Thursday, September 18, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South

Board Holds Hearing on VFW Liquor License Request

Senator Releases List of Cleanest, Dirtiest Restaurants

Stolen Torahs Returned in Time for Holiday

KaBoom! Brings New Playground to HeartShare

Gang Activity Headlines Precinct Community Council Meeting

Man to be Sentenced for Brutal Park Muggings

Board Holds Hearing on VFW Liquor License Request

Neighbors Opposed to MV Hall’s Use of Yard

By Conor Greene

Members of a local VFW hall are seeking permission to extend its liquor license to allow drinking in an outside alley next to their Middle Village building, a proposal that has upset some neighbors.

A hearing on the request was held at last week’s Community Board 5 meeting. The proposal will now be discussed at the committee level before coming back to the full board for a vote at next month’s meeting.

However, Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said his group is meeting with both sides in hopes of reaching a compromise.

Members of Haspel Staab Post 551 on 60th Avenue are preparing to apply to the State Liquor Authority to extend the terms of their license so that alcohol can be consumed in a small paved yard next to their building, which separates the post from a house owned by Ralph DeSanto. He opposes the request because of disruptions to his quality of life he says parties at the VFW Hall have caused.

The hearing last Wednesday in Christ the King High School began with comments from attorney Thomas Monaghan, who is representing the VFW Hall in its request. He explained that the license would simply be extended to include the outdoor area, and that all existing rules governing drinking at the hall would continue to apply.

“All rules would apply to the outside, however no alcohol or activity will take place outside after 10 p.m. if they are against noise codes,” he said.

Holden, also a CB 5 member, asked why the group wasn’t going to keep the drinking inside, as has been done for decades. “As everybody in society knows, when people drink, they get louder – it is just the nature of the beast.” He noted the area is largely residential.

Monaghan responded that the members are only seeking to do what is allowed under state law. “The club respects the law – that’s why were here tonight,” he said, adding that the members have not yet filed the request with the state. “Ample statutes cover that problem,” he said of resident’s complaints that the members are loud late at night.

This response didn’t sit well with board member Lorraine Sciulli, who is also a JPCA member. “To say that after 10 p.m. it reverts to the noise code is a little disingenuous,” she said, since it is unlikely the city would send somebody immediately to investigate a noise complaint. “To bring drinking outside means to turn the whole neighborhood upside down.”

Michael Brown, post commander, spoke next and accused DeSanto and the JPCA of providing a “misleading account” of the member’s activities and intentions. “This is an affront to all veterans,” he said. “We have been relegated to second class citizens... not afforded the chance to defend ourselves.” He said that the post asked for a list of complaints that the JPCA received, but never heard back.

Longtime post member Tom Lynch called DeSanto’s opposition “a crusade against us” and said he has “lost sight of the noise problem and is now consumed with one object – destroying the lives and ideals of the very men and women who defended the country in wars.”

Neighbor Linda Mullins, who has lived across the street for 17 years, accused DeSanto of misleading neighbors who signed a petition against the VFW’s request. “Ralph DeSanto had a personal dispute on Memorial Day and in retaliation is going around slandering the VFW,” she said. Some neighbors who signed the petition “didn’t understand the circumstances and were not given all the facts,” she alleged. “This is not a community issue, but a personal issue.”

However, DeSanto, the next speaker, argued that it is in fact a “quality of life” issue. “Why should we be allowing the post to serve alcohol in the alley?” he said. “It is only going to increase the noise in the neighborhood. This is a residential area. We can’t sleep in our homes whenever they have these parties. It’s not twenty to thirty people – they fill the alley.”

He said that one event held last year featured a $20 admission that provided an open bar and was advertised online. He said it was “extremely noisy.”

His mother, Josephine DeSanto, 85, said she has lived in the house next to the hall for the past 46 years. “Mike Brown is lying,” she said, drawing a reaction from the post members and supporters in the crowd. “I’m glad they’re happy, but it bothers us... I support them, but there is no reason to drink in the alley.”

The final speaker was Victor DeSanto, whose window faces the alley. DeSanto is a former honorary member of the post, and some have claimed the backlash against the members is due at a falling out several years ago. “It’s only us [affected by the noise] which makes it so hard to understand,” he said. “We want peace. All I’m asking is for cooperation on both sides so we can resolve this.”

While the community board’s eventual vote regarding the proposal is simply advisory, Holden hopes the civic association can help both sides reach an agreeable solution in the coming weeks.


Other issues discussed at the board’s monthly session included problems along train tracks used by the Long Island Railroad and a freight company, road resurfacing, the Maurice Avenue sewer project and a request by the Woodhaven House for a sidewalk cafe.

Train Track Growth and Smelly Garbage

District Manager Gary Giordano reported that he is trying to get the LIRR and New York and Atlantic Railway to clear overgrown trees and shrubs from along areas near roads and sidewalks. He said that Donna Rypkema, who was struck by a falling tree while walking along Myrtle Avenue near Fresh Pond Road three weeks ago, is slowly improving.

“There is a lot of growth along the line,” said Giordano, adding that the LIRR officials say that NY and Atlantic is responsible for removing it. “If it is along a line they share, [it’s not clear] whose responsibility it is,” he said on Tuesday. “If it is along the freight line, I certainly get the impression that it’s Atlantic’s responsibility to maintain that.”

Giordano said he is also trying to get verification from LIRR that the agency has been testing the structural integrity of trestles that cross over roads. “We want to make sure they’re in good condition,” he said. He said bridges of concern include ones at Myrtle Avenue and Fresh Pond Road, Cypress Hills Street between Central and Shaler avenues and 65th Street near Shaler Avenue.

“I’m reasonably confident those bridges are inspected with regularity and are structurally sound, but I want to hear it from LIRR,” said Giordano. “There is a lot of back and forth movement [of trains at those locations].”

Another big issue for residents is trains carrying garbage through the area from Long Island. They are supposed to be covered and sealed, but the community board had received several complaints about strong odors coming from the train.

Giordano urged residents to call with any additional complaints. “It does get trucks off the street” but creates a new problem with smell, he said. “It is an ongoing issue and I need all the help I can get,” he told the board and residents.

On Tuesday, he said he hadn’t received any additional complaints. “I’m hoping that whoever their customer out east is has gotten newer containers that are sealed for the storage of this solid waste, or that the seals were replaced.”

Area Road Projects

A number of local roads are being resurfaced, with most of the milling work complete, according to Giordano. Projects include Forest Avenue between Metropolitan and Myrtle avenues, Maspeth Avenue from Maurice Avenue to 61st Street, Cypress Hills Street from Fresh Pond Road to the Jackie Robinson Parkway and Central Avenue from Myrtle Avenue to 73rd Place.

Another major project is the installation of a sewer line and box sewer beneath Maurice Avenue. “We’re hoping that will alleviate some flooding in that neck of Maspeth,” said Giordano. “We’ve been lucky in the past year, but the real test will come when we get two or three inches of rain in an hour.”

He said that a consultant hired by the Department of Design and Construction recently told him that the $5 million project, which will extend between 54th to 56th avenues, will start in early October. “That’s a big concession we got, that they’ll do Maurice at night,” said Giordano.

The project also includes a major reconstruction of 54th Avenue between Maurice and 58th avenues, including new sewer lines, water mains, concrete base beneath the pavement and sidewalks. “It’s not a tremendously long stretch, but it is a lot of work,” he said. “Maurice is a flat out sewer job.” Work along 54th Avenue will take place between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. The entire project is expected to take a year to complete, according to the DDC.

Woodhaven House Sidewalk Cafe

The board unanimously approved an application by the Woodhaven House restaurant in Rego Park for 28 outdoor tables along Woodhaven Boulevardand Fleet Court. There will be no amplified music, and the board requested that hours be limited to 11 p.m. during the week and until midnight on weekends. However, the application calls for keeping the tables open an hour later.

The tables will take up about half of the 15-foot-wide sidewalks, with 12 tables along the boulevard and 14 along Fleet Court. Board member Tom Rossi noted that the building was rundown until the restaurant opened and said it is “good for the community.”

Senator Releases List of Cleanest, Dirtiest Restaurants

By Conor Greene

A Forest Hills Chinese restaurant has been included on a state senator’s list of the city’s dozen filthiest establishments, while an Italian restaurant in Ridgewood has been included on the dozen cleanest dining spots.

State Senator Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) released a report called “Enough to Make You Sick: An Analysis of Unsanitary Conditions at NY City Restaurants.” Using data supplied by the city Department of Health, Klein released two lists: the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Sparkling Twelve.”

New Chopstick House at 102-09 Queens Boulevard was ranked fifth-worst in terms of the city’s worst offending restaurants on the list issued this week by the senator. It received a score of 100 on its most recent health inspection, well above the 28-point threshold for failing. Among the infractions were mice and cockroaches. It was the only Queens restaurant included on the list.

In contrast, Corato Pizza II at 60-91 Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood was among the city’s cleanest establishments, according to the senator. Other Queens restaurants on the “Sparking Twelve” list are Russo’s On the Bay in Howard Beach, Sripraphai Thai Restaurant in Woodside, Primo Amore in Bayside and McDonalds on Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill.

“It is inexcusable that the Department of Health does not have an adequate system in place to alert consumers to restaurants with failing sanitation records,” said Klein, who is sponsoring legislation requiring restaurants to post a letter grade A through F alerting consumers of their inspection status.

“The public has a right to know that the restaurant they’re eating at may have more on the menu than tasty cuisine,” he said. “Having a letter grade posted for all diners to see will provide an incentive for restaurants to clean up their act. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to eat at an establishment with an ‘F’ hanging in the doorway.”

Klein’s report studied the restaurants that had the 100 worst inspection reports among the approximately 20,000 establishments citywide. Of the bottom 100 restaurants, 87% had at least one category of pest cited in their most recent inspection. Almost half of those had at least two categories cited, and 12% were cited for three pest categories. Of the bottom 100, 59% were allowed to remain open despite the pest control issues.

“Restaurant discipline and the commitment to proper sanitation and food safety have clearly broken down when an establishment finds itself juggling multiple pest infestation,” said Klein. “Whether New Yorkers are dining out for a routine meal or a special occasion, their only reservations should be to book a table.”

Michael Cerbone, owner of Corato Pizza II, said his establishment has won the city’s Golden Apple award - issued to restaurants that score especially well on the health inspection - three years in a row. “It’s all about hard work for the safety of the customers, and keeping the food to the maximum safety,” he said. “That’s why we got the award.”

A woman who answered the phone at New Chopstick House was unable to comment due to a language barrier.

Stolen Torahs Returned in Time for Holiday

By Conor Greene

Eight Torahs stolen last month from a local Jewish synagogue were returned to the congregation this week, in time for Rosh Hashanah.

The Torahs were stolen from the Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills last month, with shocked congregants making the discovery during Saturday services. It was immediately suspected to be an inside job, since the scriptures were kept under lock and key.

On September 3, the temple’s live-in custodian, Eric Giraldo, and a friend, Alan Lozano, were charged in the theft after the Torahs were found in a closet in Lozano’s home. The men have been charged with grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property. They face up to 15 years in prison and are due back in court this Thursday.

During the NYPD’s annual High Holy Days meeting at One Police Plaza on Tuesday, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown joined NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly in returning the Torahs to the Jewish center in time for the holidays.

“Ten days ago – at the time of the Torahs’ recovery – I said that we would make every effort, consistent to with our need to have the Torahs available for the prosecution of the case, to have them returned to the Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills in time for Rosh Hashanah,” said Brown. “I am delighted that we have now been able to accomplish that goal.”

Joining Brown and Kelly at the meeting was the temple’s honorary president, Alan Gerard, the NYPD’s Chief Chaplin Rabbi Dr. Alvin Kass and the temple’s president, Meredith Deckler.

Photo: Queens District Attorney Richard Brown (foreground, left) joins Kew Gardens Hills Jewish Center Honorary President Alan Gerard, NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, NYPD Chief Chaplain Rabbi Doctor Alvin Kass and temple President Meredith Deckler at One Police Plaza. In the background are members of the NYPD’s Shomrim Society (the fraternal organization of Jewish members of the NYPD) holding the recovered Torahs.

KaBoom! Brings New Playground to HeartShare in Howard Beach

WaMu is Funding Partner for Project

By Patricia Adams

Carol Verdi, Vice President of Educational Services for HeartShare Human Services says she remembers the first time she got a call from KaBOOM! They were looking for non- profit organizations to build playgrounds for when Verdi informed the caller that they had to look no further.

Since then KaBOOM! has built three playgrounds for HeartShare, one in Bensonhurst at the St. Finbar Complex, another in Richmond Hill at the HeartShare Pre-School and finally, last Saturday at the Howard Beach site which houses a pre-school program for children with special needs and a Universal Pre-K.

For the Howard Beach site, HeartShare put in an application and was partnered with Washington Mutual as their funding partner. Both HeartShare and WaMu each brought more than 100 volunteers. The day kicked off around 9AM and went until 2:30 when the playground was completed. Additionally there was a prep day on the Thursday before the build.

According to Verdi, HeartShare has been “very blessed to get involved with KaBOOM!” “Not only did they organize and help with the playground, they also serve to oversee the fostering of a strong relationship between the community, its needs and local business,” Verdi said. “There are so many people we have to thank. ConEd sent out crews of men with heavy equipment to dig the holes and prepare the ground for the playground installation. Merchants from the boulevard donated food and water. It was just unbelievable.”

Among those who supplied food and beverages for the day were Ragtime Gourmet, Sapienza, Carosello, Beach Bagels, Waldbaums, Councilman Joe Addabbo and Pepsi. Angelo Gurino, owner of Ragtime, who supplied breakfast for the hundreds of volunteers, said, “Anytime we have the opportunity to do something for the kids of this community, we try to get it done.”

The day started for the volunteers at around 9 AM with breakfast being supplied by said Gurino. For the remainder of the morning and well into the afternoon, play structures were assembled and put into place, cement was poured, engineered wood fiber was put in around the play equipment for children’s safety, and planter benches were constructed. A DJ was on hand throughout the day to provide entertainment.

The new playground will provide more than 90 children daily with a safe place to play. The play space is one of more than two hundred KaBOOM! will lead across the country this year in an effort to provide a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America.

HeartShare Human Services of New York is celebrating its 94th year, as a nonprofit organization that assists more than 17,000 New Yorkers. Its wide spectrum of services provides counseling, after-school programs and assistance with foster care and adoption to children and families, supports people affected by HIV/AIDS, and administers energy assistance programs. It also helps individuals with developmental disabilities through numerous programs including childhood services, adult day programs, residential services, case management, recreation programs, family support services, and health services. KaBOOM! is a national nonprofit organization that has the vision that every child in

America should have a playground within walking distance of their homes. Over the past ten years, innovators at KaBOOM! have employed a community-build model that brings together the interests of the community and local business. Together these successful community partnerships have been responsible for the building of over 1,000 new playgrounds, skate parks, sports fields and ice rinks across North America.

“KaBOOM! has a wonderful mission which puts children and their needs before everything else. They have really made dreams come true for us. I can’t say enough good things about them,” said Verdi. “I think the biggest thing for us is that it not only offers the ability for the children to develop their growth motor skills and it also gives them opportunities for socialization and language development. The most important thing is to have fun.”

For those communities who wish to build a new playground on their own, KaBOOM! has made a wide variety of resources available. The organization has a strong online community, offers training on a regional and national basis and offers both grants and publications to potential playground builders.

If you would like more information on HeartShare Human Services or KaBOOM! You can visit their websites at Or

Gang Activity Headlines Precinct Community Council Meeting

Gang Activity on the Rise, Capt. Pledges Long-Term Take Down Operation

By Nicole Turso

Police at the 106th Precinct say gang activity is on the rise in South Ozone Park.

Captain Joseph Courtesis, the precinct's commanding officer, would give only limited details on the police investigation at the crowded 106th Precinct Community Council meeting last Wednesday, but said it would be a “long-term take down operation”.

Capt. Courtesis has alerted the Queens borough-wide gang command to the increase in gang-related crimes, to which residents attribute violence and drug-activity in the neighborhood.

Residents of 106th Street also complained about recent shootings and stabbings on their block. One resident who lives of the block lamented that she and other neighbors are afraid they might have to sell their homes if the situation doesn’t improve.

Capt. Courtesis said the precinct is making strides with their investigation and
two arrests have been made in connection with a shooting on 106th Street before the summer. The district’s crime rates, however have been on the rise. CompStat statistics of the 106th Precinct obtained from the New York City Police Department website show murder complaints in the precinct have more than doubled in the last year. Rape and Grand Larceny complaints have also increased since 2007.

Noise Complaints

Capt. Courtesis said the precinct is “aggressively pursuing” noise complaints throughout the district, citing 159 summonses issued from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Roughly 300 alcohol related summonses were issued at these locations.

With 11 block parties on Labor Day alone, the precinct has made a big dent in noise problems over the summer; with complaints down 26 percent over Memorial Day weekend, and 15 percent from Memorial Day through Labor Day since last year.

Commercial Vehicles

“Commercial vehicles parking on residential streets overnight have been a growing problem this year,” said Capt. Courtesis.

A truck enforcement team sent out from the precinct in conjunction with efforts by the Department of Transportation, issued 1,440 summonses to illegally parked commercial vehicles — up 842 from the previous year. Some commercial vehicles, including 40-foot tractor-trailers, were booted and towed.

101st Street Parking Complaints

Residents of 101st Street off of Rockaway Boulevard in South Ozone Park complained of teachers at John Adams High School and parishioners of the local church parking in driveways and narrow spots in front of houses.

Courtesis said he understood the inconvenience, however, explained that both John Adams High School and M.S. 137 let out approximately 4,000 students per day at the same time during the school year; making students the main priority of the officers on duty.

88th Street Vandalism

Residents of 88th Street came to the 106th Precinct Community Council meeting in full-force to raise concerns of vandalism on their block in Ozone Park.

Residents say neighbors put garbage pails in front of their house to save parking spots, as the block is centrally located by the A-train 88th Street/Boyd Avenue Station.

Residents of one particular house vandalize the cars of those who move the garbage pails, said those in attendance at the meeting, citing the shooting of BBs through car windows and mustard being thrown on cars. Residents have tried calling both 911 and 311 with no results.

Courtesis said he would need “probable cause” to take action, but wrote down the address of those allegedly causing the damage to property and said he would look into the legal action that can be taken. “I promise you I will punish them to whatever extent that I can,” Courtesis said.

Man to be Sentenced for Brutal Park Muggings

String of Attacks Killed One, Left Another in a Coma

By Conor Greene

A Queens teenager will be sentenced next month for his role in a series of violent muggings in Flushing Meadows Park which left one man dead and another in a coma.

Yovanni Rivera, 19, who was living on the streets of Corona at the time of the robberies, will be sentenced on October 6 after pleading in Queens Criminal Court last week to second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder. He will likely receive a sentence of 25 years to life, according to District Attorney Richard Brown.

An accomplice in several of the robberies, Marcos Polanco, 19, of 43rd Avenue in Corona, pled guilty to first-degree robbery in March and is expected to receive 20 years in prison when he is sentenced next Friday, said Brown.

As part of a pattern of muggings in late 2006 that left residents shaken, Rivera approached Carlos Flores, 40, of Ridgewood as he was walking alone through the park on December 4 and robbed him of $20 cash and a MetroCard before hitting him numerous times with and legs and gashes to the back of his head.

The body of Flores, an immigrant from Ecuador, was found the following morning half-submerged in a park pond near the Long Island Expressway.

In the second brutal attack, Rivera and Polanco approached 33-year-old Ja Woo Park while he was jogging near the Unisphere on the evening of December 25. The men punched, kicked and stomped him, causing severe head trauma before robbing him of cash and the keys to his 2007 Honda van.

Park, a student from Little Neck, was not identified until several weeks after the attack before his family members, who were in South Korea at the time, returned home to Queens and identified him. Park remains in a coma, and under the plea agreement Rivera won’t get additional prison time if his victim dies.

The break in the case came after investigators linked the Honda, found torched on the Horace Harding Expressway, back to Park through the registration. Rivera was badly burned while setting the vehicle on fire, according to authorities. Polanco was arrested at his home after being linked to the crimes after he used the victim’s credit cards.

“The defendant was involved in a string of brutal muggings in and around Flushing Meadow Park that left one man dead and another severely injured and in a coma,” said Brown. “The defendant’s admission of guilt ensures that he is held responsible for his actions and that he will serve a lengthy prison sentence.”

Police say Rivera was known as “Nyquil” because of his ability to knock somebody out with a single punch. The defendants told authorities that the robbed the victims for food money. They were initially charged in four attacks, but were believed to be responsible for as many as ten that took place in the park, including several using the machete.

“Residents of our community should not have to fear being brutally attacked or robbed by thugs whenever they enter one of our parks,” said Brown after the men were arrested. “Those who would commit such heinous crimes are put on notice that my office will vigorously prosecute cases involving attacks on park-goers to the fullest extent of the law.”