Thursday, January 14, 2010

This Week's Forum West and South

Candle Blamed for Apartment Fire

Four-Alarm Blaze in Kew Gardens Injures Five

By Conor Greene

Fire officials say an unattended candle is to blame for a quick moving fire that gutted several apartments in a Kew Gardens apartment on Monday afternoon.

Four firefighters and one civilian suffered minor injuries in the fire, which broke out around 11:45 a.m. in a second floor apartment at 84-70 129th Street. The fire quickly spread to the third, fourth and fifth floors and went to four alarms by 12:15p.m. before it was brought under control at 1:11 p.m., according to the FDNY.

As crews worked to keep the fire from spreading to the building’s top floor, two police officers who were on duty outside a nearby school raced to the scene and helped evacuate a woman and her young daughter. Initial reports indicated residents were trapped inside due to heavy smoke, but fire officials say an “aggressive attack” kept it from spreading.

“We saw the woman stepping out onto the fire escape, and that’s when I proceeded to jump over the fence, climbed the fire escape… grabbed the baby and walked them down,” Sgt. Kevin Bishoff of the 102nd Precinct told reporters. He teamed up with Officer Johnny Becerra to help the residents escape the blaze.

“It went to four alarms,” FDNY Deputy Chief James Didomenico said at the scene. “We were able to stop it on the fifth floor. It did not get to the sixth floor through an aggressive attack. Had it gotten to the sixth floor and possibly gotten into the cockwall it could’ve been a major, major fire and much worse than today.”

On Tuesday, debris from the destroyed apartments was piled in front of the building, which was charred and boarded up. A notice was posted on the door ordering some residents to vacate their apartments, while tenants in other parts of the building were allowed back inside.

Shamin Naz, who has lived in the building for 21 years, said that she and her family were very lucky on the day of the fire. “I was at the hospital with my daughter for an examination,” said Naz. “I got a frantic call from my brother saying the building was one fire.”

Naz immediately began trying to get in touch with her other children to make sure they had left the building. “When I was able to contact them I felt so lucky. For the other people who were trapped, I just say thank God no one died. The apartments, they can be put back together. No one died.”

The Red Cross is providing assistance to the up to seven families left homeless by the fire.

Ridgewood Theater and PS 66 Approved for Landmark Status

By Conor Greene

Two distinctive buildings in Ridgewood and Richmond Hill were approved for landmark status by the city on Tuesday, paving the way for the historic structures to be protected from future redevelopment.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission voted on Tuesday in favor of granting landmarking designation to both the Ridgewood Theater on Myrtle Avenue and PS 66 on 102nd Street in Richmond Hill. The vote marks the last major hurdle for both applications, which now need approval from the City Planning Department and City Council.

The Ridgewood Theater, designed by noted architect Thomas Lamb, was hailed as the longest continuous operating movie house in the nation until it was suddenly closed in 2008. Before then, it had provided entertainment for nine decades since opening in 1916.

Michael Perlman, who spearheaded the effort to have the theater landmarked, said Tuesday’s vote was the result of several years of lobbying by a number of volunteers. “This is another chapter for this gem’s long and distinctive history,” he said. “These theaters are few and far between, so we have to retain the best of the past for a more promising and thought-provoking future.”

The building’s current owners plan on using the ground floor for retail space with several movie screens on the second floor, according to Perlman. They have also indicated a willingness to preserve the theater’s distinctive lobby and as many of the historic details as possible.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley testified in support of both applications at Tuesday’s hearing. “Preserving the history of our neighborhoods is a key component to taking pride in it,” she said. “It is important for future generations to understand their history, and take pride in it and preserving this innovative and striking structure will do just that.”

She added that the theater landmarking “goes hand in hand” with the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s recent approval of the Ridgewood North Historic District, which features turn-of-the-century homes known as the Gustave Mathews flats.

Public School 66, also known as the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, is a three-story, red brick building built in 1899. Built when much of Richmond Hill was still farmland, it was expanded seven years later and still features arched windows and a six-story tower. It was one of three identical schools constructed in anticipation of an influx of residents to the area as a result of transportation improvements, the subdivision of farmland into lots for residential development and the consolidation of Queens with New York City.

“The school is a remarkable survivor from a time when Richmond Hill was transitioning from a farming community into a residential neighborhood,” said LPC Commissioner Robert Tierney. “It remains one of the most distinctive school structures in Queens.”

Crowley, who has made historic designations one of her priorities, said the school “has been a staple of Richmond Hill for over a century.” Last October, she led the effort to have 109th Street in Richmond Hill as “Nancy Cataldi Way” after the outspoken preservationist who launched an unrelenting campaign to save the area’s Victorian homes before her untimely death in 2008.

Designed in the Victorian Eclectic style, the PS 66 stand out thanks to its tower, which used to contain a bell used to call children to school from neighboring farms and properties. It also features gabled dormers and large entablatures featuring floral ornament. Its design is attributed to Harry S. Chambers, the school’s superintendent and architect for the Town of Jamaica.

The school was renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in 2003 in honor of the former First Lady’s passion for literacy and historic preservation, and continues to serve as a grammar school.

Boy Nearly Killed in Highland Park Stabbing

Two Teens Charged with Attack on 12-Year-Old

By Conor Greene

Police have now charged both a Brooklyn teenager and his girlfriend with the near-fatal stabbing of a 12-year-old in Highland Park on Saturday night. The attack occurred while the three were allegedly smoking pot in the vicinity of the park.

The victim, Luis Martinez, was rushed to Jamaica Hospital in serious condition after a motorist spotted him alongside the Jackie Robinson Parkway. He was treated for multiple injuries, including four stab wounds to the torso and the back and two stab wounds to the chest. In addition, both his left internal and right external jugular veins were cut, causing extreme blood loss. He underwent reconstructive surgery and his condition was upgraded on Tuesday from critical to stable.

Initial reports indicated Martinez had been thrown from a moving vehicle, but police now say he was stabbed about a dozen times by 15-year-old Wayne Henderson of Ridgewood Avenue in East New York and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Carina Parache of Norward Avenue in East New York. Police say the attack occurred after Henderson and Martinez got into a brief argument that quickly escalated into attempted murder.

Police initially only charged Henderson in the attack after questioning and releasing Parache. Henderson was arraigned on Monday in Queens Criminal Court on charges of second-degree attempted murder and first-and-second degree assault.

However, on Tuesday night, authorities announced that Parache will face the same charges because she stood by as the attack took place and then kicked and stabbed Martinez before fleeing the scene with Henderson.

The pair was taken into custody by officers from the 104th Precinct shortly after the attack. Both are being charged as juvenile offenders and face up to then years in prison if convicted. Henderson was ordered held on $250,000 bail and is due back in court on January 25, while Parache was awaiting arraignment as of Wednesday morning.

“The 14-year-old defendant is accused of taking part with her boyfriend in a senseless but deliberate attack on someone they once called a friend,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “This is a sad case of young children throwing their lives away by allowing a verbal argument to escalate into deadly violence. Fortunately, the victim will survive but all three will carry the emotional scars of that night for the rest of their lives.”

Officials Want More Metro Ave HS Seats for Glendale Students

By Conor Greene

As the Metropolitan Avenue school complex gets closer to its anticipated opening this fall, the battle over who gets to occupy the building is continuing with officials pushing for more seats for students in the Glendale area.

On Monday, members of Community Board 5’s Education Committee agreed to present three resolutions to the full board regarding the new complex, with features a 1,000 seat high school to be shared between District 24 and District 28, along with a 1,000seat 6-12 school dedicated solely for District 28.

The three resolutions call for 200 additional seats in the high school for students in District 24 so the two districts would more evenly split the total number of new high school seats. It also asks that a “second tier” be created so that priority shifts to students in PS 91’s zone if the 125 seats in each grade level currently assigned to District 24 aren’t filled from students in the PS/IS 87 and PS/IS 113 areas. The third resolution asks that the high school be opened to both ninth and tenth graders in its first year, instead of just freshmen as proposed.

The resolutions were expected to be voted on by the full CB 5 membership at its monthly meeting this past Wednesday. Check next week’s Forum West for an update on the vote.

In December, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) wrote to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein asking that a secondary zone be created limited to District 24 students to ensure the area doesn’t lose part of its 125 seat allocation. “The people of Glendale and Middle Village are in dire need of high school options and those families just outside the local zone should be given preference… before the school opens up to the rest of Queens,” she wrote.

Two weeks later, Crowley wrote to Klein to request that “immediate action” is taken to alleviate “dire overcrowding” in District 24. She proposed that the new Maspeth High School, which won’t be ready until 2012, be opened up in the available space at the Metropolitan Avenue complex, since that facility won’t be filled to capacity for several years. Once the Maspeth High School is complete, the students, teachers and administrators would simply move to the new building.

“As I understand, the [DOE] plans to incrementally ‘grow’ the two new schools located on the Metropolitan Avenue Complex,” wrote Crowley. “During the first years these schools are open the building will be at approximately 25% capacity. I believe we can take immediate action to alleviate the overcrowding of Queens high schools without sacrificing the level of education… If we act now to put together a school leadership team and have the administration for the Maspeth High School to start teaching children as early as the fall of this year.”

The issue of only opening the next high school up to one grade at a time has been met with criticism from some officials and parents due to the current situation. “The DOE’s argument that new schools do better when grades are phased in does merit consideration, but our Queens high schools are massively overcrowded, so delaying utilization of 1,000 new high school seats for many years can’t be in the best interested of our Queens high school students,” Dmytro Fedkowskyj, who is a CB 5member and the Borough President’s appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy, told The Forum.

The DOE said last month that parents and officials had several weeks to comment on the proposed zoning boundaries. The department didn’t immediately return a message for comment on the zoning proposal or the plan to open the school only to 9th grade, and Crowley’s office didn’t receive a formal response to either December letter.

The overcrowding situation in Queens has forced a number of high schools to operate on split sessions. According to Fedkowskyj, Francis Lewis is at 175% capacity on five sessions, Forest Hills High School is at 160% capacity on three sessions, Cardozzo is at 150% capacity on three sessions, and both Grover Cleveland and Newtown are at about 120% capacity while operating on multiple sessions.

At Monday’s meeting, attendees including D24 President Nick Comaianni suggested the three requests be submitted to the DOE as separate resolutions to prevent them all from being rejected at once. “Taking seats away from Forest Hills to give to us is not happening,” he said. “The reality is, Forest Hills will fight tooth and nail for those seats.”

MTA Reportedly Considering Nixing M Train Line

V Line Would be Rerouted to Metropolitan Avenue

By Conor Greene

Western Queens residents and officials are anxiously awaiting official word from the MTA on the future of the M train following reports the agency is considering eliminating the line and rerouting the V train to Middle Village.

The MTA is not commenting on the rumors, which were reported this week in amNY and various transit blogs. A spokesman said Wednesday that MTA officials are “reviewing the package of service reductions that was adopted by our board in December, but I cannot speak to any individual cuts or restorations to services on any of the lines individually as the process is going.”

According to the reports, the MTA would eliminate the M line, which currently terminates at Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village. The service reduction package contained within the MTA’s doomsday budget adopted in December already includes cutting M service to Brooklyn. The M line would be replaced by the V line in northern Brooklyn through Ridgewood and Middle Village.

In response to the rumors, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) said she hopes the service reductions don’t unfairly impact Queens commuters. “Clearly, the MTA needs to be reminded that the people of Western Queens need transit too,” she said in a statement to The Forum. “While the MTA brainstorms a makeover for its doomsday cuts, I hope they will consider sharing the burden with Manhattan riders rather than continually eliminating options for the Queens riders.”

Vincent Arcuri, chairman of Community Board 5, said his Transportation Committee is looking into the situation. He noted that the V line currently provides greater overnight and rush hour service than the M train. “During rush hour you can wait for three trains from lower Manhattan before you get an M,” said Arcuri. “We’ll have to analyze it. I would hope they wouldn’t adjust the schedule down if it went that way.”

According to the MTA, a series of public hearings would be held once any official decisions are made regarding service changes. “We’re a few steps out before anything takes place,” added the spokesman, Aaron Donovan. “Now that we have a little more time to evaluate the cuts, we’re taking a closer look at them.”

Residents Warned to be Alert Following Burglaries

Following a rash of residential burglaries over the past month, Assemblyman Mike Miller is urging residents to take steps to ensure their homes aren’t easy targets for criminals.

Miller (D-Woodhaven) is reminding his constituents to take simple but important precautions such as leaving a light on when you’re not home, having your key ready as you approach your door, covering and locking windows and using a chain bolt when opening the door to strangers. While on vacation, residents should set automatic light timers and have mail and deliveries stopped.

“These tips are essential to protect you and your family,” said Miller. “By staying alert and implementing these simple suggestions, we can work together to make our community safer.”

The reminder comes after a number of home invasions were reported in December within the confines of the 106th Precinct, specifically in Ozone Park, South Ozone Park and South Richmond Hill. Officers of the Community Affairs Units of the 104th Precinct and 102nd Precinct, parts of which are within Miller’s district, say their areas have not seen a similar spike in homes invasions over the past month.

Among the reported burglaries were five incidents in the area stretching from Aqueduct Race Track to 130th Street and from Rockaway Boulevard to the North Conduit. In one case, a 123rd Street homeowner awoke to find two burglars inside his house. One fled the scene, but the other was arrested after the homeowner confronted him.

Later last month, it was reported that police have arrested nine individuals in connection with the burglaries. Arrests were made throughout the neighborhoods that were hit hardest by the burglaries.

Residents can have a crime prevention survey of their home conducted for free by contacting the precinct at (718) 845-2223.