in the form of nearly $46 million in federal stimulus money that will be used to upgrade water and sewer systems in southeast Queens.

The money is part of $220 million the city received in federal stimulus funds for water infrastructure needs throughout the five boroughs. The allocation was announced last week at a press conference involving Governor David Paterson, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley.

Projects that will be funded include upgrades at wastewater treatment facilities in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx, and measures to reduce flooding caused by heavy rain in hotspots throughout the city, including portions of southeastern Queens. In addition, “green streets” will be created in Middle Village and Glendale to help collect storm water and prevent local streets and homes from flooding.

“Reinvesting in our water and sewage infrastructure is a basic need that has been neglected for too long,” said Crowley (D-Middle Village). “While this is a step in the right direction, a lot more needs to be done, especially for the communities still feeling the repercussions of the 2007 storms.”

While green streets are being created on Dry Harbor Road, 82nd Place and Juniper Boulevard North, Crowley is calling on the city to do the same along 77th Avenue, Penelope Avenue and in Maspeth near Maurice Avenue. “I am pleased that the Department of Environmental Protection commissioner has agreed to look into these additional areas per my request and I will continue to work with him to ensure the storm infrastructure of our community is adequately addressed,” added Crowley.

Paterson and Bloomberg noted that the money will go towards much-needed projects, some of which have been on hold for several years. “These projects will provide a bounty to New York City by saving money through increased energy efficiency, protecting our waterways through improved wastewater treatment, reducing flooding after heavy rains and restoring precious wetlands,” said Gov. Paterson.

Added Bloomberg: “The infusion of stimulus dollars for water projects will bolster our aggressive programs and help us improve water quality in our rivers and bays, and reduce flooding in areas that have long suffered from storm water flooding – particularly in southeast Queens.”

Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) noted that nearly $18 million has been designated for reconstruction of the substation and switchgears of the Rockaway Water Pollution Control Plant, which she called a key component in the sewage treatment system, designed to help ensure the ecological vitality of Jamaica Bay.

“This funding is vital for our city to ensure that we protect our waterways while increasing our energy efficiency, improving wastewater treatment, reducing flooding in our communities and at the same time providing much needed jobs for area residents,” said Pheffer.

Public Meeting Set on Woodhaven Blvd Traffic Safety Study

On Thursday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) invites residents, business owners, and others to attend a public input session about improving Woodhaven Boulevard between Queens Boulevard and Liberty Avenue. The meeting will be at the Emanuel UCC Church, Woodhaven Boulevard at 91st Avenue.

Those in attendance will be asked to share their ideas with DOT representatives about the upcoming Woodhaven Corridor project. Under consideration are a number of measures that address concerns over traffic congestion and pedestrian safety. The DOT is seeking input on the reconfiguration of intersections, connecting service roads and the possible dedication of one lane for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Additionally, discussion is open for signal timing modification, turn restrictions, refuge islands and high visibility crosswalks.

Signs of Relief in Hamilton Beach

Streets Will Bear Two Names

By Patricia Adams

The confusion and frustration over renamed streets in Hamilton Beach is finally nearing an end, according to the office of Councilman Eric Ulrich. At the heart of the street naming issue was the growing concern of Hamilton Beach residents over numbered streets that shared the same names in nearby Howard Beach. Community residents feared that like addresses would be confused and emergency vehicles would go to the wrong neighborhood and that delays in response time would translate to lives lost.

Late in 2008, then councilmember Joe Addabbo requested legislation for a ceremonial street name change to remedy residents concerns. Under such a provision named signs would be installed as an accompaniment to the numbered ones already in place.

But in early 2009, the city removed the numbered signs, e.g. 164th Avenue, 165th Avenue, and replaced them with new signs bearing names like Burlingham Court and McKee Avenue The city claimed Addabbo’s request was for a mapping change which would require the numbered street signs to be removed and new named street signs to be hung in their place.

According to a spokesman from the Department of Transportation (DOT), when the Councilmember’s office submitted the requisite forms, the wrong box was inadvertently checked and the request was not for a ceremonial change, therefore the original signs had to be removed.

John Bluemke, president of the New Hamilton Beach Civic Association, was quick to respond to the city’s unexpected sign removal—Bluemke simply painted the familiar street numbers onto wood signs and affixed them to the same telephone poles which bear the official city signs.

After a string of correspondence with DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy, Councilmember Ulrich’s office told The Forum that the problem is soon to be a thing of the past. “We heard from Commissioner McCarthy on this matter and the DOT is going to install numbered street signs and leave the named street signs in place,” said Matt Hickey, Chief of Staff to Ulrich.

The councilman will now have to pass another local law and work with the Council’s legal department to correct the original request to that of a ceremonial change ensuring there will be no further map changes.

“This is a great relief for the residents who had understandable safety concerns over this issue,” said Ulrich. The councilmember will now pass the legislation allowing for both signs to be displayed at thoroughfares in Hamilton Beach is underway to formally complete the process.

The streets which will bear two street signs are:

Burlingham Court (163rd Road), James Court (163rd Drive), McKee Court (164th Avenue), Calhoun Court (164th Road), Mancriff Court (164th Drive), Lockwood Court (165th Avenue), Ocean Avenue (104th Street).

Seminerio's Former Office Broken Into

The new assembly member in the 38th district will start their new post without the benefit of office equipment. That after a representative of the New York State Assembly discovered a break in at what used to be the office of former Assemblyman Tony Seminerio.

Last Thursday around 10 a.m., the state administrative assistant went to the office to get it ready for Seminerio’s replacement and found the door kicked in at the government-owned office on Jamaica Ave and 107th Street. Thieves had forcibly entered the premises and ransacked the office. Police say all the office equipment was stolen including a copier, printer, air conditioner, computer equipment an air purifier.

Seminerio is awaiting sentencing in October after having pled guilty to
charges that he took bribes and used his elected office to perform favors on the
state level for those who paid him bogus consulting fees. Seminerio served 15
terms on the New York State Assembly and faces up to 14 years at his sentencing.

Democratic Primary Results: Marshall, Koslowitz and Reyna Victorious

Democrat Mike Miller Wins Special Election for Assembly Seat

By Conor Greene

When the dust settled following Tuesday’s Democratic Party primary elections around the city, three veteran City Council members who supported allowing a third term had been defeated, and another two were in serious jeopardy of losing races that remained too close to call as of Wednesday.

Among the incumbent City Council members who lost on Tuesday were Alan Gerson of Manhattan, Kendall Stewart of Brooklyn and Helen Sears of Jackson Heights, Queens. Maria Baez of the Bronx was trailing her contest as of Wednesday, while Thomas White, Jr. was leading by just six votes against political newcomer Lynn Nunes.

Locally, Karen Koslowitz was victorious in a six-person race for the Democratic nomination to succeed Melinda Katz representing Forest Hills and Rego Park in the 29th District. Koslowitz, who previously represented the area until term limits forced her from office in 2001, defeated runner up Lynn Schulman 25% to 22%. Rounding out the field was Heidi Harrison Chain (19%), Albert Cohen (13%), Michael Cohen (12%) and Mel Gagarin (6%). Koslowitz doesn’t face a Republican challenger in November.

In the 34th District, which covers parts of Ridgewood, incumbent Diana Reyna – who supported Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s push to allow for a third term - appears to have survived a stiff challenge from Maritza Davila, who she defeated 45% to 43%, according to unofficial results released by the city Board of Elections. Gerald Esposito received 11%, or 1,041 votes.

Following a heated campaign in the 26th District, which includes Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside and parts of Maspeth, James Van Bramer, director of external affairs for Queens Library defeated City Council attorney Deirdre Feerick 45% to 37%. Long Island City attorney Brent O’Leary finished with 16% of the vote. Incumbent Eric Gioia decided to run for public advocate instead of seeking a third term.

However, things are still unclear in the 28th District, which covers parts of Jamaica, South Jamaica and Richmond Hill. Nunes, 24, is trailing by less than a percentage point against White – who supported extending term limits - as of Wednesday morning. Since absentee and military ballots still have to be counted, the race appears too close to call.

In the race for Borough President, incumbent Helen Marshall will serve a third term after easily defeating challenger Mark Leavitt, a Sunnyside attorney who wasn’t able to turn his strong fundraising effort during the campaign into a solid showing at the polls. Marshall finished with 52,258 votes, or 71%, compared with 12,294, or 16% for Leavitt.

Voters in some parts of Queens also took part in a special election to replace disgraced former state Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, who pleaded guilty to accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. Glendale Democrat Mike Miller handily defeated Republican Donna Marie Caltabiano, who is director of the Forest Park Senior Center by a count of 65% to 35%.

That election was held after Governor David Paterson decided to hold a special election featuring candidates chosen by each party’s county leaders, instead of holding a general election that would have featured a bigger slate of candidates. At least two candidates who had petitioned to be on the ballot have already vowed to challenge Miller next year.

For the two hotly-contested citywide offices – public advocate and comptroller – a runoff election is scheduled for September 29 since none of the candidates reached 40% of the vote. In the public advocate race, Brooklyn Councilman Bill de Blasio, who received 32%, will face off against Mark Green, who formerly held the position and finished with 30%. In the comptroller’s race, Councilman John Liu of Flushing received 38% and will face Brooklyn Councilman David Yassky in the runoff election.

With the Democratic nominee officially secured, Thompson wasted little time kicking off his campaign against Bloomberg, who wasn’t involved in Tuesday’s primary election. Bloomberg agreed to participate in two debates, but Thompson wants him to agree to debate in each of the five boroughs.

“After eight years of the mayor who has looked out for the rich and powerful, isn’t it time we had a mayor who looked out for the rest of us?” Thompson told a crowd of supporters at his victory speech Tuesday night, reminding them that the city’s unemployment rate is at a 16-year high, despite promises by Bloomberg to create jobs. “It’s time for a change, New York! Eight years is enough!”

Even though he wasn’t running in a race on Tuesday, Bloomberg held a campaign kickoff rally on Manhattan’s West Side. Without mentioning Thompson by name, Bloomberg warned voters to avoid derailing progress he says the city has made under his leadership. “All of that could come to a screeching halt if we return to politics as usual,” he said.

And both candidates wasted little time in touting endorsements they have received from major political figures. On Wednesday morning, Bloomberg was campaigning outside a subway stop on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills with former mayor Ed Koch. Meanwhile, Gov. Paterson issued a press released indicating he plans on publicly endorsing Thompson at a press conference Friday.

Residents Deal With Construction Woes

Issues Include Abandoned Work Site and Zoning Question

After years of virtually unchecked development throughout the city, it is not surprising that many residents have been left feeling the negative effects of projects on their block. In recent weeks, several examples of how a resident’s quality of life can be impacted by projects at neighboring properties were raised at community meetings and in interviews with The Forum. The following is a look at problems in Maspeth with a stalled construction site and vacant house and a question in Glendale over whether a multi-family building was completed in accordance with the area’s zoning.

Abandoned Maspeth Site Becomes Dumping Ground

Mary Ann Todzia has been living next to a vacant lot at 65-61 Hull Avenue for more than four years now. While the fact that work has stalled on the project is bad enough, Todzia says her house’s foundation was damaged during construction, and the vacant lot fills up with water when it rains. To add insult to injury, the site’s construction fence is in danger of collapsing and people have began dumping bags of trash on the sidewalk in front of her house.

In June, the city Department of Buildings issued a stop work order and five violations to the owner for having a defective fence, abandoning the site and failing to safeguard it. However, despite the summonses, the area continues to be neglected, said Todzia. She registered a complaint with 311 over the trash dumped on the sidewalk but was later told that an inspector didn’t find cause to issue a violation.

“It started four years ago in July, and right now they have more than 40 violations and this guy is nowhere to be found,” said Todzia, referring to builder American Construction of Ozone Park. Due to the damage caused to her property, Todzia was forced to hire an attorney and is waiting for a court date to be set. Previously, the property featured a one-family house on a double lot. The new owner demolished the house and proceeded with plans to build two two-family homes there, but has since just completed one building.

“It’s a dumping ground. For a while now, people just throw things over,” she said of the area’s current state. “It’s ironic because you can have the Department of Buildings issue permits, go ahead and build, have the property destroyed and no one is punished for it. They’re getting violations, but what comes from them? Nothing. The guy is still in business.”

Zoning Debate in Glendale

Community leaders are questioning whether a multi-family building constructed recently on 79th Place in Glendale was built in accordance with the area’s zoning. Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, said a public hearing is scheduled on the issue at the board’s October meeting.

Attorneys for the property owner “are now in the process of answering Building Department objections to their plans and the construction that already has taken place” at 78-46 79th Place, where a single-family house previously stood, said Giordano. “As we see it, the construction that has taken place there does not meet the zoning regulations. It certainly doesn’t meet the new zoning regulations after the area was downzoned [several years ago], and I don’t think it meets the prior zoning.”

According to Walter Sanchez, chairman of the board’s Land Use Committee, the owner has applied to be grandfathered under the new zoning since regulations in the area were changed several years ago. After the DOB rejected that request, the owner filed an application for a variance with the Board of Standards and Appeals, but has since gone back to the DOB for a new opinion, according to Sanchez.

Giordano said the main problems are that the building contains too many units, is too high for the area and doesn’t include parking provisions. He expects a hearing at the October 14 meeting so that the issues can be brought into the public. “There is certainly concern that the property owner and their representatives may try to get approval from the Buildings Department and avoid the need for a BSA hearing,” he said. “So we’re looking to bring this into the open air so to speak.”

The city DOB did not respond to a request for information about this property.

Vacant House Brings Down Neighborhood

At last week’s Community Board 5 meeting, Maspeth resident Dorie Wolt complained about the condition of a vacant house at 57-12 58th Place, which she said has fallen apart due to years of neglect. “It’s a disgusting eyesore,” she said, adding that weeds have grown as tall as she is, the roof has fallen in, the basement is filled with water and animals are living inside it. “We live [near] there and this is ridiculous.”

Public records show the property was purchased by the Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corp. from the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development in 2006 for $38,000. On Tuesday, GRRC President Paul Kerzner said the agency is “in the process of cleaning [the property] up.” He said a worker had been sent over to clear the property prior to the CB 5 meeting but didn’t do the job satisfactorily and promised that the land “will be cleaned up to the community’s standards.”

Regarding the future of the property, Kerzner said, “Unfortunately the zoning is so screwed up over there, it doesn’t even make sense to restore it. It’s unfortunate that the prior owner let it go to pot. We inebriated a monster over there, so it’s up in the air as to what we’re going to do with it, but obviously it will be cleaned up.”

Destruction of Newly Planted Trees Continues in Juniper Valley Park

Reward Offered after 12 More Destroyed

By Conor Greene

Newly planted trees in Juniper Valley Park have again fallen victim to vandalism, and local activists and officials say the problem is more than a simple case of juveniles causing mischief in the Middle Village greenspace.

Steven Fiedler, who serves as co-chair of Community Board 5’s Park Committee, received a phone call on Sunday morning informing him that for the fourth time this year, somebody had damaged or destroyed a number of trees during the overnight hours.

Unlike previous instances, which generally involved snapped limbs or uprooted trees, the destruction in this case was caused by a power saw, according to Fiedler. “As far as we can figure, between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. Saturday night into Sunday, somebody came in with a battery powered saw,” he said. Two oaks near the ballfields were destroyed and ten cherry blossom trees near the walking path were cut in half.

“The other vandalism has been incidental, [such as] after the cops chased them out and they came back and ripped out two trees,” said Fiedler. “But with this incident, this is premeditated. This person planned on what he was going to do, used a nice quiet saw and didn’t want to get caught. I don’t know what kind of gripe the person has. I have a hard time thinking a kid is going to come in with a saw and cut down trees, they’re more likely to break them. I think this is an adult with an ax to grind.”

Of the 300 trees that were planted in Juniper Valley Park this year, about 30 have fallen victim to vandals, said Fiedler. The latest act has resulted in a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible, with Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and her opponent in this fall’s general election, former Councilman Thomas Ognibene, each donating $1,000 and the Juniper Park Civic Association providing $500.

“Arborcide is a serious criminal offense and an assault on our communities, and the loss of 12 newly planted trees… is a blow to the quality of life and environmental health of Juniper Valley Park,” said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe in a statement. “Trees are a valuable asset, providing shade and oxygen, cleaning the air, and creating homes for our wildlife. The Parks Department is committed to protecting our trees…”

After the destruction was discovered Sunday morning, officers from the 104th Precinct were notified and canvassed the surrounding neighborhood for witnesses. In addition, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, who lives in Middle Village, arrived at the scene and has asked the district attorney’s office to investigate.

“The Parks Department thanks the community for stepping up and reporting this terrible incident of tree destruction,” said Lewandowski. “Juniper Valley Park is a gem for Middle Village and we will continue to work with the NYPD to track down the person or persons responsible for vandalizing the park.”

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, called the incident a “shocking display of premeditated arborcide” and noted that vandalism has generally been contained to areas such as the bleachers near the roller hockey rink. “This is the worst we’ve seen so far and it’s now obvious that we are dealing with a very disturbed person or persons,” he said. “This is a serious attack on our quality of life and we pledge all of our resources in helping… apprehend the person or persons responsible for this atrocity.”

Fiedler said officials are looking into whether there is a clause in the tree planting contract covering the replacement of damaged and destroyed trees. He added that a police officer used to patrol the park at night, but that assignment has been eliminated, leaving the area open to vandalism and other overnight problems.

Arborcide is punishable by up to $15,000 in fines and one year in prison, according to the Parks Department. It is illegal for citizens to remove, kill or damage a street or park tree, whether intentionally or accidentally. Anyone with information is asked to call the 104th Precinct at (718) 386-3004 or the NYPD tip line at 800-577-TIPS. All calls are kept confidential.