Thursday, July 2, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

Relay for Life 2009: Middle Village

By Patricia Adams

Middle Village was a hangout for Superheroes this weekend, as the neighborhood hosted its 7th Annual Relay for Life. The theme for this years event—Superheroes, defined as “fictional characters of unprecedented powers, dedicated to acts of derring-do in the public interest". While the term may conjure up images like Superman, Wonder Woman, Iron Man or Spiderman, Juniper Valley Park was filled with real heroes this weekend - the cancer survivors that came out to celebrate their personal victories over the disease and to remember friends and loved ones lost to the disease.

The survivors were joined by throngs of caregivers and supporters, friends and family members who formed teams to walk the running track through the weekend, raising money in support of the American Cancer Society (ACS).

And in the crowds of people there were real life heroes—the stories of their triumphant struggles against the life-threatening disease and the people that helped them in their quest.

There was Margaret Browne of Masepth. Two years ago, the Maspeth Federal Savings employee was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Now she is cancer-free, back at work at Maspeth Federal Savings and in remission according to family members who were busy setting up loaves of Irish soda bread, lemon muffins and a variety of baked goods for sale to benefit the ACS.
The team named “Margaret’s Miracles” formed in her honor was, according to Margaret’s daughter Catherine, named for the miracle of her cure and for the “extreme” family support that went into it. “We never treated her differently. We all went through this together,” Catherine said. “We went for chemo with her and we just did everything we had to. Together. And we got a miracle.”

And there were others. Now nine-years-old, Caroline Watters of Ozone Park was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, (AML), seven years ago. AML is a myeloid line of blood cells, in which rapidly growing abnormal white blood cells accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with "Haematopoiesis" the production of normal blood cells.

In need of a life saving bone marrow transplant, it was her sister Lisette, then 4, who was a perfect match. The successful procedure has left the sisters with the opportunity to share a lifetime of healthy years together.

Then there were those who came in memory of their loved ones. Lifelong Glendale resident Loretta DeVita passed away last year after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about nine months prior. Her granddaughters Shannon and Katie Hatton formed team “All About Me” in Loretta’s memory. Their team was comprised of 14 members each wearing t-shirts with one of the words the team offered up as the “advice and tools” needed to deal with cancer. Shannon came up with the clever concept using the words and her sister Katie served as the team’s co- captain with Michele Cimigoia.
Believe. Fight. Conquer. Laugh. Live. Remember. Endure. Hope. Strength. Cure. Faith. Courage. Celebrate. Love. Much more than words to the crowd gathered at Juniper Valley Park, the messages carried through offered inspiration and hope to everyone in the crowd.

Also inspiring was the total money raised for the event. A whopping $140,000 to support research, prevention and the myriad of support services offered by the ACS.

One of the corporate sponsors, Maspeth Federal Savings Bank, has been on board with the Relay since its inception. David Daraio, assistant vice president, spoke to the crowd at the opening ceremony. In an emotional moment, Daraio congratulated his community and provided some very reassuring information. “This community can count on Maspeth Federal Savings as a sponsor of this event for many years to come.”

Funding Allocated for St. Saviour's Reconstruction

Church to Become Community Center

By Conor Greene

The reconstruction of St. Saviour’s church can move forward now that nearly $2 million in city funds has been allocated for the effort, according to the Juniper Park Civic Association, which led the effort to prevent the historic building from being demolished.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall has allocated $1,450,000 in the city’s capital budget for the first phase of St. Saviour’s reconstruction and restoration, announced JPCA President Robert Holden at his group’s meeting last week. In addition, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) secured an additional $500,000. The church will be rebuilt on donated land in Middle Village for use as a community education, cultural and performance center that integrates aspects of “green technology.”

The church, designed by renowned architect Richard Upjohn, stood on a hill in Maspeth for 160 years until the owner of the Rust Street property decided last year to demolish the building and ready the site for development. With the church minutes away from the wrecking ball, Holden convinced to owner to give the JPCA one month to dismantle the building and remove it from the property. A group called Save St. Saviours, Inc. was created, and the 1847 Carpenter Gothic structure was painstakingly labeled and packed in two trailers for storage with assistance from experts including the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

While the JPCA also pushed for the city to preserve the St. Saviour’s property along with the building itself, officials were unwilling to pay $10 million for the land. Holden said that the civic group is “still trying to convince Mayor Bloomberg that the historic St. Saviour’s property in Maspeth” should be acquired for a public park. “Although it’s a long shot we have not given up hope in returning the church to its proper location.”

Instead, Dan Austin, president of All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village, has donated a small plot of land that is unsuitable for burials to serve as the building’s future home. Assuming the city doesn’t pursue acquisition of the Maspeth property, St. Saviour’s will be reassembled at 69th Street and Juniper Valley Road. “Juniper Civic has worked extremely hard to save St. Saviour’s for so long, and we would be honored to have such an historic building on our property,” said Austin.

At JPCA’s meeting last Thursday, Holden called allocation of the funding “a milestone” and reminded the crowd that “St. Saviour’s was just minutes – literally minutes – from demolition… We were all out there preparing for the worst, and then the miracle happened,” he said. He noted that there currently are no official landmarks or historic buildings in Maspeth or Middle Village. “This is fantastic news and another chapter in the miraculous story of St. Saviour’s,” he added in a statement released this week.

“I am pleased to lend this vital support to the Juniper Park Civic Association that provides frontline services to the residents of Queens and our city,” said Marshall.

Crowley noted that the funding came at a time when city council members had to work hard just to restore funding for critical services such as firehouses, education and libraries. “Furthermore, I am proud to announce that we were able to secure $500,000 to reassemble, restore and transform St. Saviour’s into a green and sustainable building,” she said. “This is a huge victory for the people of Queens, especially for those living in Maspeth and Middle Village.”

Under phase one, the new site will be graded and the building’s frame and roof will be reconstructed for use as an open air performing arts center. The exterior walls will be closed in and the interior will be finished during phase two, at which point the building will be available for use as a community center. According to Holden, phase one could begin as early as next spring, with the project taking up to three years to complete. In all, the two phases are expected to cost a total of $4 million.

Aqueduct Bids Move Forward; Senate Will Not Hamper Project

By Patricia Adams

In mid-April, Governor David Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced the reopening of a solicitation for proposals by interested entities seeking to be selected to build and operate the planned Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) facility at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.

The decision to reopen the bidding was a result of a collapsed deal with Delaware North Companies. Delaware had been selected by the State in October 2008 as the winning bidder and most observers felt Delaware's selection was predicated upon the company's proposed large “up front” payment which was due to the State at the end of March. Subsequently, Delaware was unable to come up with the money and the deal with the State fell apart.

The reopening of the bidding process required proposals to be submitted to the State by May 8th. Seven entities entered bids for the upcoming selection process. Below is a profile of the contenders for the bid which will be decided by August 1st. Governor Paterson has also announced that the facility must be fully operational by October 2011.

Aqueduct Entertainment Group, LLC is headed by Richard Mays, Sr. and proposes construction of three levels of gaming, a new parking structure, and a hotel. Its gaming partner is the Navegante Group which has developed casinos and gaming projects throughout the world. The company has a website which displays some renderings regarding the proposal at

Aqueduct Gaming, LLC is Delaware North and its gaming partner, Saratoga Racing and Gaming. Its plan calls for construction of a VLT gaming facility with ancillary space for restaurants and the like and a parking garage.

Development Associates, LLC, a subsidiary of Wynn Resorts led by Steve Wynn, proposes to construct the VLT facility along with a new entrance lobby and related amenities and a parking facility.

Peebles Corporation & MGM Mirage is headed by Florida real estate developer R. Donahue Peebles who was involved in the prior Delaware North project. Both Peebles and Delaware have confirmed he is not affiliated with the current Delaware proposal. Peebles also has a website where additional information is available at

Penn National Gaming, Inc. operates casino properties in Pennsylvania and also operates racetracks and associated OTB facilities. SL Green Realty Corp. in partnership with Hard Rock International is proposing a VLT facility, parking facility and new entrance lobby. Further phases of development could include a hotel, retail, and entertainment uses.

The seventh proposal was from Mohegan Sun but was essentially an offer to operate a VLT facility if the State constructed it.

Further information was due to the State last week from the entities seeking the franchise to be the State's VLT developer at Aqueduct. At this point it is unknown whether all did so.

As with the prior selection of Delaware North, the decision is in the hands of Albany's “three men in a room”: the Governor, the Assembly Speaker, and the Senate President Pro Tem. Some fear that recent events occurring in the State Senate's leadership may impact on the decision-making process now underway, although bidders in the process do not seem to think that they will be affected.

A spokesperson for the Peebles group told The Forum, “We have no indication from the state that there will be any change in the time frame established. We are moving ahead exactly as planned.”

Marissa Shorenstein, a spokesperson for the governor, said there are no expected delays because of the unrest in the state Senate.

Another bidder, SL Green is also proceeding with their plans to capture the bid in August. Executive Vice President Edward Piccinich explained his company’s thought on the pending deal.

"We realize that a project such as this has to be completed in as seamless and functional way as possible. For nearly two years, we've been working closely with NYRA, the local Queens community, and the state in refining our development proposal for Aqueduct, in order to ensure that we meet this goal. When completed, the SL Green / Hard Rock plan will create an entertainment destination for New York state, city, and the local community."

The winning bidder will pay the full amount of their proposed upfront franchise fee no later than ten business days following the execution of the Memorandum of Understanding(MOU) with the State.

Personal income tax bonds will be issued by the state through the Empire State Development Corporation in the amount of $250 million to finance eligible VLT project costs. The net amount borrowed would then be advanced to the selected bidder to be used for project capital costs incurred in the construction of a VLT facility at Aqueduct.

The VLT facility will be constructed by the selected VLT Vendor, who will be responsible for its design and construction subject to the terms of the MOU and applicable laws and regulations. Neither ESDC nor the State will be responsible for construction or cost overruns.

The State will enter into an agreement with the winning bidder for a fixed period of 30 years, with a possible 10-year extension based on the attainment of reasonable benchmarks that ensure satisfactory performance.

Ridgewood Reservoir Plans to be Presented in Fall

Survey, Meeting Results Released by Parks Dept.

By Conor Greene

The city Parks Department will release three conceptual plans for the future of Ridgewood Reservoir this fall, now that the results of public input generated through listening sessions and paper surveys have been released.

At a meeting Tuesday night in Oak Ridge, the findings of the March 30 and May 2 listening sessions was presented, along with the feedback of 253 paper surveys distributed at prior meetings and in parks. Using this information, landscape architect firm Mark K. Morrison Associates (MKM) will present the three plans to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe in late September. The plans will also be presented to community boards.

Under an agreement with city Comptroller William Thompson, one of the three plans must be dedicated to passive recreation, with no major development of the basins. The others will likely include athletic fields and other facilities for active recreation.

According to the combined results of the two listening sessions, residents favor construction of a boardwalk as their top choice for all three basins. The only options among the top three priorities for any of the basins that involve development was at basin three, where a nature center was the second choice, followed by recreational opportunities.

However, some audience members took exception with the paper surveys, questioning where they were distributed and why they weren’t handed out to all meeting participants or sent to local community boards. Also, some questioned why the results of a 2007 survey on Ridgewood Reservoir were not taken into consideration. Of the 253 paper survey respondents, 11% ranked baseball or softball fields as the highest priority in terms of the new facilities they would like build at the reservoir site.

Kevin Quinn, the department’s Queens team leader for capital projects, stressed that the surveys don’t take into account the wishes of every resident. “We didn’t go around and ask every single person in Queens what they want,” he said. “It’s not going to be statistically perfect, but I think it’s a good start… What I want to know is, do you disagree with the results?”

When asked why the 2007 survey was dismissed, Quinn said there were concerns that it was flawed or not thorough enough. “We spent a lot more time on this survey,” he said. Still, many in the room felt the prior results should also be taken into account. “To me, its mind boggling that you threw it out,” said Lou Widerka.

Ozone Park resident David Quintana also questioned the validity of the paper surveys, and accused Parks of using them to get the results they favored. “These surveys have no transparency at all,” he said.

Several others questioned whether those surveyed knew the questions pertained specifically to Ridgewood Reservoir, as opposed to the entire Highland Park property, which includes the reservoir along with existing ball fields that are in poor condition.

“I really feel there should have been a distinction between Highland Park and Ridgewood Reservoir because a lot of people don’t know about the reservoir,” said Woodhaven resident Maria Thompson. “If you wanted a survey of Highland Park, you should have made a survey on Highland Park.”

Quinn said that Parks saw this as a chance to also solicit information about Highland park in general. He said that that contract with MKM only pertains to the reservoir section, but that Parks is looking into the overall conditions of Highland Park.

Widerka and several others also argued that if the city would simply fix the existing fields at Highland Park, there would be no debate over whether or not the basins should be preserved. “If you fix Highland Park, there would be no issue of ballfields in the basins,” he said. “Fix Highland Park, preserve the reservoir and then everyone will be happy. It’s easy and here we are banging our heads against the wall.”

Vincent Arcuri, chairman of Community Board 5, said that the city needs to “bite the bullet” and look at the conditions at the existing fields. “We have not paid proper attention to Highland Park in recent years,” he said. “You ask anyone what’s needed at Highland Park and they’ll tell you the same thing – those fields are garbage.” Instead of building fields in the reservoir basins, Arcuri said Parks has to “be realistic” and address the existing fields.

Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who was represented at the meeting by Jeff Gottleib, and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who was in attendance, both said they don’t want the basins developed.

While the future of the actual basins remains up in the air, everyone seems to agree that the perimeter area around the basins is in need of upgrades to improve access and safety. As a result, contract bid documents for phase one work, which includes new fencing, lighting and pathways, will be completed by the end of the summer. If a contract is awarded by late fall, construction could begin in early winter 2010.

Residents Upset Over Homeless Shelter


By Conor Greene

A building on 58th Avenue in Elmhurst has been converted into a temporary homeless shelter and is ready to accept clients, to the dismay of neighbors who were not informed about the project and say it’s not appropriate for the residential area.

A large group of angry residents packed into the basement of the Bethzatha Church on Monday night to learn about the plan and express their concerns over having the temporary shelter operate at 86-18 58th Avenue, in the middle of a quiet block.

The building would house up to 29 adults, according to Yolanda Martin-Garibaldi, vice president of The Queens Alliance, Inc. That group has entered into a ten-year lease for the building, which was owned by St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Centers until it was sold in 2005 to a limited liability corporation. This is the first facility of this type to be run by the recently-formed Queens Alliance.

At Monday’s meeting, co-hosted by Community Board 4 and Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together, Martin-Garibaldi said that the alliance’s goal is to provide “temporary emergency shelter” while the client works their way back to permanent housing. While there is no set limit on the amount of time an individual can stay there, she noted that it’s in Queens Alliance’s interest to turn over units so new residents can move in.

The Queens Alliance is funded by the city Human Resource Administration, which will direct clients to the facility. While no one has been assigned there yet, individuals could begin arriving at any time, said Martin-Garibaldi. The alliance has the right to reject certain clients and will not accept sex offenders or parolees. “They’re not just sending us anyone and we’re not going to take anyone,” she said, stressing that the building will not serve as a halfway house, drug rehab center or medical facility.

At the start of the session, Richard Italiano, district manager of CB 4, gave the crowd some bad news: the area is zoned for community facilities, meaning the building can be used in this manner as-of-right with no prior approval needed. As a result, many residents were only just learning about the plan, even though Queens Alliance has been eligible to receive clients for more than a week.

Many residents used the meeting to vent frustration over not having any say before the project was approved. “They have no right to do this,” said CB 4 member Nick Pennachio. “They just dump everything in Elmhurst – we have our share here.” He questioned whether there are also similar projects in neighborhoods such as Forest Hills and Rego Park and noted that property values will decrease as a result. “Queens Alliance is not welcome here.”

The feeling that Elmhurst and Maspeth shoulder an unfair burden of projects affecting the quality of life was echoed by several other residents. “Not to disrespect you, but Maspeth and Elmhurst get a lot of [crap] from the city… It’s not fair,” said another resident, to loud applause.

Since the project is allowed under the zoning, Roe Daraio, president of COMET, focused on Queens Alliance’s background and the regulations they must follow in order to remain open and continue receiving city funding. She noted that the organization doesn’t have a Website and couldn’t be located through a Google search. In addition, the 58th Avenue building that will house the homeless individuals is also listed as the alliance’s office.

Daraio said the guidelines governing these types of facilities will be distributed to the community to make sure proper procedures are being followed. “If they don’t follow the guidelines, perhaps we can get it shut down,” she said. “We are one community and we have to fight the battles together.”

Others feared that problems could arise due to the shelter’s proximity to nearby schools, churches and daycare centers. “What happens when school gets out? I don’t think it is right… We pay our taxes, we work hard for our homes and we get this,” said resident Maria McDonald, who said her husband was attacked along Queens Boulevard several years ago by a resident of a group home located near the shelter.

Linda Lam was particularly frustrated that the residents had no prior warning of the plan, and said one reason the neighborhood is forced to shoulder more than its fair share of community facilities is due to the low turnout rate of voters. She vowed to help mobilize the neighborhood and rally in front of the property to bring attention to the situation. “Why must we be further burdened? We get dumped on time and time again,” said Lam. “We will do what it takes to prevent this homeless shelter from destroying our neighborhood and from hurting our children.”

Martin-Garibaldi stressed that there will be security guards on site around the clock. However, many in the crowd groaned and booed when she said that the guards would call the police in the case of a serious situation. Under questioning, she stated that there would be two guards on at a time, leaving some to argue that the alliance isn’t doing enough to ensure the facility doesn’t present a threat to the neighborhood.

“Trust me, I know what the community is saying.... but these are our people and they have to go somewhere,” said Martin-Garibaldi. “I understand your concers and respect them all.”

Among the most concerned was Brayan Terrazas, an NYPD housing officer who lives next door to the property. He said the building formerly housed college students and said it’s unfair that it will now be used in a less neighborhood-friendly manner. After several years with the NYPD, “I know about all the problems [housing] brings with it,” he told Martin-Garibaldi. “It’s just going to be problems,” he added, predicting that two security guards will be unable to effectively monitor 29 adults, especially since the building has entrances in the front and rear.

This portion of Elmhurst is in the City Council district of Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), who was not at Monday’s meeting. A resident said she called Katz’s district office but was told by an aide that the effort is a lost cause since the project is allowed under the zoning. Instead, the aide suggested that the resident consider hiring an attorney, a solution she said was not acceptable.

Katz’s office did not return a call left with a staff member on Tuesday.

However, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), whose district is south of the area, attended the meeting. She told residents that “just because we’ve heard that it is as-of-right, it doesn’t mean that it’s right.” Crowley said the legislation needs to be changed so that shelters within residential areas must be approved by the community. She vowed to assist with protests and other efforts “to make sure this doesn’t go through.”

Ultimately, Martin-Garibaldi was unable to appease most of the fears. “The only thing I can tell you at this point is that time will tell,” she said, again drawing loud boos and groans from the crowd. She later said she was “surprised” by the large turnout and residents’ objections. “I didn’t expect this today,” she said.

The residents are planning to rally in front of the building on Saturday, July 11 at 11 a.m

Garbage Trains, School Lawsuit and Maspeth Trucks at JPCA Meeting

By Conor Greene

This month’s Juniper Park Civic Association Meeting included news that a settlement has been reached to prevent trains hauling garbage from idling in residential areas and an update on the battle against the city’s plan to build a high school in Maspeth.

In addition, the civic group held a moment of silence for a longtime member who recently passed away, and honored another resident who is still going strong at 107 years old during the session last Thursday. Reports on other items discussed at the meeting can be found elsewhere in this issue, including funding for the reconstruction of St. Saviour’s Church, an update on crime and a ceremony honoring the neighborhood’s outgoing monsignor.

Garbage Trains and Truck Traffic

Civic President Robert Holden informed the large crowd at Our Lady of Hope about a new problem the civic is dealing with: a plan by Waste Management to haul trash by truck from its transfer station on Review Avenue in Long Island City to the rail yard in West Maspeth. While this is part of the city’s plan to reduce the amount of trucks making long-distance trips to out-of-state dumps, it will lead to an increase in local traffic.

The garbage will be loaded onto rail cars near the intersection of Maspeth Avenue and Rust Street, near the former St. Saviour’s property. This has led Holden to surmise that the reason Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to fund a purchase of the land for a public park is because this plan was in the works.

“The real reason the mayor didn’t want a park there was because he had a bigger plan,” said Holden. The city’s solid waste plan “is being forced upon us here in this district.” Under the plan, all trash from neighborhoods in community boards one through six would be trucked to the Review Avenue transfer station, which Waste Management will expand to accommodate the increase. While that facility is located along the Newtown Creek, it doesn’t have barge or rail access, meaning the trash must be driven a mile and a half to Maspeth before it is shipped by rail to dump sites in Virginia.

“It would be a decent plan if they would barge the garbage out or rail the garbage out,” said Holden. “This was their master plan – who would want a park near this transfer station?” He noted that the trains, filled with garbage, will then travel through Middle Village and Glendale before leaving the region. Last year, there was a problem with foul odors emanating from trains idling in one location, especially near Christ the King High School on Metropolitan Avenue. “Now they’re going to add more,” he said. “They city didn’t insist they barge it or do it by rail the right way.”

Holden reminded the large crowd that the civic can no longer even get a response to letters sent to Mayor Bloomberg about this issue, a far cry from when the mayor stopped by JPCA meetings on several occasions before his reelection. “We couldn’t keep this guy away. Now we can’t get answers to our letters anymore.”

While West Maspeth will likely bear the brunt of increased truck traffic, Middle Village attorney and City Council candidate Thomas Ognibene had some good news regarding the issue of odors from the trains stinking up the neighborhood. He said that the fumes caused issues last year at Christ the King, including making a pregnant teacher ill. After negotiations between the school and railways proved futile, Ognibene revealed publicly for the first that a lawsuit against New York and Atlantic Railway and CSX was needed to resolve the problem.

The outcome, according to Ognibene, is a settlement in federal court that allows CSX to take possession of idling trains sooner. The agreement, which was effective as of Wednesday, should eliminate the need for trains to sit in residential areas. Instead, trains will be picked up by CSX in the morning and stored at a rail yard away from residential areas untilthey’re ready to leave the area.

“We believe that starting July 1, we’ve solved the problem with the existing trains,” said Ognibene. “Hopefully that’s going to help… but it took a lawsuit. There may be glitches but at least we got something going in that direction because we’ve suffered long enough.”

Maspeth School Lawsuit

Ognibene also updated residents on a lawsuit the JPCA and Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET) have jointly filed against the city regarding the proposed Maspeth high school.

The issue, according to Holden and Ognibene, is that information regarding toxic materials found on the site was withheld before the City Council voted earlier this year to approve the Department of Education’s plan to build the 1,100-seat school on the former Restaurant Depot site at 74th Street and 57th Avenue. Despite objections from the area’s local member, Elizabeth Crowley, the City Council voted 38-10 in April in favor of the plan.

“We feel it is going to overburden the neighborhood,” said Holden. “The city really didn’t tell the elected officials or us how toxic it is… Information was withheld and the School Construction Authority rushed this through.”

Ognibene noted that one problem is that the city “is not diligent as an ordinary buyer would be” in terms of investigating the site. He added that 19 schools around the city were built on toxic sites, which has forced the city to go back and remediate the property after construction was completed. “Obviously it’s going to be very expensive” to remediate after construction.

“Unfortunately, the City Council I believe didn’t get the full information,” said Ognibene. “This is a dangerous location to build a school… It presents significant problems for the community.”

The civics are named plaintiffs in the lawsuit because they have legal standing to file the lawsuit. Ognibene is now waiting to for a return date and hopes a judge will issue a restraining order preventing the city from moving ahead with work at the site until a phase three environmental impact statement is conducted to show exactly what remediation is needed. In May, the city paid $16,250,000 for the 54,000-square foot property. The current plan is to install a protective barrier between the contaminated soil and the building foundation.

“We feel we have a strong case,” said Ognibene. “Certainly the health, safety and welfare of our children in schools should be paramount. I think it’s important that the city in this type of situation steps up and does the right thing.

Civic Members Honored

At the beginning of the meeting, Holden asked for a moment of silence in honor of civic member Ed Nubel, who recently passed away.

“We lost him too soon,” said Holden, recalling that that the long time volunteer always made sure there was coffee at every meeting. “He really exemplified the spirit of this neighborhood… I know Ed is looking down on us. If you have a cup of coffee, toast Ed tonight.”

Next, another longtime civic member – 107-year-old Carl Berner – was presented the volunteer of the year award for his continued dedication to the neighborhood. “How many people see this man in the neighborhood?” asked Holden, noting that Berner walks several miles a day in the area of Caldwell Avenue and chalks his longevity up to oatmeal.

Berner is still recovering from two hip operations and a short nursing home stay, but is eager to return to civic matters such as cleaning up along the railroad tracks, said Holden. “Don’t be surprised if you see him over there in a couple months with a rake. We’re never surprised by Carl Berner.”

Precinct Readies for Holiday Weekend

Neighborhood Issues Discussed at COP 104

By Conor Greene

Officers from the 104th Precinct will be out in full force over the 4th of July weekend to deal with problems, especially illegal firework shows, local residents were informed during this month’s COP 104 meeting, held last week in Middle Village.

Community Affairs Officer Tommy Bell told the crowd during last Thursday’s Juniper Park Civic Association meeting that a full compliment of officers will be on duty to respond to the numerous calls the precinct receives every holiday weekend. In particular, officers will be on the lookout for illegal firework displays and will have manpower concentrated in known “problem areas” including Juniper Valley Park and Fresh Pond Road.

“It is going to be a really busy day – obviously we get a lot of calls on the Fourth of July,” said Officer Bell. “We know where these [problem] areas are and respond to calls pretty much all night.”

Overall, crime is down about eight percent across the precinct, with a decrease in every category with the exception of a minor increase in burglaries, according to Bell. So far this year, there has been one murder – the unsolved killing of a Ridgewood man – compared with four last year, which were all in connection with the fatal fire on Father’s Day 2008.

Among the rest of the major crimes, there have been 112 robberies this year compared with 127 last year; 55 felony assaults compared with 62, 197 burglaries, up from 195 at the same time last year; 217 grand larcenies compared with 241; and 143 auto thefts compared to 158 last year.

Neighborhood Complaints

During the public portion of the meeting, Maspeth resident Tony Nunziato asked if anything could be done to cut down on motorcycle noise in residential areas. “It’s horrendous. You can’t even hear yourself think,” he said. “They’re being harassed by the noise,” he said of the affected residents.

Officer Bell reported that the precinct has been aggressive lately in terms of confiscating motorcycles when possible. So far, 24 have been seized this year, including four this week. “We have a very active highway unit in the 104,” he said, adding that four-wheelers are also becoming a problem, especially in Middle Village. “They’re not just putting themselves in danger, they’re putting others in danger as well,” said Officer Bell. “We want you out there riding safely and licensed… otherwise we’ll take them.”

Another resident asked if anything can be done about commercial vehicles including limousines and taxis parking on residential streets overnight, taking up three spaces. Unfortunately, Officer Bell explained that while most commercial vehicles can’t be left on residential streets overnight, it is legal for limoand taxi drivers to do so under the current law.

Nunziato blamed this situation on industry lobbyists who have influence over elected officials. “Limos should not be on the street… They make money off of it, so why isn’t it commercial?” he said. “They’re really sidestepping the law, and we have to make our elected officials push [against it] because I see more and more of it in this area.” He reminded residents that a car can be ticketed and towed if it remains in one location for more than seven days.

French Tourists Taken on Wild Ride in Illegal Commuter Van

By Conor Greene

Two men who steered five unsuspecting French tourists into their unauthorized commuter van at JFK Airport have been charged after taking them on a harrowing seven-mile trip through Queens and Brooklyn with police vehicles in pursuit.

The incident began last Tuesday outside Air France’s terminal at JFK when the two Brooklyn men offered to give the tourists a ride in their unlicensed van. Port Authority police officers were attempting to cite the defendants for “hustling” the passengers when the men sped away with the tourists inside the van.

According to the charges, the officer observed Ian McFarlane, 57, offer ground transportation to five arriving passengers standing on the shuttle line outside the terminal and escort them to a green van driven by Khaalif Preacher, 27. The officer displayed his shield, approached McFarlane, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, tapped on the window and ordered the defendants to stop. At that point, McFarlane allegedly looked over at Preacher, who took off at a high rate of speed.

The men’s escape was slowed by airport traffic, which allowed another officer to approach the driver’s side, bang on the window and order the defendants to stop and exit the vehicle. McFarlane and Preacher refused and once again sped off at a high rate of speed, causing the officer to sustain a shoulder injury.

With at least 10 police vehicles in pursuit, Preacher drove the van through traffic, forcing pedestrians and other drivers to quickly get out of the van’s way, at times running stop signs and red lights while traveling as fast as 60 miles per hour on residential streets. All the while, the five tourists – Esther Mamane and her mother Claudie Mamane and Gwenaelle Dulugat and her parents, Michele Dulugat, 61, and Jean-Jacques Dulugat, 62 – were allegedly locked in the van, with the defendants ignoring their pleas to stop.

Eventually, the defendants reached a dead end street and turned into a postal facility at 1050 Forbell Street in East New York. They jumped from the van, fleeing on foot as the vehicle continued to move with the five screaming to be let go. The van ultimately crashed into a stop sign and then a postal truck. After the crash, Claudia Mamane was injured when she fell while exiting the vehicle, which ran over her arm.

With his gun drawn, a Port Authority officer chased after McFarlane, who stopped when cornered. However, as the officer put away his weapon and attempted to handcuff McFarlane, the defendant began wrestling with and kicking the officer, who suffered a sprained knee. Preacher also allegedly resisted arrest, according to authorities.

The men were arraigned last Wednesday night and charged with second-degree assault, second-degree assault on an officer, first-degree reckless endangerment, first-degree unlawful imprisonment, resisting arrest, third-degree unlawful fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle and unlawful solicitation of ground transportation services. If convicted, they each face up to seven years in prison. They were ordered held on $50,000 bail and ordered to return to court on July 8.

According to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, it is illegal for any unauthorized driver to charge for ground transportation at an airport. Violators are subject to a fine of $100 to $200 and/or 15 days in jail. While a third conviction within an 18-month period raises the offense a misdemeanor carrying fines of $750 to $1,150 and/or 45 days in jail, Brown argues that has not been sufficient to deter airport hustling.

In response, Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry and Senator Martin M. Dilan are sponsoring a bill would increase the monetary fines and amount of possible jail time for airport hustling. The bill has passed the Assembly and is presently awaiting a vote in the Senate.

Following the ordeal, the tourists were given a bag of New York City goodies including Broadway and museum tickets at a press conference on Wednesday. Through a translator, Claudie Mamane said she harbors no ill will towards the city despite the incident. “We are happy to be here; we love New York and New Yorkers,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “We never lost faith. And at any time we never thought it would end badly

Man Charged with Placing Fake 911 Calls

Two NYPD Hurt Responding to Report of Injured Officer

A Queens man has been charged with making a series of false 911 calls over the past four months during which he claimed that police officers were being held hostage or had been shot. In one case, officers from the 102nd Precinct were injured after getting into a traffic accident while en route to a call.

Alex Rodriguez, 50, of 75-20 Bell Boulevard was arraigned last week on charges of first-degree reckless endangerment, second-degree criminal nuisance and third-degree falsely reporting an incident. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison and was ordered held on $10,000 bail until his next court hearing on July 7.

According to the criminal charges, Rodriguez made approximately 20 phone calls to the city’s 911 emergency telephone line from pay phones in Queens between February 22 and June 20 of this year. He allegedly told the operator that a specific police officer or detective had been shot, killed, struck by a vehicle or was being held hostage. During the calls, Rodriguez often used police parlance and codes such as 10-13, which means an officer is down and needs assistance. All of the calls were deemed unfounded by responding officers.

“Prank calls to police jeopardize the lives of officers and civilians alike, waste resources and keep police officers from dealing with real emergencies. Those who place such calls will be vigorously prosecuted,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

In once instance, two officers assigned to the 102nd Precinct in Richmond Hill were injured when responding to an alleged 911 emergency call seeking assistance for a fellow officer. Traveling at a high rate of speed in bad weather conditions, the officers sustained injuries when the vehicle struck a metal pole.

“Fake 911 calls kill. They can kill officers who respond to what they believe is an actual emergency, and they kill real victims deprived of life-and-death seconds wasted on fakers,” said NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Conviction in 1999 Love Triangle Murder

After seven years on the run, a 49-year-old man has been convicted of murdering his cousin in broad daylight on a Richmond Hill street in 1999 as a result of a love triangle.

Tahir Naqvi, formerly of Columbus, Georgia, was convicted last Thursday of second-degree murder and second-and-third-degree criminal possession of a weapon following a jury trial. He faces 25 years to life in prison when sentenced on August 20.

According to trial testimony, the victim, Irfan Naqvi, 29, was having an affair with the wife of the defendant, who was his first cousin. The defendant knew about the affair and stalked the victim, waiting for him outside his home on Metropolitan Avenue in Richmond Hill on Aug. 14, 1999.

At about 3:45 that afternoon, the victim left his home and was on his way to a family wedding when he was accosted by his cousin, who fired two shots at him. As the victim crawled along the ground, the defendant fired a third shot. Finally, the defendant dragged the victim onto the sidewalk, straddled his body and shot him two more times, in the shoulder and head.

The incident was witnessed by a 14-year-old girl who was on her way to church. She later picked the defendant out of a photo array and testified against him at trial. The case was investigated by Detective Jeffrey Lucas of the 102nd Precinct’s Detective Squad, with assistance from the NYPD’s Queens Cold Case Squad.

“The defendant has now been convicted of hunting down and shooting to death his first cousin on a public street,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “The defendant has taken a life and shattered a family. It took 10 years to bring him to justice and his conviction warrants imposition of a maximum prison sentence to punish him and protect society.”