Thursday, September 10, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Glendale Playground Planned; Maspeth Park Fight Continues

By Conor Greene

Glendale residents will likely soon have a new playground thanks to money set aside in this year’s budget by the area’s local councilmember. At the same time, the push to preserve the former St. Saviour’s site in Maspeth is continuing, with officials looking into the possibility of a land swap as a way to acquire the land at a reasonable cost.

Glendale Playground Plans

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley announced she has secured $600,000 in the 2009-2010 budget that will be used for a new playground in the upper-Glendale area. Her office is looking into the possibility of using land inside Forest Park off Myrtle Avenue near the Union Turnpike and is planning to tour the area with Parks Department officials in coming weeks to identify an ideal location.

In addition to the $600,000 secured by Crowley, $300,000 previously allocated by former Councilman Anthony Como (R-Middle Village) was just sitting in the Parks budget after the department decided that money shouldn’t be used at the Dry Harbor Road playground as initially planned. Crowley said she is working to combine the two appropriations so the entire $900,000 can be used in the Forest Park area.

“It is such a large park that Glendale is built around, but it is really cut off [from the community] by the Jackie Robinson Parkway,” said Crowley. “We want to open access to the park [but] it’s complicated because we have to do it in a way so we don’t take down any trees. That could provide access for people in Glendale without having to go to Woodhaven Boulevard. It is a much needed renovation and expansion to the playground area that the people in upper Glendale have not had.”

Crowley noted that the expansion of PS 113 led to a reduction in the amount of playground space available to the community. She said she envisions a new play area within Forest Park similar to Joseph DeVoy Playground, which is in a wooded area off Union Turnpike near 71st Avenue in southern Forest Hills. She is also working to expand the playground in Evergreen Park on St. Felix Avenue in Liberty Park.

The Parks Department did not return a message seeking information on the planned Glendale playground.

Fight for Maspeth Park

Maspeth residents and activists still haven’t given up the effort to have the former St. Saviour’s property acquired for use as public parkland. Crowley’s office is awaiting a response to letters sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg urging him to pursue the idea as part of his goal to provide parkland within a ten minute walk for every city resident.

Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, identified several city-owned parcels in Brooklyn and Queens that could be eligible for a land swap, through which the owner of the St. Saviour’s property would be compensated for his land. Crowley’s office is looking into whether the proposed city-owned properties would be eligible for a swap, and recently sent a second letter to Mayor Bloomberg about the idea.

“Maspeth is underserved by parks, this site is for sale and acquisition of the land by the city for use as a public park would satisfy a need for both present and future residents,” said Wilkinson. “The city should take action and not pass up this rare opportunity to create more parkland.”

The land swap is being pursued after Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe informed residents that the department doesn’t have the funding required to purchase the land and then convert it into park space. “We believe the residents of Maspeth would benefit from more and better access to public parkland,” wrote Benepe. “While we could not justify the forcible acquisition of the site through condemnation, we would consider purchasing the land if the current owners are now willing sellers.”

The 58th Street property is the former home of the historic St. Saviour’s church building. That structure was dismantled and removed from the site before the property owners readied the property for development. The church will be rebuilt on land donated by All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village. The Maspeth property is currently listed for $8.5 million, and Benepe noted in his letter that “no such funding” currently exists in Parks’ budget, meaning allocations from local elected officials would be necessary.

In a July letter to Mayor Bloomberg, Crowley argued that the “community is in desperate need of more green space” and a park there would serve students from Martin Luther High School and St. Stanislaus Kostka, along with West Maspeth residents “who have to travel miles to find a park.”

On Wednesday, Crowley said a second letter was recently sent to the mayor since her office “hasn’t gotten the response we’re looking for.” She said Maspeth residents are especially in need of green space to help alleviate the pollution caused by heavy truck traffic in the area. “That’s just a great spot [for a park] and this would be an easy part of achieving his goal” to provide parkland access to all neighborhoods.

In the second letter to Bloomberg, Crowley warns that construction of a warehouse, allowed under the property’s zoning, “would clearly hurt the community and end any chances of building much needed park space for Maspeth.” She adds that the community has compiled “a large list” of unused city-owned sites that could be used in a land swap.

Crowley noted that the owners paid $4 million for the land but have since made a “significant investment” in order to prepare the site for construction. “Many people in the community feel that the land has historical value and building anything on it from a historical perspective would be wrong,” she said. “I imagine the owner would be happy to get rid of the land based on his experience owning it for a fair trade or price.

“With the cost of acquiring land today and building parks, it’s tough to find that type of funding in the city, but there’s no doubt in my mind that this area, which has traditionally been forgotten about, needs to be recognized,” continued Crowley. “By teaming up with community leaders in Maspeth to put pressure on the mayor, I think we will prevail.”

However, not all Maspeth residents think a park is the neighborhood’s most pressing need. In a letter to the Forum, Charlene Stubbs of the Maspeth West End Block Association expressed fear of problems such as increased crime and argued the area is in desperate need of a supermarket. She said the issue will be discussed at the civic’s next meeting, scheduled for Thursday at Trinity-St. Andews Church on 60th Street at 7 p.m.

Sukon's Will Close in October

By Patricia Adams

An icon in southern Queens will be closing by the end of October according to Sukon’s owner Scott Hausser. The retail outlet for children’s furniture, first established in 1923 by Harry Sukon, will close its Ozone Park doors for good next month.

Customers continue to file through the store, if not to buy, then just to remember. “It’s amazing,” said Lori Hausser whose husband Scott has owned the store for the last 21 years, “my husband started here 33 years ago when he was 15. He was a stock boy.” The fourth owner of the store, Scott Hausser is now forced to close the store as a consequence of what he says are “many factors, but all relating to the economy.”

The news of the store’s closing has touched customers and employees alike. “We’re like a family here,” said Maria Blandino. She and co-worker Carlo Aufiero started at the store 14 years ago three days apart. “I am so upset; I can’t even begin to describe it. You can’t imagine what it has been like to work for Scott. He is absolutely the best boss in the world. For all his time here he has taken care of his customers and his staff.” Blandino pointed out that there was virtually no turnover of staff as the real testament to the type of guy Scott is.

And the glowing thoughts of Hausser and his business methods trickle on down through his customers. “So many people have called or stopped by to say how sorry they are or to share a story,” said Lori Hausser. She recalls a customer who stopped by last week. “I am 65 years old,” the woman said, “and I brought my daughter with me today. We’re buying baby furniture for my grandchild just like my mother did for me, right here at this store.”

Yet another customer, an 82-year-old woman, called in to say that her mother purchased her baby furniture from Harry Sukon. She had called to say she’ll miss the store and that she was glad she’d had the chance to buy furniture there for her great-grandchild.

Lori Hausser recants the stories of customers with a degree of familiarity—“My parents bought furniture here for my sister 47 years ago and I wound up marrying the owner.”

On and on go the stories about the store that developed such a rich history over almost nine decades of operation. Scott Hausser says now he doesn’t really know what the future holds. “I just haven’t had enough time to think about what will come next. The present is so overwhelming.”

And the business of closing his doors for the last time is obviously painful for Hausser on a number of fronts. “I have been in retail forever. It’s in my blood,” but he says, “My biggest concern is the staff. It’s going to be very hard to get jobs.”

When asked about maybe re-opening in the future, Scott Hausser looks up, his head slightly tilted. “You know,” he says, “one thing I’ve learned is never to say never.”

Officer Recovering from Tire Iron Attack

Beat Near Queensboro Bridge While Off-Duty

An NYPD officer assigned to the 112th Precinct continues to recover at Manhattan hospital after he was savagely beaten with a tire iron during a road rage incident two weeks ago.

Officer Damian Bartels, 28, was struck repeatedly in the face by a group of three men who had cut him off at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge on August 29, according to police and neighbors. The officer, assigned to the Forest Hills stationhouse, was coming home from Manhattan at about 3:30 a.m. with his girlfriend when the incident occurred.

Bartels was taken to a local hospital before being transferred to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell, where he underwent 11 hours of surgery last Friday to rebuild his nose, jaw and eye sockets. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly visited with the officer and his family following the operation.

According to a neighbor and congregant at St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church, the officer’s family is hopeful that Bartels will recover and didn’t lose his eyesight.

A $2,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the three suspects, who fled the scene after the attack. Anyone with information is asked to call the Crimestoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS.

Officials Push Waste Management to Amend Waste Tranfer Plan

Rail Spur at Review Ave Site Would Help Reduce Truck Traffic

By Conor Greene

Discussions are ongoing between local officials and Waste Management in hopes of convincing the company to build a rail spur adjacent to its Review Avenue transfer station, which would eliminate the need to haul garbage by truck to the Maspeth rail yard.

Waste Management is seeking to expand its existing truck-based solid waste transfer operation at 38-22 Review Avenue with a new rail-based facility that would accept residential trash from neighborhoods within community boards 1-6. However, under the plan the company would transport the trash by truck one-and-a-half miles from Review Avenue to the Maspeth rail yard at Rust Street to access the train line.

Local residents, officials and Community Board 5 members objected to that aspect of the plan and instead want Waste Management to investigate other options that would allow the trash to be placed directly on rails to avoid increasing the amount of truck traffic in that area.

In a resolution approved earlier this year, CB 5 members urged the company to barge the trash directly from the facility, which has access to Newtown Creek, build a rail spur at the site or investigate other nearby properties with rail access such as the former Phelps Dodge site.

Those sentiments were echoed in a July letter to the company from Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), which urges Waste Management to come up with a plan that allows the trash to be directly placed on trains, without the 1.5 mile trip through Maspeth. “Until a new plan is put forward… I cannot and will not support any plan for a truck to truck to rail transfer station,” the lawmaker wrote.

An aide to state Senator Joseph Addabbo has been in discussions with Waste Management officials over the past few months. Now that the senate is in recess, Senator Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) will meet in the coming weeks with the company to discuss the community’s objections to the plan.

“Obviously my constituents have a lot of concerns and… residents, especially those who live right near the area directly impacted, certainly should have their voices heard,” said Addabbo. “I will go to the site and talk to them about their proposal… As an elected official I have to see the project done in the most efficient way with the least minimal impact, not only in the short term but post construction.”

Aside to concerns over truck traffic, residents fear the plan will lead to unsafe conditions for pedestrians and will negatively impact the environment through increased emissions, said Addabbo. “On this particular situation, the residents have a lot of concerns, and some are very critical,” he said.

Gary Giordano, district manager of CB 5, said he is still waiting to officially hear back from Waste Management on the recommendations made in the resolution rejecting the company’s current plan. He said Waste Management has informed him they “are looking into the possibility” of building a rail spur at the Review Avenue facility. “From our point of view we’re just looking not to increase truck traffic in western Queens and specifically along that route from the Review Avenue facility to where Maspeth Avenue meets Rust Street,” said Giordano.

Crowley said her chief of staff, Lydon Sleeper, has been in contact with Waste Management officials, but she has yet to receive word of a revised plan. “It’s a fairly large project and when you think about how much it costs to truck all this garbage a mile away instead of building a spur, it doesn’t make sense economically or environmentally,” said Crowley.

A Waste Management spokeswoman did not return a message seeking comment on the status of discussions between the company and elected officials regarding the plan.

Officials Fund Library Upgrades

By Conor Greene

The Glendale and Ridgewood branches of Queens Library will be upgraded thanks to $1.2million provided by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, while the Middle Village branch reopened this week following a $400,000 renovation sponsored by Borough President Helen Marshall.

Crowley (D-Middle Village) joined Queens Library Director Thomas Galante last Thursday at the Glendale Library to present a$400,000 check, which will help fund the second phase of the 73rd Place branch. Planned upgrades include a new elevator and staircase connecting the main and lower floors and renovation of the Renaissance garden adjacent to the newly-renovated lower level.

“The funding will allow for both the expansion of the children’s area as well as the adult section,” said Crowley. “This will create a more inviting space for the community, increasing the book inventory while opening more reading space.” She said the children’s area is expected to open within weeks in an area that has been used for storage over the past half-century. “While the project is almost complete, this funding will make the expansion a reality and the building will now be utilized to its fullest potential.”

In addition to the money for Glendale, Crowley also allocated $800,000 to complete renovations at Queens Library at Ridgewood. “I strongly believe that investing in our local library is money well spent because it has the opportunity to become a cornerstone of the community,” she said.

This past Wednesday, Marshall joined library officials for the reopening of the Middle Village branch on Metropolitan Avenue, which was upgraded with $400,000 she provided. The funding helped cover the costs of installing new technology that allows for self-checkout, public access computer stations, touch screen monitors, security gates and new furniture.

Marshall, a former early childhood teacher and a founder of the Langston Hughes Library in Corona, bills herself as a “longtime advocate for libraries.” Since becoming Borough President in 2002, she has allocated more than $81 million to library projects. In addition to the Middle Village branch, she provided $400,000 each to the Rosedale, Baisley and Douglaston branches.