Feb. 27, By Christian Murray
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has been a strong advocate for decking over the Sunnyside Yard for months—despite the cool reception it has received from western Queens leaders.
Katz began advocating for developing the yards in September, when she announced that they have the “potential for extraordinary development.”
Katz plays an important role in what ultimately happens to the Yards since the area would need to be rezoned before construction could begin. The community board and the borough president would get to weigh in on a rezoning—before it is shuffled along to the City Planning Commission for review and then the city council.
At the council level, Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer would have the ultimate say.
In September, Katz released a 138-page strategic policy statement where she said that the “partial or complete decking of the Sunnyside Rail Yards has the potential for extraordinary development.” She added that it is the largest parcel of ‘vacant’ land remaining in the city.
At the October community board meeting, Queens residents became more aware of Katz’ position when former CB2 chairman Joe Conley said that he had been in discussions with her about building over the Yards. He then called on the board to write a letter to Katz calling for a feasibility study.
While many members of the board were caught off guard by Conley’s request, they were eventually swayed by him and voted in favor of sending Katz the letter.
Conley was then subject to heavy criticism for requesting the letter.
These letters are often used by public officials and city planners to move ahead with studies—allowing them to claim they have the community’s support. For example, Conley’s letter last year calling for affordable housing in Queens Plaza was cited as a reason why city planners are studying the area for a potential up zoning.
Katz is well versed in city real estate matters. She had worked at the law firm Greenberg Traurig from 2009-2012, where she was a land use adviser for real estate companies. She took that position after being a city council member from 2002-2009, where she chaired the land use committee.
On Feb. 10, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in his State of the City address that he wanted to build 11,250 units above Sunnyside Yards, which received a frosty reception from western Queens leaders.
Katz, meanwhile, was publicly advocating for it. At the Queens Chamber of Commerce annual breakfast meeting Feb. 17, she said:
“We need to figure out how to utilize the property in a good way and I think housing is a great way,” reported the Queens Chronicle that covered the event. “Figuring out how to pay for it is the follow-up. … But it needs to be done carefully and it needs to be done in tandem with the community.”
De Blasio then announced last week that the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) sought a consulting firm to undertake a one-year study to determine whether building over the Yards is feasible. The administration is seeking requests for proposal from firms that would essentially provide recommendations.
“This is the first step in understanding whether development of the Sunnyside Yards is possible, and what it can contribute to the city and surrounding communities,” de Blasio said in a statement.
Katz’ spokeswoman, in an e-mail Tuesday wrote: “This feasibility study is a step in the right direction, and Borough President Katz looks forward to engaging community input.”
The e-mail also said: “Borough President Katz recognizes that potential development above the Sunnyside Rail Yards is attractive given the current growth and development throughout Long Island City and western Queens.”
However, western Queens leaders have been alarmed by the plan.
Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan was quick to announce that she had ‘grave concerns ’ about the plans. State Sen. Mike Gianaris was essentially against it—by saying only if it had community support, while Van Bramer continued to argue that the infrastructure would not be able to cope with it.
Nolan also said in a statement that such development would have “the potential to tremendously damage the middle class quality of life of our western Queens communities.”
Nolan then announced that she had hired local attorney Ira Greenberg on a part time basis to monitor de Blasio’s plan and to work with agencies, residents and other parties to make sure the community’s voice is heard.
State Sen. Mike Gianaris sent out a mailing to his constituents recently, which said that the building of new housing units should be secondary to meeting the community’s existing infrastructure needs.
Van Bramer, who has told the mayor that he supports the concept of affordable housing, has expressed doubts as to whether it should be in western Queens. He has consistently been saying that area is already in need of schools and parks—and continues to discuss the poor performing No. 7 train.
He said the Queensboro Plaza/Court Square area is likely to be rezoned that will bring affordable housing as well an influx of people.
“We have are a lot of challenges that we face today,” Van Bramer said at a recent civic association meeting, “let alone with a 100,000 more people.”
Feb. 27, By Michael Florio
Skillman Ave. will never be confused with Bourbon St. but this Saturday it will be alive with the sights, sounds and tastes of the Big Easy.
Nine Skillman Avenue establishments have organized the third annual Mardi Gras Bar & Restaurant Hop, which starts at 3:00 pm and goes late into the evening.
The event comes well after the official Feb. 17 Mardi Gras date. However, the bars will be sticking to the New Orleans traditions of beads, jazz and Cajun food.
Party goers are being asked to register at the Copper Kettle, located on the corner of Skillman Ave. and 51nd St., between 3:00 and 6pm. By registering, attendees will be able to get half-price beer specials. The cost to register is $5, which will go to the local food pantries.
Feb. 26, By Michael Florio
Two thousand participants—and countless spectators—are not enough to sway the MTA to keep the No. 7 train running this Sunday for the ‘St Pats for All’ parade.
The MTA is doing track work this weekend and the No. 7 train will not be operating between Times Square-42nd Street and 74th Street, from 12:30 AM Saturday through 4:30 AM Mon.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and parade organizers have been calling on the MTA to postpone the work and to keep to its regular weekend schedule.
The MTA, however, claims that the parade doesn’t draw enough riders for it to postpone its track work.
“We looked at ridership during the parade from the past few years and it does not draw enough to warrant postponing the work,” Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesman, said.
Brendan Fay and Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy, co-chairs of the parade, were very disappointed with the MTA’s decision since many participants rely on the 7-train to get to the event.
“There are groups from all over the city now trying to figure out how to get to the parade,” Fay said. “People are very frustrated.”
The pair was hoping the MTA would reschedule service as it had done so for the Lunar New Year parade in Flushing.
Walsh D’Arcy said that it might reduce the number of attendees. Nevertheless, “I think most people will find other ways to the parade,” she said. “But it will be an inconvenience and costly.”
Van Bramer was clearly upset with the MTA.
“I’ve asked the MTA to suspend their work this weekend and allow the thousands who want to participate in this very important event to do so,” Van Bramer told NY1 Wednesday. “And they’ve said ‘No.’”
“They [the MTA] have made exceptions for other parades and culture events–it makes no sense. The MTA consistently fails the people of Western Queens.”
However, Ortiz said the Lunar parade generates ridership that the St. Pat’s for All parade simply cannot match.
“The Lunar parade brings ridership in the thousands and this parade is a couple of hundred,” he said.
Ortiz said parade goers can use alternative routes such as the Q32 and Q60 bus to the start of the parade. They can also take the R-train to 46th Street and jump on the Q104 bus.
Fay said that several participants have told him they plan on taking the LIRR to 61st Street, while others will take shuttle buses.
Walsh D’Arcy said she thinks many people will now drive, taking up a lot of neighborhood parking spaces.
Parade Date: Sunday, March 1
Time: Speeches at 1pm; parade starts at 2pm
Starts: Corner of 43rd Street/Skillman Avenue
Feb. 26, By Christian Murray
Maggie Mae’s, the well known bar located at 41-15 Queens Blvd, reopens at 5:00 pm today after being closed for renovations for nearly a month.
The bar closed for construction on Feb. 1, and its owners have rebuilt much of the interior with 1800s reclaimed wood.
New floors have been put down. A new bar has been built, alongside new timber seats and tables.
“I just came in as an owner /partner last month and felt it was time for a revamp and I like the rustic look,” said James Moore, the former manager at Maggie Mae’s who now co-owns it with Sean Sorohan. “The neighborhood is also changing–there are a lot of new people coming to the area.”
The renovation is still not 100 percent complete but Moore said he is ready to reopen.
Feb. 25, By Christian Murray
Community Board 2 is in the midst of overhauling its website, as it aims provide residents with greater access to public documents.
The updated website will be much more comprehensive and is expected to be ready by spring. The public will have access to documents that deal with land use matters among others.
Pat O’Brien, the newly elected Community Board chair, said that he intends to upload as many documents as possible so the public is better informed.
“Any document that is public, we aim to put it out there,” O’Brien said. “I want people to know the facts so we can have a more informed discussion.”
He said that he plans to upload older documents in order to build archives. However, he said that will take time and resources are limited.
The board plans to create a Facebook page later this year that will be used to inform people of public meetings and events.
O’Brien said that his first priority, however, is getting the site ready.
Feb. 24, By Michael Florio
The 108 Precinct was introduced to Twitter late last year– and today it was the tool that was used to unite a lost dog with its owner.
This morning officers found a dog–named Snowy– near Queens Boulevard and 46th Street and used twitter to track down the owner.
“#lostdog found around QB & 46thst this morning around 7 am help us find the owner,” the tweet said, along with the photo of the dog.
Five hours later the 108 Precinct took to Twitter and noted that it had reunited Snowy with its owner thanks to its Twitter followers.
— NYPD 108th Precinct (@NYPD108Pct) February 24, 2015
— NYPD 108th Precinct (@NYPD108Pct) February 24, 2015
Feb. 23, By Michael Florio
A proposed plan that would charge commuters a toll for using the Queensboro bridge—and three other New York City bridges–was put forward last week by an advocacy group that includes the former NYC traffic commissioner.
MoveNY, a group comprised of traffic experts, research planners and eco-friendly non-profit firms, claims the tolls would lower traffic congestion and raise funds for the MTA.
Under the proposal, workers who commute to Manhattan via the Queensboro Bridge each day would have to pay about $60 a week.
The tolls would also be placed on the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges.
The toll on these four bridges would cost $5.54 each way if paid by E-ZPass and $8 each way for other drivers.
There wouldn’t be a toll booth. Instead there would be a sensor that would charge E-ZPass drivers as they go over the bridge. For those without E-ZPass, a camera would take a photo of people’s license plates and they would receive a bill in the mail, according to Bart Robbett, Communications Advisor with MoveNY.
The tolls on other MTA bridges—such as the Triborough and Whitestone– would be lowered $2.50 each way.
However, there are benefits for having a toll on the Queensboro Bridge for western Queens residents, Robbett said.
For one, there would be fewer vehicles exiting the Grand Central Parkway and driving through residential neighborhoods to get to the bridge.
“There would be fewer people going out of their way to get on the free bridge,” Robbett said. “These people are causing problems for [Western Queens] neighborhoods, by adding to the traffic.”
“There would be less traffic at places such as Queens Plaza,” he said, where people start jockeying for position to get over the bridge.
“They will have to pay, but they will see benefits,” he said.
Samuel Schwartz, a former New York City Traffic Commissioner, developed the proposal after his research found that the streets near the free bridges were congested. The bridges with tolls, he found, had far less congestion.
In addition to easing traffic congestion, MoveNY claims the new plan would generate $1.5 billion in revenue per year, which would go toward maintaining, expanding and modernizing the transit system and improving city bridges and roads.
“I know we can do better — better with traffic flow, reducing traffic crashes and fatalities, and being fairer to drivers [who use other MTA bridges], especially in the outer parts of the city,” Schwartz said.
State legislators would have to pass the proposal, since the state oversees the MTA.
Feb. 23, By Christian Murray
A graffiti vandal has been targeting the walls of Sunnyside spraying his tag SBR all over stores on 42nd Street, 43rd Street and 44th Street.
The police are following up on it; Sunnyside Shines has been struggling to clean it; and Jimmy Van Bramer’s office has been brought into the loop.
The likely perpetrator of these tags goes under fictitious Facebook handle Esayebeare Bereal, where he showcases some of his work. Despite his false name, he has many friends who follow his posts.
The owner of an establishment on 43rd Street described the graffiti as “childish and ridiculous.”
“I don’t know what people get out of it? Some sort of high,” he said, without giving his name out of concern that his store might get tagged next. “I don’t know whether writing an article about him will encourage him, stop him or even help lead to his arrest,” the owner said.
Esayebeare Bereal engaged in a Facebook chat with the Sunnyside Post last week (see full transcript below), where he admitted to doing it and said he does it to be famous. He said that he was raised in Sunnyside and admitted to tagging under the name SBR, which is not affiliated with a street gang or group. He was not prepared to be interviewed over the phone out of fear that he would get “locked up.”
He targets 42nd and 43rd Street, he said, since he knows people who live there.
However, in the messages, he said that he is thinking about easing up on 43rd Street.
“I’m done with 43rd street to many yuppies complaining about sunnyside. But they wasn”t here when it was a bad neighorhood.”
However, his work has annoyed many, including Sunnyside Shines.
“It is frustrating that one individual is so intent on destroying small business property in our neighborhood,” said Rachel Thieme, the director of Sunnyside Shines.
“We’re very much aware of the graffiti situation in Sunnyside right now, and are coordinating closely with Council Member Van Bramer’s office and the 108th Precinct, as well as our graffiti removal vendor to ensure graffiti is removed as soon as possible.”
The freezing weather, however, has slowed down efforts to clean up the graffiti, Thieme said.
Nevertheless, when Sunnyside Shines was able to clean off the graffiti outside Café Bene (42nd and Queens Blvd) recently, Esayebeare Bereal struck back again days later.
Esayebeare Bereal argues that he is capable of doing quality artwork but is fearful of getting caught by the police and said that paint is expensive.
Most don’t appreciate his graffiti in any form– viewing it as nothing more than vandalism.
43rd Street and Queens Boulevard. Former Dime Bank
43rd and Queens Blvd (former Dime Bank)
Sunnyside Shines cleaned his tag and then shortly after it reappeared (42nd Queens Blvd)
42nd Street (near Queens Blvd)
43rd Street and 43rd Avenue
44th Street (by Queens Blvd)
43rd (near Skillman Ave.)
43rd Avenue (between 42nd and 43rd Street)
Feb. 21, NY Post
Mayor Bill de Blasio is moving ahead with the plan to develop the Sunnyside rail yards, according to the New York Post.
On Friday — 17 days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the yards were off-limits — the city’s Economic Development Corporation issued a public notice seeking a yearlong feasibility study of the nearly 200-acre site.
De Blasio proposed building 11,250 units of affordable apartments over the rail yards as a major initiative in his State of the City speech — only to be shot down within hours by Cuomo, who insisted the MTA needs the property for other uses.
“It is not available for any other use in the near term,” Cuomo said in a statement immediately after de Blasio’s State of the City Speech.
But the mayor on Friday said it’s full speed ahead.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to deliver on our vision of a more affordable city and smart development that responds to the needs of surrounding neighborhoods,” he said, calling the pending study only a “first step.”
City Hall officials said the study will focus on the 113 acres owned by Amtrak — which is cooperating with the city — and another 44 acres where the land is owned by the MTA but the air rights belong to the city
For the full story, please click here
43rd Street and Queens Boulevard. Former Dime Bank.
43rd and Queens Blvd (former Dime Bank)
Sunnyside Shines cleaned his tag and then shortly after it reappeared (42nd Queens Blvd).
42nd Street (near Queens Blvd).
43rd Street and 43rd Avenue. .
44th Street (by Queens Blvd).
43rd (near Skillman Ave.).
43rd Avenue (between 42nd and 43rd Street)