Devon O’Connor, who started a Whitestone business group last year, wants to expand it to include the residential community, but he’s finding some bumps along the way.
O’Connor, who runs a party planning store, organized Welcome to Whitestone last June and now has about 70 members from the business community.
Since forming the group, he has raised $4,000 for a new welcoming sign for the community to replace the dilapidated one at the intersection of Francis Lewis Boulevard, the Cross Island Parkway and Locke Avenue. It should be erected in the next couple of months.
Now, O’Connor wants to expand Welcome to Whitestone to include the residential area and his lawyers are working on getting non-profit status for the combined group. He believes there is a need because “the community lacks active representation, vision and excitement for the future of Whitestone.”
But a May 4 organizing meeting was canceled and has not been rescheduled. “This is my busy time at work,” O’Connor said. “No date has been set yet, probably in a couple of weeks or a month.”
The area’s longtime civic, the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association, has not commented on O’Connor’s plan, but state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said on Tuesday that he does not oppose the new group, though he doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
“I think one civic is enough,” Avella said. “People are united behind that group and it works well.”
While believing that O’Connor, 20, is well-meaning, Avella described him as naive. “I think he’s in over his head,” the senator said, especially regarding development in the area.
Avella was referring to a controversial plan that he opposes to upzone a block to expand the former White House restaurant on 154th Street, which calls for adding more space for catering and increasing the size of the parking lot. The GWTCA has also taken a stand opposing the proposal.
O’Connor testified in its favor at a recent City Planning Commission hearing. He said he spoke for himself, although he noted there was a petition going around the business community that favors the expansion.
“After doing research and talking to the developer and his attorneys, I decided it will create jobs and lead to fixing up an old building,” O’Connor said. “I’m doing something, not sitting around complaining.”
For his part, O’Connor is furious with Avella for upsetting his grandparents, who are longtime supporters of the senator. “He called my grandparents to talk about my plan, and he made my grandmother very upset,” he said. “Avella wanted a meeting with the three of us, but I decided against going.”
He added that his grandparents have nothing to do with his group and wonders why Avella didn’t contact him directly. “He knows me, but went to my grandparents without a reason,” O’Connor said.
The young organizer said he has the support of the business community as well as Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), and that there is a lot of interest from homeowners about joining his group. “Most of the merchants live in Whitestone and want representation as homeowners,” he said.
Halloran e-mailed the following comment about O’Connor: “It’s always a good thing when young people get involved in their community.Devon is already a leader in Whitestone, and I look forward to working with him, whether through his proposed new civic group or his established non-profit.”
O’Connor’s most recent project was a fundraiser for the Whitestone Community Volunteer Ambulance Service. His group helped raise more than $500 during a breakfast with the Easter Bunny.
His future plans for Whitestone include hosting programs for children and senior citizens and ultimately crreating a community center.
“Right now I have a brand-new idea to sponsor a July 4th neighborhood barbecue,” O’Connor said, promising more details in the near future.