Thursday, July 15, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West



Wash for Autism a Success


The parking lot of Queens County Savings Bank in Lindenwood was transformed into a car wash on Sunday as more than 130 volunteers--sponges and buckets in hand--turned out for the 5th Annual Charity Car Wash for Autism.

The sun shone brightly as 152 cars lined up for a good scrubbing. Andrew Bauman, President and CEO of New York Families for Autistic Children (NYFAC), was quick to credit the community for their outpouring of support once again. “Every year it just gets better. The weather was on our side and the cars just kept coming.” Bauman said only 87 cars were washed last year.

Nearly $7,000 in proceeds raised for the day will go to help create a learning library room with games and computers at NYFAC’s new home. A deal to secure the new headquarters for the organization in Howard Beach and has been approved by the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The location will not be disclosed until arrangements are final.

Members of the Explorers from the 106th Precinct and School Safety, families and kids from NYFAC, police officers, firemen and NYFAC friends and family members were among volunteers who stayed all day and washed cars.

As part of the event, the American Classic Car Club hosted a car show across the street in the parking lot of the Howard Plaza Shopping Center with 55 classic, sports and luxury cars on display. At the conclusion of the show, awards were presented for the best cars in each of three categories.

Bauman offered thanks to the event sponsors whom he said really make the event possible. Tuscany Deli, LaVilla Restaurant, Queens County Savings Bank and Nick the Balloonatic were among those credited for making the event a success.

NYFAC is a not- for-profit community based organization started 12 years ago by a group of parents with children affected by a little-known neurological disorder known as Autism. Now, some 12 years later, autism affects 1 in 110 children. The agency began as a support group for each other and has now been transformed into full service group serving not only children and
young adults with autism, but with any developmental disability.

Remembering

Sunday's meatballs, Friday's poker games,
music and dancing with Joe,
everyday's smile and infectious laughter;
for these things and so many more,
you will always be remembered.

For all the other things,
you will always be loved.

Frances Gulino
November 27, 1920 - July 8, 2010

MTA Takes Its Toll on Broad Channel, Rockaway


Starting Friday, July 23, residents living in Broad Channel and the remaining zip codes encompassing Rockaway will have to pay when they travel across the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Because of a modification to the Rockaway Toll Rebate program, residents in the zip codes 11691, 11692, 11693, 11694, 11695 and 11697 will pay $1.13 per trip, compared to $2.75 for cash customers and $1.71 for non-resident EZ Pass customers.

Rockaway residents also have the option of purchasing tokens, which cost $1.54 per trip.

Residents will pay the reduced rates for each of the first two trips across the bridge however, subsequent trips taken in the same day on the same E-Z Pass tag will continue to be rebated to the account under the Cross Bay Resident Rebate program.

Council member Eric Ulrich (R- Ozone Park) says his constituents, already struggling in a difficult economic climate, are being unfairly taxed. “I am outraged by the MTA’s most recent attempt to balance their books on the backs of Broad Channel and Rockaway residents,” declared Ulrich. “The MTA must get serious about its own inefficiencies and poor accounting practices before they reach into the pockets of people just trying to travel around their own community.”

The rebate plan only applies to passenger vehicles and not to commercial trucks, motorcycles, taxis, buses or limousines. The change in service was approved by the MTA Board in March and is intended to help the beleaguered agency close a nearly $800 million budget deficit.

In 2009, 3.6 million trips were taken by residents participating in the Cross Bay Resident Rebate program.

Ulrich Tours FDNY Training Center



Council Member Eric A. Ulrich (R- Queens) recently toured the New York City Fire Academy at Randall’s Island to get a firsthand look at the training exercises that prepare firefighters for a wide range of emergencies across the five boroughs.

The academy is situated on 27 acres on Randall’s Island near the RFK Bridge. Informally known as “The Rock,” the site includes training space for simulations of incidents such as high-rise, house and store-front fires, subway accidents, automobile wrecks and fires, construction accidents and confined-space rescues.

In addition, the training facility features classrooms, physical fitness facilities and a heavy-duty storm draining system to accommodate water runoff from fire simulations. During the tour, Ulrich also took time to pay tribute to the 343 fallen 9/11 heroes at the memorial dedicated to FDNY members who died as a result of the terrorist attacks. The tour was arranged by Rockaway resident and FDNY Battalion Chief William Mundy.

Ulrich said, “This was truly an eye-opening experience that confirms what I’ve always believed - that a well trained and well funded fire department is crucial to the safety of all New Yorkers. I applaud the Bureau of Training and the three FDNY units which operate at the academy for their exemplary work in training the many men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our great city.”

Battalion Chief Thomas Robson, Executive Officer of the Bureau of Training said, “What we try to do with training is look at where we have lost firefighters and mimic the kinds of things you find in different types of fires and emergencies. We have a training school that I truly believe is unmatched anywhere in the country.”

Senate Passes Legislation to Help Homeowners and Veterans

Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) announced the passage of two new pieces of legislation - one aimed at helping veterans who are budding entrepreneurs and another for homeowners struggling due to the recession.

Addabbo, who is a member of the Senate Veterans Committee, said the first legislation will aid veterans who desire to own businesses in their community.

“This new law will increase meaningful participation of veterans in starting and maintaining a business in New York State.” he said. “Due to medical advances and technology, many veterans with injuries have been able to play active roles in their communities.”

Under the legislation, the Division of Veterans Affairs would be required to provide veterans with resources to aid in entrepreneurship in conjunction with the NYS Small Business Development Center.

The second legislation gives homeowners facing foreclosure the right to take action against lenders who fail to “meet the obligation of entering into a good faith agreements during settlement negotiations.”

“No community is immune from being a victim of foreclosures,” Addabbo said. “I am hopeful that this bill will provide the much needed, common sense protection many people seek from unfortunate, and sometimes unintended, financial situations.”

According to a study conducted by the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, of the nearly 800 settlement conferences they studied in 2009 in New York City courts, only three percent resulted in any kind of settlement.

Under the legislation, during a settlement conference, lenders would be required to appear with authority to execute a settlement with the homeowner, negotiate in good faith and meet any deadline for the production of documents or evidence.
The new legislation also outlines penalties for lenders who fail to meet the requirements. After the second time a lender fails, a homeowner automatically makes a motion for an order to dismiss the foreclosure action, unless they waive their right in writing. After the third time, the court grants the defendant’s motion unless the lender can show good cause.

Queens has been hit particularly hard with foreclosures since the recession began. According to the senator’s office, within his district, Woodhaven had one of the highest foreclosure rates.

“Lowering the alarming rate of foreclosures and helping families in Queens to save their homes and even their communities remain priorities for me in order to build the foundation for a lasting, sustainable economic recovery,” said Addabbo.

Legislation regarding veterans has been sent to the Governor for approval and the bill geared towards homeowners has been sent to the Assembly for approval.

Clear. Concise. Correct. Remembering Queen's Bob Sheppard


By Eric Yun

Robert Leo “Bob” Shep- pard, longtime public ad- dress announcer for the New York Yankees, passed away Sunday morning. He was 99 years old.

"The Voice of God," as Reggie Jackson described him, was born in Ridgewood on October 12, 1910. He began his career with the Yankees on April 17, 1951. From Mickey Mantle to Derek Jeter, Sheppard introduced players for more than 50 years. Sheppard was also the public address announcer for the New York Giants football team from 1956-2005.

In 2007, when a bronchial infection forced Sheppard to miss the home opener, Jeter requested a recording of Sheppard to ensure no other man would announce his name at Yankee Stadium.

Sheppard was much more then a public address announcer. He was a very good athlete who played semi-professional football. He also served in the Navy during World War II.

Most importantly, Sheppard was a dedicated teacher. Before World War II he taught at Grover Cleveland High School. After serving in the war, Shepard was a speech teacher and chairman of the speech department at John Adams High School. He worked at John Adams for nearly 30 years from the mid 1940s to the early 1970s. He later became a speech professor for his alma mater, St. John's University.

Some of Sheppard's many honors and awards include the William J. Slocum "Long and Meritorious Service" Award from the New York chapter of the BBWAA, "Pride of the Yankees" award from the New York Yankees.

The funeral is planned for Thursday at 10:45 a.m. at St. Christopher's Church in Baldwin

Proposed Legislation to Reimburse Veterans

New legislation proposed by Rep. Anthony Weiner called the First Responder Reimbursement Act aims to help public safety workers called up to active duty.

According to a report by Weiner (D-Forest Hills), city police officers, firefighters and municipal workers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have missed more than 912,000 days of work since 2001.

“Dozens of New York families have lost loved ones in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Weiner said. “But all New Yorkers have paid in economic price for this foreign policy folly.”

City taxpayers have shelled out $148 million in salaries for municipal workers deployed overseas, according to the report which analyzed city payroll data.

According to Weiner, when city employees are called up for active duty, they forfeit their regular paychecks for military
paychecks which are often less money.

In an effort to help those employees from experiencing financial hardship, the city has established a program to make up the difference in income. Those called to active duty would refund the city the lesser of the two paychecks, allowing them to keep the higher of the two.

Under the proposed act, the federal government would reimburse state or local governments for losses incurred when a city employee, who works in public safety or as a first responder and serves active duty for more than 30 days.

BY THE NUMBERS
•912,862: days of work missed while on military leave by city employees since 9/11.
•$164,307,597: amount paid to city employees on leave since the war began
•396: number of city employees currently on leave.

Source: Report by Anthony Weiner

Review of Lone Aqueduct Bid Continues

By Eric Yun

Genting New York is continuing to move forward with plans to build and operate video lottery terminals (VLTs) at Aqueduct race track in Ozone Park, but still has many hurdles to clear.

Genting New York, a subsidiary of one of Asia's largest casino and resorts operators, is the only remaining bidder for the project. SL Green and Penn National Gaming also submitted bids in June, which were rejected by New York Lottery because the two companies attempted to renegotiate the terms to be more favorable.

As the lone bidder, Genting has begun to release their plans for the "racino" project. Besides the 4,500 VLTs, Genting has planned many amenities for the facility. These include a two-story food court, a spacious area that could be used for community and corporate events and shuttle busses to John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport.

New York Lottery is reviewing Genting's bid, and will have a final recommendation for the state by August 3.

This is the fourth time companies have vied for the right to operate VLTs at Aqueduct. In two of the previous attempts, Delaware North was selected, but they were forced to withdraw after failing to raise the $370 million up front fee they promised to the state.

Most recently, in June 2009, Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG) was selected for the project. The deal fell apart, however, after an investigation by the state inspector general, which is still ongoing, and charges of political favoritism.

As state Inspecter General Joseph Fisch continues to probe for more information regarding AEG's controversial selection, the company is not sitting idly. Last week, AEG filed a motion in New York Supreme Court requesting the right to sue New York Lottery and Govenor David Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Conference Leader John Sampson and Senate President Malcolm Smith.

In their motion filed in court, AEG claimed their rejection was "a result of the arbitrary, capricious, unauthorized and discriminatory actions taken against [us]."

Among their complaints is a claim that Assembly Speaker Silver demanded detailed financial information from passive investors who were not directly involved with the project, "nearly a year after the bidding process." They also claim the state did not "provide AEG adequate notice of important deadlines ... or afforded AEG an opportunity to be heard on Lottery's denial of its license application or the Governor's single-handed rescission of the Aqueduct contract."

"We seek a temporary restraining order until we have a hearing or trial," said Daryl Davis, one of the lawyers representing AEG, according to a report published in Crain's New York Business.

If a judge sides with AEG, the Aqueduct project may be put on hold again as the state deals with the litigation.

Another major concern for any bidders on the Aqueduct "racino" is the possibility of a casino from the Shinnecock Indians. They were granted federal recognition as a tribe after a 32-year battle, which paves the way for them to open a casino with video slots but no table games—on their land in the Hamptons.

However, The New York Times reported the state is hesitant to open a casino in the Hamptons because of already existing tourism traffic and are exploring sites in New York City. The Shinnecock Indians are hoping to gain land and permission to build a full casino with table games. Such a casino might be a deathblow to VLTs at Aqueduct.

As the process to create VLTs at Aqueduct race track drags on, there are some who question if VLTs are the best option for Aqueduct.

Undoubtedly, gambling at Aqueduct with VLTs would help revitalize Aqueduct and bring millions of dollars in revenue for the winning bidder and the state.

Hugh O'Neil, writing for Center for an Urban Future, argues that the 192 acres of land could be better utilized.

O'Neil believes New York would be better served by using the land to build an "airport city" that thrives because of its proximity to JFK Airport. He cites many cities such as Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver that have partnered with their airports to build commercial developments.

Other cities have much more available land, O'Neil acknowledges, but he believes the city and state could do better with what they have. New York City has begun developing areas around the Jamaica AirTran station. The Aqueduct property, with even more land, holds an opportunity for "low- to medium- density development (such as office buildings, distribution facilities, hotels or a conference center) and still have plenty of room left for community uses," according to O'Neil's report.

For now, New York Lottery and Genting are hoping that they will be able to operate VLTs at Aqueduct race track. Representa- tives from Genting will hold a public meeting with Community Board 10 on Thursday, July 16, at 6 P.M. to discuss their plans with the public.

Ridgewood Theatre for Sale - Again


By Tamara Best

On Myrtle Avenue, an iconic landmark sits dark and vacant as it awaits the next chapter of its long and storied history.

The Ridgewood Theatre, considered the longest running theater in the nation before closing in 2008, is now on the market for $3.4 million. The theatre is listed exclusively with Massey Knakal Realty Services.

“Given the location, sheer size and proximity of it makes it desirable for many different uses,” said Thomas Donovan, with Massey Knakal. “The zoning is very flexible and it’s an underserved community with the potential of something special.”

While it is unclear what will happen to the space, one theater enthusiast is weighing in on what he would like to see the theater become. “I would love to see it open as a performing arts center and retaining the cultural and architectural structure,” said Michael Perlman, chairman of Friends of The Ridgewood Theatre. “It would pay tribute to such a gem while serving the outlying community. A performing arts center would also help create much needed jobs in the community.”

The three-story, 53,238-square-foot building first opened in December 1916 and was designed by famed architect Thomas W. Lamb to serve Ridgewood and surrounding neighborhoods. Perlman says that as cinema evolved, the theater served as one of the vehicles through which the evolution of film became visible.

Over the years the theater showed Down To The Sea In Ships (1923) and Lights of New York (1928), the first all-talking movie, among other classic films.

“It was one of the earlier theaters in the state to show movies in Technicolor,” said Perlman.

In 2008, the theater abruptly closed its doors and signs advertising it as retail space were hung across the marquee.

“I was stunned and very disheartened when it closed in 2008,” Perlman said. “I didn’t want another historic theater to shutter and go through demolition.”

Since then, the theater has remained closed. In 2009, the owner announced that theater would re-open, with three screens on the upper level and shops on the first level, according to cinematreasures.org. However, those plans fell through and the cinema has remained vacant.

In January 2010, the Landmark Preservation Commission voted unanimously to designate the outside fa├žade of the building as a landmark. Perlman, who spearheaded that effort, is also working with The Friends of the Ridgewood Theater to have the inside designated as a landmark.

Whatever the outcome, Perlman said he hopes that “traces of history” from the theater won’t be erased.

“It merits preservation, creative adoptive reuse,” he said. “It deserves far better.”

Green Market Opens at Elmhurst Hospital


By Tamara Best

The aroma of fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers greeted customers as they made their way to the opening day of the Greenmarket outside Elmhurst Hospital Center.

“I think the market is wonderful. We should eat more healthy, I know I should,” said Eileen McMahon of Corona during a visit on Tuesday morning.

A program of Grow NYC, the market is located on 41st Avenue between 80th and 81st streets and is celebrating its 34th year. Many of the farmers present at the market drive from upstate New York and other neighboring states to sell their merchandise. Approximately 15 merchants were on hand selling fresh goods and said that they are excited for this season’s market.

“The corn is flying, which is surprising,” said Greg Lebak with Lebak Farms, who has participated for 21 years. “People know our corn so when they see it, they buy it— I’m excited.” Lebak said he first heard about the market from a friend and decided to give it a try. With good sales, he says he continues to return each year.

A worker with Sun Fed Beef, which is participating for its second year, said they are hopeful that this year will also be a success.
“People really like fresh food, vegetables,” he said. “But trying to get people to buy frozen beef on the way to work is a little more difficult.”

Olga Perez, who works for Elmhurst Hospital, said she heard about the market and decided to step outside to browse over the selection.

“I think it looks great, I’m looking for anything that’s good. Everything is fresh.”

City Council Member Daniel Dromm (D-Rego Park) hailed the market as something that “benefits everyone” by creating a healthier eating options for the community while providing an income for farmers.

Greenmarket began in 1976 and now has over 50 locations across the city. The market will be held every Tuesday in Elmhurst through November 23. In an effort to accommodate all customers the market is accepting EBT/Food Stamps, WIC and Senior FMNP coupons.

Eyesore Lands Owner in Court


By Tamara Best

On 69th Avenue between Kessel and Juno streets in Forest Hills, all the homes have perfectly manicured lawns, except one. For years, neighbors have watched as the house at 93-07 has gradually fallen into disrepair.

Broken windows, tattered doors and overgrown shrubbery are just a few of the problems residents on the block cite about the home.

“There’s no question it’s a problem,” said Maria Frankel, 74, who lives next door. “The roof is ready to collapse. You can smell the odor standing by the door. It scares me to live next to a house like that, I have nightmares.” Gertrude DiCapua, 85, who has lived in the neighborhood for 50 years, said she estimates that the home has been abandoned for the last 25 years.

Now, Stanley Sun of Flushing, the owner of the home, is due in court next month after it was deemed “unsafe” by the city Department of Buildings (DOB). Sun took over ownership of the house after his mother Nancy Chao Sun died in 2007.

Jen Gilbert of the DOB said there are several criteria used to decide whether an owner can be taken to court, including whether or not the house is open, vacant or unguarded.

“Because of the Sun’s family repeated failure to take action, DOB has stepped in,” said Gilbert. “If the judge declares the building is inadequate, the city will make sure that whatever action is needed and will be repaired at the owner’s expense.”

However, Gilbert said the house doesn’t pose an imminent threat at this time. Between now and next month, the DOB plans to visit the house for a site survey with the findings discussed at the hearing. After an inspection last week, the DOB recommended that the house sealed after a rear door was found open.

A review of DOB records shows that the house has acquired 16 complaints going as far back as 1995. Complaints for the property included excessive debris, improper drainage and several for failure to maintain and for being open and unguarded. among others.

The property also received several violations from the DOB over the years including several for “failure to maintain exterior building wall.” In September 1999 and again in May of this year, the building was deemed unsafe.

DiCapua said neighbors have made petitions over the years in an attempt to see a change, with little happening.

“We’ve been at this for years trying to get someone to do something,” she said.

It now appears that residents will receive support from at least one local elected official. “That house has to be put into livable conditions, I understand that the roof is in disrepair,” said City Council Member Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills). “I’m going to make sure that it doesn’t go on for a long time. Unfortunately no one looked at it but I am going to see it through.”

Tired of seeing the house in disrepair, DiCapua decided to pitch in. For the last few years, she has collected the mail from the house, which often sits in piles on the steps.

“I usually go to tidy it up,” she said. “But right now it’s so hot I can’t. When I see it needs it, I’ll do it. I want the block to look nice.”

Frankel said aside from the hazard the home poses to her property, it is also hindering her ability to earn additional income.
“I’m trying to rent out the basement and I am having problems with possible tenants because people see it and think it’s my house and drive away.”

DiCapua said she hopes the hearing will bring some sort of permanent change.

“I came here in ‘64 and it was the best looking house on the block. Now it’s an eyesore.”

Several attempts to reach Sun were unsuccessful.

Costco Comes to Rego Park

By Tamara Best

Residents in Central Queens looking to buy groceries in bulk now have a new option with the recent opening in Rego Park Mall, located on Junction Boulevard.

And local residents at the store Monday said they are happy to welcome the big box retailer to the neighborhood.
“It’s very good, organized and the prices were good,” said Joe Polanco. “And the location is fantastic because I live around the corner.”

Raymond Tom said he is glad he no longer has to travel to other Costco locations to shop.

“It’s convenient, I used to go to the one in Long Island City. I tried out a new smoothie at the store. It’s good— and cheap too,” he said with a smile.

Though similar to other area locations the 136,000 square foot store will have slightly different merchandise and a larger selection of non-food items such as furniture.

“Rego Park is an absolute melting pot,” said Yoram Rubanenko, Costco’s VP of Operations for the Northeast. In an effort to serve its diverse population, the store is tailoring its food options.

The store features a larger kosher selection and bakery. Rubanenko added that the store will also feature foods popular in Asian, Indian and Hispanic communities. The store also features a one-hour photo center and fresh deli.

Rubanenko added that Rego Park was the perfect selection for a new Costco location.

“There are a lot of people in the area, the average income is good which supports our model and we’re drawing a lot of people out of that market that are traveling to Long Island City or Westbury,” he said. “The access to the area is amazing. And there are so many people who live there.”

As a part of the grand opening the store is selling high-end jewelry from Cartier. The store is open Monday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.