Thursday, November 4, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Howard Beach Affordable Housing Project Moving Forward: Details of Plan for Former Fineson Center Unveiled

By Eric Yun

Affordable senior housing is on its way to becoming a reality at the old Bernard Fineson Developmental Center on Crossbay Boulevard in Howard Beach. Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens was awarded the contract in June 2009 to renovate and rebuild the center for senior apartments.

John Tynan, Director of Housing for Catholic Charities, gave a presentation to the Howard Beach community about the status of the building Wednesday night at St. Helens.

The new complex will feature 96 housing units. Twelve of the apartments will be set aside for the developmentally disabled, and there will be a live in super. This leaves 83 units for seniors, which are broken down into 27 studio apartments and 56 one-bedroom apartments.

The facility is designed for independent living. “It is not a nursing home or assisted living facility,” Tynan said. However, Tynan understands that “once in a while seniors will need some help” because of sicknesses or injuries. He is confident that in these circumstances the integrated services at Catholic Charities will help provide the necessary assistance.

Seniors who wish to get a unit at the new center must follow the application process, which was explained in detail. Six months before the completion of construction, Catholic Charities will advertise that the applications will be accepted. Applicants must write a letter requesting an application, and finished applications will be reviewed to ensure the senior meets the age, disability and income eligibility. Finally, there is an interview session to determine if the prospective candidate is the best fit for the apartment.

Seniors living in the Community Board 10 district will get priority. “For the lifetime of this project Board 10 will have a 50 percent preference,” Tynan said. That means at least 42 of the 83 units will be filled with seniors from the district.

Catholic Charities is hoping to get development underway by June. However, there is still a budget deficit to overcome. The expected cost is $29.415 million, and Catholic Charities has received $18.855 million from tax credits and city and state officials such as Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park), City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Queens Borough Hall President Helen Marshall.

Another $7.31 million is anticipated through grants, private loans and state subsidies. This still leaves a budget gap of $3.25 million, but Tynan is confident that it can be overcome and no further delays are necessary.

As the process continues to move forward, Tynan and CB 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton assured the audience that they would know everything that is happening. “We will continue to disseminate information like we have been in the past,” Braton said.

The community seems ready to turn an unused site into a worthwhile building for seniors. “I feel very good about this. I want to get an apartment,” one member of the audience said.

Election Result Roundup

By Eric Yun

The national Republican Party had a great day Tuesday, as they are projected to gain more than 60 seats in the House of Representatives, but Democrats did most of the celebrating in New York State, where the anti-incumbency fervor didn’t seem to have a large impact.

Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo received 62 percent of the vote easily defeating Republican challenger Carl Paladino in the race for governor. State Senator Eric Schneiderman (D- Manhattan) defeated Republican Dan Donovan, Staten Island’s District Attorney, for Cuomo’s vacated Attorney General position, by a margin of 55 to 44 percent. In the closest of the statewide races, Democrat Thomas DiNapoli held on to his Comptroller seat defeating Harry Wilson 50 to 47 percent. DiNapoli had been appointed to that position when former Comptroller Alan Hevesi resigned in scandal.

Nationally, Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand cruised to expected victories. Schumer defeated Jay Townsend by a 66 to 33 percent margin, and Gillibrand defeated Joseph DioGuardi 61 to 36 percent.

Republicans did pick up several seats in the House. Michael Grimm defeated Michael McMahon 51 to 48 percent in Congressional District 13, which covers Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. Other Democratic incumbents that fell were Rep. John Hall who was defeated by Nan Hayworth, Rep. Scott Murphy who was defeated by Christopher Gibson and Rep. Michael Arcuri, who was defeated by Richard Hanna.

Republicans still have an outside shot to take over the State Senate. Control of the Senate will be crucial as the legislature redistricts the state for Congressional and state legislative seats. Two freshman Democratic Senators were defeated in Suffolk County and upstate New York, but longtime Senator Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) was upset by former City Councilman Tony Avella. There are still three upstate races that remain too close to call, but it appears the Senate could be split 31-31.

Addabbo Holds Off Como's Challenge for State Senate Seat

By Eric Yun

A key State Senate seat will stay in Democratic hands as freshman Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) defeated Republican challenger and former City Councilman Anthony Como in the 15th Senate District, which covers most of southern Queens.

Unofficial returns have Addabbo leading by 5,000 votes at 57 to 43 percent. Addabbo thanked his supporters at his election night party at Russo’s on the Bay on Crossbay Boulevard. He noted that there is still plenty of work to be done.

“I’m very thankful to my supporters for their many hours of volunteerism and support,” Addabbo said on Wednesday. “State legislature and government has to make great strides in reaching its full potential and performing for its people. That starts today.”

Meanwhile at Como’s campaign headquarters on Myrtle Avenue, his supporters held on to some hope. The campaign has not conceded the race yet due to “serious discrepancies” Como’s team says it has heard about the numbers from the Board of Elections.

“I’m very proud of the race we ran as a family and as a team,” Como said.

However, given the gap in the numbers, it seems almost certain Addabbo has won his reelection bid. “[Como] is entitled to do it [challenge the outcome] but I don’t know where he’s going to find thousands of votes in discrepancies,” Addabbo said.

On Wednesday, Como didn’t respond to several messages seeking additional comment on his plans to challenge the outcome.

During the course of the campaign, Como attacked Addabbo’s record of taxing and spending, and recently, tied him to the Inspector General’s scathing report criticizing Democratic leadership during last year’s Aqueduct bidding process.

“There are still many unanswered questions concerning the degree of Senator Addabbo's role in the Aqueduct scandal,” said Como in the days leading up to the election, “but it's clear from the Inspector General's report that his involvement demands further scrutiny.”

Addabbo meanwhile defended his record citing free energy audits to help small businesses, pushing the Aqueduct project through to provide more than 2,100 jobs to the community and introducing new legislation, including campaign finance laws, in an effort to make Albany more transparent.

The 15th Senate District covers Glendale, Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Woodhaven, Kew Gardens, Rego Park, Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park, Ozone Park and parts of Elmhurst and Forest Hills.

In other area State Senate contests, incumbent Democrat Toby Ann Stavisky (D- Whitestone), who represents parts of Forest Hills, easily defeated her challenger, while Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) ran unopposed. In one of the night’s major surprises, former Democratic City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) beat longtime Republican incumbent Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) by six percentage points.

Dems Sweep Local Assembly Races

By Eric Yun

Democratic incumbents ruled the day in the area’s State Assembly races.

Freshman Assemblyman Mike Miller (D- Woodhaven) defeated Republican community activist Donna Marie Caltabiano in the 38th District by 38 points. The district covers Woodhaven, Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, Maspeth, Glendale, Ridgewood and Middle Village.

“I appreciate the support of the people in my district,” Miller said. “They recognized the hard work that I have done for them. Now we can move forward and continue to getting things done.”

Miller was initially elected last year after defeating Caltabiano during a special election to replace disgraced former Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio.

Caltabiano has worked for years with Community Board 9, Community Education Council 27 and is the Executive Director of the Forest Parks Senior Citizens Center. She was disappointed about the loss, but she promised to continue working to better the community.

In the 23rd Assembly District, longtime Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D- Ozone Park) defeated challenger Harold Paez by 34 points. Pheffer has represented the district, which covers Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Far Rockaway, since 1987.

“I feel very good because not only did I escape the anti-incumbent movement, I did very well,” said Pheffer. “The best feeling is that people are happy with the job I’m doing and they came out in overwhelming support of me.”

Pheffer says she feels slightly confused about the outcome of some races and admits she has concerns over the loss of Democratic control in the House. “I look forward to working in what looks like it will be a very interesting and complicated political climate.”

In the 28th Assembly District covering Forest Hills, Rego Park, Middle Village and Glendale, Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) defeated newcomer Alex Powietrzynski by 13 points.

“I’m humbled and honored by your continued support and will continue to fight
hard for our community,” Hevesi wrote to his supporters on Facebook.

Powietrzynski, a recent law student graduate, appears to have a bright political future ahead of him after his stronger than expected showing.

In the 30th Assembly District, Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) held of Republican challenger Tony Nunziato for the second straight election season by 20 points. The district covers all or parts of Maspeth, Woodside, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Sunnyside, Middle Village and Astoria.

“I really want to thank every resident who came out and voted for me. I am especially pleased with the overwhelming support Maspeth and Middle Village gave me in this race,” said Nunziato in defeat. And, on the day after the election, Nunziato says he is looking forward to continuing on with his many civic projects and is gearing up to launch a successful campaign for the seat in 2012.

And in Assembly District 37 covering parts of Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Astoria, Wood- side, Long Island City, Maspeth, Ravenswood and Blissville, Catherine Nolan (D-Sunnyside) defeated actor John Wilson by 68 points.

Officials Break Ground at Aqueduct: Construction Set to Begin at Ozone Park Racetrack

By Eric Yun

In roughly six months, Genting New York will open Resorts World New York at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park, marking the end of the drawn-out soap opera to open a racino. Genting officials and politicians gathered in the racetrack’s clubhouse on Thursday for a groundbreaking ceremony.

Genting is a subsidiary of Genting Malaysia Berhad, one of the world’s largest resorts and tourism companies. It owns Norwegian Cruise Lines and own Asia’s largest casino. This will be the company’s first venture in the United States, but Genting President Michael Speller vowed to make it a showcase.

Finding a vendor to operate the racino at Aqueduct was not an easy process, something Lottery Director Gordon Medenica acknowledged by kicking off the ceremony by quoting singer Jerry Garcia: “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

That trip started in 2001 when video lottery terminals were approved for Aqueduct and other New York racetracks. And the process was strange. In 2008 company Delaware North was selected but could not pay its promised $370 million upfront payment. It became worse the following year when Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG) was selected, which sparked cries of favoritism and corruption among state legislators. Inspector General Joseph Fisch recently released a scathing report about the selection of AEG.

But finally, under a new bidding process where Request for Proposals were administered and vetted by New York Lottery, Genting was selected and almost immediately paid its promised $380 million up- front payment.

Governor David Paterson said the new partnership will be a “complete revitalization for Aqueduct and also the community that surrounds it.” Paterson is confident that Aqueduct will create employment and business opportunities for the area and will provide the state revenue to replenish education funding.

Job creation was the biggest issue in the community concerning the Aqueduct project. “Within the last two months, we’ve done a lot of listening in this community,” Speller said, “and one issue has come up time and time again: Queens wants and needs jobs.” Now Genting can offer more than 1,300 construction jobs and more than 800 permanent jobs to the area. For those who feared the construction jobs would go to out of state and non-union workers, Genting signed a labor agreement with Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“This long-awaited project couldn’t come soon enough for the people of Queens, as it will create exactly the right kind of jobs—good-paying, stable and local—that are in such high demand throughout this neighborhood,” said State Senator Joe Addabbo (D- Howard Beach).

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park), who vigorously worked to save Aqueduct and get the racino project started, is thrilled that the long journey is over, and she looks forward to working with Genting. “It’s been a long road, but it was one that is going to prove better, and better then we ever dreamed of,” she said.

City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said he looks forward to working with the company to ensure that the tradition of horseracing continues in Ozone Park. “Today marks not only a groundbreaking for the new Aqueduct Racino, but also a new beginning for the community,” he said. “Genting’s redevelopment of this site will revitalize the area, create new jobs, and bring millions of dollars in tax revenue to both the city and state.”

Genting has cleared all environmental hurdles, meaning construction can begin “within a matter of days,” according to Medenica.

Ridgewood Historic District Approved by Landmarks Commission

 Mathews Flats Houses Improved Conditions for Working Class

By Eric Yun

For a borough many feel gets overlooked when discussing New York City’s rich history, Queens had its day in the spotlight when the City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated multiple properties as historical sites last week.

As a result of last Wednesday’s LPC hearing, the Ridgewood South Historic Designation became a reality, and a hearing date was set to examine a proposal for a central historic district in Ridgewood. Several properties in Jamaica, including the Grace Episcopal Church Memorial Hall, Jamaica Chamber of Commerce Building, the former Jamaica Savings Bank and Queens General Court House, were given landmark status as well.

“These measures build upon the strong record the Commission has established in the past seven years of protecting the architecturally significant buildings and sites that speak to the development and history of Queens,” said Landmarks Chairman Robert Tierney.

The Ridgewood South Historic District comprises 210 buildings and is bordered by Woodward and Onderdonk avenues to the north and south and Catalpa Avenue and Woodbine Street to the east and west. Also included in the area is the St. Matthias Roman Catholic Church complex.

Ridgewood was a farming community until the late 19th Century, but transportation improvements ignited residential and commercial development in the area. Particularly, German Americans moved to Ridgewood to escape overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in the Lower East Side, Bushwick and Williamsburg.

In 1911 and 1912, the G.X. Mathews Company built affordable tenements, known as the Mathews Model Flats in the area which featured two, five-room apartments per floor, with its own bathroom. Architecturally, the buildings were constructed with smooth light-colored brick that still remains today.

It was a good day for Ridgewood, and some hope the designation will help beautify the neighborhood. “It’s always good to recognize the past,” said Vincent Arcuri, Chairman of Community Board 5. “Maybe this will entice more people to fix their properties.”

This is the second historic district for Ridgewood. The Ridgewood North Historic District was approved by the City Council last year. The north district includes 96 buildings along Gates, Fairview, Grandview and Forest avenues and Woodbine and Palmetto streets.

The Ridgewood Central Historic District may not be far behind. Located mostly between Forest Avenue and Fresh Pond Road to the east and west and Madison Street and 71st Avenue to the north and south, the proposed district was calendared, which means a full review of the district for a future vote.

Second Round of JVP Playground Upgrades to Begin

Parks Department unveiled their site plan at last month's Community Board 5 meeting.
After initial upgrades at Juniper Valley Park playground on 74th Street were unveiled this past summer, more changes are planned for the popular Middle Village recreation area.

The City Parks Department is ready to begin the second phase of the project, which was funded by $750,000 from Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. Designed for kids 5 to 12 years old, the playground will maintain the wetland theme that began during the first phase of the project.

“Feedback we’re getting in Middle Village is they’re so delighted,” said Dorothy Lewandowski, Queens Parks Commissioner, about the first phase of the project.

The second phase of the project will install a spray shower and bigger equipment for the older children—the first phase was intended for toddlers. A third phase is planned for the playground, but it has not received funding.

The Parks Department is estimates that a contractor will be selected sometime in November and construction will finish next summer.