Thursday, December 9, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Suspect Sought in Shooting of Livery Cab Driver

A livery car driver was critically wounded Friday night after his passenger shot him multiple times at the end of a $12 ride in South Ozone Park.

According to reports, Trevor Bell, 53, picked up the passenger at the headquarters of Big D Car Service on Merrick Boulevard, where he had worked for the last eight months. After driving him to his destination at 122nd Street and Sutter Avenue, Bell’s passenger fired multiple shots, one which hit Bell’s neck critically wounding him.

Police responded to the 911 call, and EMS rushed Bell to Jamaica Hospital where he is in critical condition.

“I came out and saw the guy bleeding,” Wilson Ramones told the New York Daily News. “I got closer, I could hear him screaming, he was saying ‘help.’”

The investigation on the shooting is still ongoing, and the police have released a surveillance video taken from the cab moments before the shooting.

From the surveillance tape, the suspect has been identified as 22-year-old Shawn Peace. Police warn that Peace is considered armed and dangerous.

Bell ended his shift at 7 p.m. on Friday night, but with the Christmas season approaching, he stayed late to gain some overtime, his boss said.

Working as a cab driver can be very dangerous. “It’s one man against the world. Every person that enters your car is a stranger,” said Fernando Mateo, head of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, according to the Daily News.

Mateo made further headlines at a press conference on Saturday in front of Jamaica Hospital.

“Profile your passengers. It’s very important,” he said. Mateo claimed the vast majority of crimes against cab drivers are committed by black and Hispanic. As a Hispanic man with a black father, Mateo told the New York Post his remarks were not racist.

Still, his remarks were met with resistance from leaders like City Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) and the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Anyone with information regarding the case is urged to call Detective Balfe at the 106th Precinct Detective Squad at 718-845-2260.

PS/MS 207 Says Merry Christmas to Troops

Keeping in the holiday spirit and remembering our troops abroad, PS/MS 207 teamed up with Operation Ho-Ho-Ho from out of Point Breeze’s Volunteer Fire Department in Breezy Point. The school collected over 2000 travel sized toiletries items to be shipped to American troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Pictured l to r: Ms. Deidre Roberts, PS/MS 207 paraprofessional and committee member for Operation Ho-Ho- Ho. She is pictured with some of students who devoted their time to the project, Luca, Thomas, Vittorio and Kayla

Taking Out the Trash: Ulrich Funds New Litter Baskets

By Eric Yun

Tired of overflowing trash and illegal dumping in Ozone Park, residents have been clamoring for the city to help clean the area.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) allocated over $18,000 in this year’s fiscal budget to install 35 new trashcans along 101st Avenue. On Tuesday morning, Ulrich was joined by Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty to unveil the new black litter baskets.

The new bins will discourage illegal dumping of household and business trash and improve the quality of life for residents and business owners along the avenue.

“We are doing everything we can to keep Ozone Park clean. These new trash cans will raise the profile of one of the district’s main shopping strips,” said Ulrich.

Ulrich and Doherty said the new design of the baskets, which has a lid with a narrow opening, are designed to prevent large bags to be illegally dumped. These baskets, they stressed, are for litter—not household or business waste.

“The trash cans will improve the environment here and make it a better to come live and work in this community,” said Doherty.

Along with the new bins, Doherty promised a zero tolerance policy and improved enforcement from Sanitation Police.

“We need to educate people, and the education will be a summons,” Doherty said.

Breakfast with Santa

The DiCandia Family hosted the 25th Annual Christmas Breakfast for the International Society of Sts. Cosma and Damiano on Sunday morning at Roma View Catering. Every year, the Society celebrates the Holiday season by holding the traditional breakfast for its members and their children.

In addition, the Society provides toys for less fortunate families in the area and also provides many toy donations at hospitals for children.

Pictured from L to R: Doreen, Jacob, Santa, Joseph, Joseph Sr., and Juliet DiCandia and Annabell the Clown.

Celebrating Christmas

The Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation sponsored their annual Christmas tree lighting on Saturday at St. Helen’s. Hundreds of visitors stopped by for pictures with Santa and shopping selections from a wide variety of Christmas items, fresh baked goods and other holiday novelties.

City Unveils Plans to Rezone Woodhaven, Richmond Hill

By Eric Yun

Neighborhoods throughout Woodhaven and Richmond Hill are attractive for developers seeking to build out of character apartment buildings and condos that loom over the block. Residents, however, have been pushing for City to rezone the neighborhood to prevent these behemoth structures, and they may soon get their wish.

The two neighborhoods are popular destinations for new families. Public transportation is plentiful with the J/Z train running above Jamaica Avenue and 18 bus routes serving the neighborhoods. Also, with three major commercial strips—Jamaica Avenue, Atlantic Avenue and 101st Avenue—many residents don’t need to travel far for their shopping needs.

Zoning resolutions for the area have remained unchanged since the original rules were passed in 1961. The city originally made the zoning for the neighborhood extremely flexible because it anticipated a much larger population for the city.

As Woodhaven and Richmond Hill grew, the majority of the neighborhood was characterized by one- and two-family houses, which the residents now are seeking to protect. The Department of City Planning rezoned 140 blocks in Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill in 2005, and since, Community Board 9 has been lobbying for the department to rezone the southern portion of Richmond Hill and Woodhaven.

City Planning has listened, and for the last year, officials have been studying rezoning the neighborhoods. The preliminary study conducted by the department was presented to the community last Wednesday night at Emmanuel Church of Christ in Woodhaven. Another meeting will be held on December 15 at Royal Indian Palace in Richmond Hill at 118-06 Atlantic Avenue.

There are three major goals for the 248-block rezoning of the community, according to John Young, Queens Director of City Planning: protecting the neighborhood’s character, promoting higher density residential and mixed-use development along wide streets and near mass transit and reinforcing commercial districts to support economic development.

“The existing zoning does not reflect the character of the neighborhood,” said Brendan Pillar, City Planner. “We saw opportunities to refine the zoning there to closely reflect what’s there and ensure future developments are in line with the existing character.”

Woodhaven and Richmond Hill currently only have two zones: R3-1 and R5. Under the proposal, R3A, R3X, R4, R4A, R4-1, R4-B, R5D and R6A zones would be added.

The existing R3-1 zone allows for one- or two-family detached and semi-detached homes with a maximum building height of 35 feet. All building types are allowed on R5 zones with a maximum height of 40 feet.

Zones R3A, R3X, R4A, and R4-1 similarly called for one- or two-family detached and semi-detached homes with various differences in maximum and minimum lot widths and heights. Zones R4B, R4, R5D and R6A allows for all housing types.

The majority of the changes in Woodhaven occur north of Jamaica Avenue to Park Lane South from Dexter Court to 101st Street. In Richmond Hill, the changes will occur mostly south of Atlantic Avenue to 103rd Avenue from 102nd Street to the Van Wyck Expressway.

There was some contention that the city is acting too late. One resident complained that by waiting too long, the character of South Richmond Hill has already been destroyed. Out of character buildings already erected will be allowed to remain due to a grandfather clause in the resolution.

However, most residents were happy the process was starting. “This is a great step forward,” said Maria Thomson, Executive Director of the Woodhaven Greater Development Corporation. “We are in jeopardy of losing the character of our community. We need to save what we have.”

The next steps for the proposal include the second public meeting at Richmond Hill on December 15. Afterwards, City Planning will refine the recommendations and finalize the zone proposal. Then, under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure outlined in the City Charter, environmental reviews, Community Board approval, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall approval, City Planning approval and City Council approval must be met. This process will take approximately one year.

Nickel and Diming Continues: City to Hike Meter Rates

The city’s proposal to raise rates at parking meters throughout the city, the second time in the last two years, has residents and elected officials voicing their displeasure.

The City Department of Transportation (DOT) will begin making changes in January as part of the city’s plans to close the budget gap. Meters that used to cost 75 cents per hour will rise to one dollar per hour, and parking spaces that cost $2.50 per hour will become $3.00 per hour.

Queens has more than 17,000 parking meters.

Many community activists are worried these changes will hurt small businesses around commercial strips.

“This appears to be déjà vu all over again,” said Maria Thomson, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District. “This will really hurt small mom-and-pop stores on Jamaica Avenue and deal a painful blow to local commercial strips across New York City.

Residents who depend on their cars can expect to pay more for parking and, as the plan is being implemented, get more tickets.

“This is a petty decision that will hurt average New Yorkers, like Woodhaven residents, who have to park on the street in order to go about their daily lives,” said Edward Wendell, President of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA).

For more than 17 years, city parking meters were 50 cents per hour. In the spring of 2009, the city changed to the current 75 cents per hour with little fanfare or notice, causing many confused residents to receive parking tickets.

“I hope the DOT at least has the decency this time to post signs informing everyone of the change,” Wendell said.

Politicians are not pleased with these new changes. James Vacca (D-Bronx), Chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, promised to fight parking rate increases.

“Once again, the city is digging into the pockets of the little guy to balance its budget, with nor regard for the middle-class communities that are fighting to stay afloat,” Vacca said.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), also a member of the Transportation Committee agreed. “Talk about a lousy Christmas gift! People won’t even be able to go shopping without the city nickel and diming them at every turn.”

Residents in Woodhaven are gearing up for a fight. WRBA officials are planning to work with local elected officials and community organizations to oppose the plans. Last year, when rates were raised, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn), State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), Thomson and local business owners held a press conference on Jamaica Avenue.

Renewed Hope for Park at Former St. Saviour's Site

By Eric Yun

Community activists have been fighting endlessly to get the former St. Saviour’s church site in Maspeth converted into public parkland, and they are seeing some positive signs as the city has entered into negotiations with the property owner to purchase the site.

Bob Holden, President of the Juniper Park Civic Association, sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a “last ditch effort” to persuade the city to acquire the site for parkland.

Adrian Benepe, New York City Parks Commissioner, wrote in a response that “the Parks Department is actively engaged with area elected officials including Borough President Helen Marshall and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley in an effort to secure funding for the purchase of all or a portion of the St. Saviour’s site.”

Benepe also said that the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) has contacted the developer about the site.

Owner Maspeth Development LLC, led by Scott Kushnik, has made several efforts to recoup its investment by developing or selling the property. Kushnik, recently received approval from the city Department of Buildings to construct warehouses on the site, located at 57th Road and 58th Street in industrial West Maspeth.

Kushnik did not respond to a request to comment, but this week he told the New York Daily News, “Even if we develop the site, the door is open, this isn’t a lost cause.”

The new developments have made the park’s supporters dig in to save the site. Crowley’s office contacted the owner and started the process to open negotiations with Parks and DCAS.

“We’re trying to accumulate funding while at the same time making sure the city process is moving forward,” said Lydon Sleeper, Chief of Staff for Crowley (D-Middle Village).

Politicians have acquired more than $2 million to convert St. Saviour’s to parkland. Borough President Marshall has pitched in more than $1 million, and Crowley allocated $500,000 in last year’s budget. The money, however, is likely not enough to buy the site, but there are some revenue streams that could be coming. In 2008, the city and state reached an agreement to bring the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant to federal compliance. In the agreement, $10 million was allocated to fund environmental benefit programs.

A public vote was held by the City Parks Foundation to determine what residents around Newtown Creek desired. One of the final projects considered was converting the St. Saviour’s site into parkland. A vote was held on December 1 and 2, when more than 700 participants expressed their preferences. Activists in Queens are hoping enough people supported the St. Saviour’s project.

Community activists are hopeful that something can be done to save the site, and in a perfect world, re-erect the church that members of the Juniper Park Civic Association negotiated to be dismantled and saved. The church that stood at the site was minutes away from demolition before the group was allowed to dismantle and store the building until a new location could be acquired.

“We are counting on our elected representatives to secure this historic site as public parkland and restore it as a green oasis,” said Christina Wilkinson, President of the Newtown Historical Society, “Maspeth needs more open space, not more warehouses.”

“[The site] is one of the most historic locations in Queens County because it was where the first settlers landed,” said Holden. “It’s a very historic property, to put a warehouse there would be a crime.”

Maspeth Federal Holds Annual Tree Lighting

Maspeth residents kicked off the holiday season with the annual tree lighting event at Maspeth Federal Savings Bank on Friday night.

The long-standing tradition provided plenty of entertainment for children in the neighborhood. Entertainment was provided by the Song and Dance Group and free raffles were held. Prizes included a bicycle.

“The bank is happy to hold this yearly event for the community. The kids get to meet Santa who gives them presents,” said David Daraio, Assistant Vice President of Maspeth Federal Savings.

Santa Comes to Woodhaven

By Eric Yun

On most Saturday afternoons closing half of Jamaica Avenue would be an annoyance for drivers, customers and small business owners. But exceptions are made when Santa comes to town, and it becomes a fun event for the entire community.

Organized by the Woodhaven Business Improvement District (BID), the annual “Welcome Santa to Woodhaven” parade was held on Saturday afternoon. Maria Thomson, Executive Director of the Woodhaven BID, has helped organize the event for more than 20 years.

“We write to the North Pole and get Santa to come, and it’s a fun, fun event for the kids,” Thomson said.

Participants started at 96th Street and marched west on Jamaica Avenue to Dexter Street. Afterwards, children had the opportunity to take pictures with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Clause.

“The parade was very fun. My daughter loved it,” said resident John Hernandez. “It’s good to participate in community events.”

The festive event brought out people from their businesses and homes with smiles. “It’s very nice. So beautiful,” said one resident who took a break from shopping to watch Santa and the children march by.

Judge Orders City to Restore School Bus Service

A state Supreme Court judge ruled on Monday that the city must restore yellow school bus service to more than 3,000 seventh and eighth grade students in Staten Island and parts of Queens.

The city and the Department of Education (DOE) cut school bus vouchers for certain seventh and eighth graders in an effort to save money. Parents, joined by Staten Island Council Members and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), sued the city to restore service for their children.

Most seventh and eighth graders receive student MetroCards for bus service, but certain variances were made for communities where there were no adequate modes of public transportation. The city decided to eliminate these variances for this fiscal year.

Supreme Court Justice John Fusco ruled that the city was wrong in cutting bus service.

“This court is aware of the painstaking work involved in reaching the decisions that affect the citizens of this city, whether those decisions are received with applause or anger," Fusco wrote in his ruling. "However, not all decisions are given the deliberation the State of New York require, and that is what occurred herein. Budgetary decisions that affect pupil education cannot be made on assumptions without a factual basis to support those assumptions.”

Fusco was sympathetic to the DOE, but ruled they did not adequately investigate all the factors when making its decision.

Ulrich was pleased with the court’s ruling. “Some people say you can’t fight City Hall and win, but they're wrong,” he said. “Yesterday’s ruling was a tremendous victory for the parents and children of Rockaway. The judge’s decision concluded what we already knew—that the City made this cut without regard for the safety and welfare of the children.”

“I am eager to see if the incoming Schools Chancellor will use her business acumen to prevent misguided cuts like these in the future,” Ulrich added.

The city is filing an appeal to the court’s ruling. “In determining that these students must be provided yellow bus transportation, while 7th and 8th graders throughout the rest of the City are not, the Court ignored both the law, the record and equity,” the city Law Department said in a statement, according to NY1.

The city is seeking a stay in the ruling, which would mean buses still could not transport seventh and eighth graders, until the appeal is heard. A decision on the motion is expected in the next few days. 

Beach Channel, Jamaica High Schools on DOE Chopping Block

Fourteen schools are in danger of closing, as the city Department of Education (DOE) has released its proposal of school closures this week.

In Queens, P.S. 30 in Jamaica, I.S. 231 in Springfield Gardens, Beach Channel High School in Rockaway and Jamaica High School are slated for closure.

The schools, consistently on the city’s list of persistently failing schools, would likely slowly phase out students by restricting incoming classes.

Public hearings must be held for each of the proposed schools and the DOE has said it will do everything possible to disseminate all necessary information to teachers and parents. The Panel for Education Policy (PEP) will make a final decision in February.

Last year, without holding hearings, the DOE closed 19 schools and was sued by the teachers’ union and NAACP. The groups won the lawsuit, keeping the schools open for another year.

"At least they're answering questions this time and going to the schools to try to figure things out ahead of time,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, according to NY1. “That is not what they did last year. And they are doing that because we filed a lawsuit and won last year."

Two schools in the area that were in danger of being closed last year were John Adams High School in Ozone Park and Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood. For now, both schools will remain open and will receive extra funds, along with thirty other schools on the city’s persistently failing list, to improve student performance.

These schools, explains Dmytro Fedkowskj, Queens Appointee for the Panel For Education Policy, will undergo a “transformation” or a “turnaround” process funded by federal grant money to implement systemic education interventions within the school.

“I’m confident that these interventions, along with the schools’ dedicated staff, will improve the learning environment for our students,” Fedkowskj said.