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Queens Chronicle

Rising tide of civic unrest colors 2012

Political sea change, park plans and endangered schools in North Queens

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Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 10:42 am, Thu Jan 3, 2013.

For many Queens residents, 2012 will be forever married to Superstorm Sandy and the havoc she wrought. For good or ill, North Queens was spared the brunt of the storm.

A sizeable number of downed trees and power outages hit the area, but most counted their luck. Compared to the borough’s southern edge, Sandy was forgiving to Flushing and its satellite neighborhoods.

Instead, 2012 in North Queens was more often defined by redefinition: new districts, yet to be mapped out, changed elected officials’ home turf. Others will wake up in January under the auspices of a new congresswoman and assemblyman. One politico even changed his political identity from elephant to donkey.

Meanwhile, the usual problems persisted. Some parks languished, while another became the proposed home of contentious athletic ambitions. Main Street in Flushing retained its usual odor, but the ingredients became clearer. Bowne Park’s red algae drew the attention of local activists, who got on the city’s case to have the water cleared.

This year, even more than in the past, pitted residents against city agencies. The winner was consistently harder to find than completed district maps.

JANUARY

As another year of bumper-to-bumper headaches began, the Texas Transportation Institute ranked the northbound Van Wyck Expressway feeding into Northern Boulevard as the fourth-worst commute in America.

Community Board 7 unanimously rejected the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ request for a zoning variance to build a church on 33rd Avenue. Board members were concerned with its dimensions and its outsized “floor area ratio.”

Gov. Cuomo’s proposed convention center at Aqueduct Racetrack threw its sibling proposal at Willets Point onto the ropes. The former proposal eventually died, but the Iron Triangle’s version is nowhere in sight despite reassurances from Borough President Helen Marshall that the plan is not dead.

In what has become a seemingly annual tradition, Flushing residents blasted the MTA’s plans to shut down the No. 7 line for signal work for the first quarter of 2012.

Queens College implemented a ban of smoking on campus on Jan. 1.

Councilman Peter Koo of Flushing switched parties, from Republican to Democrat, after infighting in the Queens Republican Party left a bitter taste in his mouth. He downplayed the nastiness during a Queens Democratic lovefest announcing his switch, instead pointing to the ability to endorse Dems in upcoming races, as well as the possibility of more discretionary funds and possibly a committee chairmanship.

The Department of Environmental Protection announced the cleanup of Flushing Bay, by redirecting sewers, dredging and green infrastructure, would be completed in 2017.

The Rev. Timothy Mitchell of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Flushing died on Jan. 26.

FEBRUARY

The 84-year-old Flushing Chamber of Commerce disbanded at the beginning of the month, citing new demographics and a glut of business groups.

The Department of Transportation got a stern finger-wagging from Flushing residents over an allegedly “shoddy” repaving job that increased flooding around 146th Street and 32nd Avenue.

The 420 registered nurses at Flushing Hospital averted a strike after negotiating a new contract with the MediSys Health Network.

CB 7 voted in favor of the proposed Women’s Center in Fort Totten, a bocce court in Bowne Park and the $4 million restoration of the historic Bowne House.

The Flushing Business Improvement District unveiled plans to clean up Downtown Flushing, including scraping the dirt and grime off garbage cans and mailboxes.

The Met Council was joined by city housing officials to welcome the addition of new senior housing in Pomonok, called Council Towers VI.

Legendary Mets catcher and Hall of Famer Gary Carter died on Feb. 16, succumbing to brain cancer.

Youngsters, parents and elected officials rallied to call for the Parsons Beacon program’s protection from the city’s budgetary axe.

Flushing High School was put on a list of 33 schools slated for closure due to poor performance, sparking the ire of teachers, their union and elected officials.

City Comptroller and former Flushing Councilman John Liu was thrown into a brewing political scandal, after the treasurer of his citywide campaign was charged with conspiracy and wire fraud over activities involving Liu’s run.

Police recovered 13 Torah-related silver items stolen from Congregation Rachel Degel Israel in Kew Gardens Hills.

Flushing resident Meilan Jin was hit and killed by a city bus while crossing at Northern Boulevard and Union Street, drawing attention to what was, at one point, the deadliest corner in Queens. The DOT said accidents at the location were down overall.

The United States Postal Service decided to close its distribution center in Whitestone, costing the borough 1,140 jobs. The agency said employees of the plant will find work elsewhere within the USPS, if possible. It then retracted the statement.

MARCH

Control of a popular community garden in Kissena Corridor Park was handed over to the Parks Department’s Green Thumb program.

Borough President Marshall voted against the LDS’s zoning variance to build a larger church in Flushing.

PS 22 teacher Grace Peterson-Hagendorf was charged with assaulting a minor following accusations she hurt one of her 6-year-old students.

Rumors began swirling that the derelict RKO Keith’s Theatre was on the selling block again, after it was found posted online with a $30 million asking price. Developer Patrick Thompson denied any change in plans to develop the site, which includes a landmarked interior.

Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-Queens, Nassau) announced his retirement from Capitol Hill after nearly four decades in office. The announcement set off a realignment of the race for the newly drawn 6th Congressional District, with Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) entering the Democratic Primary for the open seat. Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) soon followed as the Republican challenger.

One Flushing, an amalgam of business groups, was created to fill the absence of the Flushing Chamber of Commerce.

The Quaker Meeting House on Northern Boulevard saw its landmarked cemetery incurred upon by a neighboring construction site.

APRIL

Macedonia AME began work on its $45 million affordable housing project at the northeast corner of Downtown Flushing’s Municipal Parking Lot 1.

The Federal Highway Administration approved proposed new ramps for the Willets Point redevelopment, which had been a major sticking point in the project’s fruition.

The developer next to the Quaker Meeting House agreed to pay for ground testing to see if incursions onto the historic site’s cemetery has disturbed remains.

Jeff Gottlieb announced he was entering the race to replace Ackerman, sparking outrage from Lancman, who claimed the newest opponent was a plant by the Queens Democratic Party to split the Jewish vote.

The new owner of 24-19 Francis Lewis Blvd. promised to rid the community of a long-standing eyesore, a 6-foot plywood, graffiti-riddled fence, putting a chain-link fence in its place.

The Mets began their 50th season as the borough’s only professional sports franchise.

MAY

Adis Medunjanin, a convicted terrorist from Flushing who plotted to commit a suicide attack on U.S. soil, was sentenced to life in prison.

The Panel for Education Policy voted to close 24 schools around the city, including Flushing High School, which was a source of contention and uproar throughout the spring.

The Mayor’s Office announced it would no longer use eminent domain to take over remaining land at Willets Point, shortly before a case filed by an opposition group was to be heard in the state Appellate Court.

A leak to the news media revealed Sterling Equities and The Related Companies won a contract to develop a 1.4 million-square-foot mall in Willets Point.

Councilman Halloran discovered a benign tumor in his brain while undergoing a free scan being offered to constituents by his office. An ensuing operation removed the tumor safely and Halloran was quickly back to work.

JUNE

The possibility of a vacant Assembly seat in Flushing drew Democrats Ron Kim, Ethel Chen and Myungsuk Lee and Republican Sunny Hahn into a general election race to replace Grace Meng.

Queens College cut the ribbon on its renovated Kupferberg Center for the Arts after a $10 million makeover.

The United States Tennis Association revealed $500 million expansion plans to create two new stadiums and additional parking in its Flushing Meadows Corona Park home.

Meng handily defeated her Democratic opponents in the primary for the 6th Congressional District race.

Major League Soccer unveiled plans to build a soccer stadium in the heart of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a deal still in the works that requires replacement parkland be established elsewhere to make up for the lost acreage.

JULY

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman settled a case against the city’s Economic Development Corp. and Flushing-Willets Point-Corona Local Development Corp. for illegal lobbying activities surrounding the Willets Point Redevelopment Project.

The Chronicle discovered Bowne Park’s pond had been inundated with possibly dangerous red tide algae, after the park’s fountains were turned off.

Yen Chou and Matthew Silverstein added their names to the growing roster of Democratic contenders for the 40th Assembly District Seat.

The Parks Department allocated $115,000 for the restoration of the Rocket Thrower statue in FMCP.

A new playground under the Whitestone Bridge opened just in time for the long summer months.

A Muslim charter school was set to open in the fall at what used to be part of a detox center on Parson Boulevard.

Sue Henderson, Queens College’s COO, revealed she was departing the borough institution to become president of New Jersey City University.

The Queens Library unveiled plans to move its Mitchell-Linden area branch to a larger facility at 31-32 Union St.

The exterior and yard of the 150-year-old Flushing Town Hall started to undergo a $1.6 million upgrade.

After successive losses in court, the city dropped its plans to close 24 city high schools, including Flushing High School.

The Board of Standards and Appeals unanimously approved plans to create a huge, new Mormon church in Flushing despite opposition by CB 7 and Borough President Marshall.

Former Flushing Meadows Park Administrator Estelle Cooper, 82, was charged with second- and third-degree larceny for stealing more than $50,000 from the nonprofit fundraising group Unisphere Inc.

Carl Hudson Jr., the principal of Flushing High School, was busted in a traffic stop after cops allegedly found a bag of methamphetamine in his car.

Former Assemblyman Jimmy Meng was charged with allegedly seeking a payoff to help an associate get a more lenient sentence for unrelated charges. The 68-year-old allegedly asked for $80,000 in a fruit basket in exchange for pulling strings at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

AUGUST

A 14-month dispute between Queensboro Hill Community Church and two squatters was ended with their ouster.

Koo introduced a bill to rename the southwest corner of Northern Boulevard and Union Street in honor of “comfort women” of World War II.

Announced upgrades to FMCOP included the creation of rain gardens to filter water entering Meadow Lake, as well as widened paths.

Talks surrounding a potential Wal Mart adjacent to Citi Field were stopped dead in their tracks.

The red tide algae at Bowne Park was nixed when the pond’s fountains were turned on once again.

Residents and elected officials decried the slow progress of a 149th Street bridge replacement that has taken twice as long to complete as was originally planned.

The Garden Jewish Center, in existence for more than half a century, closed, and members of its congregation moved to the Bay Terrace Jewish Center.

An abandoned lot at 150-33 6th Ave. drew the ire of neighboring residents, who wanted something done about the overgrown haven to wildlife and mosquitoes.

A mid-August court ruling sent the EDC back to the drawing board on its Willets Point redevelopment plans, demanding the pseudo-agency resubmit an environmental review for its Phase 1 portion of the project.

SEPTEMBER

Ron Kim emerged the Democratic winner in the 40th District Assembly seat’s primary, facing off against Republican Phil Gim in the general election. State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) won the primary for her seat, facing J.D. Kim in the general. Nily Rozic was the Dem pick for the Assembly seat vacated by Lancman, facing Republican opponent Abe Fuchs.

The early parts of an opposition to the proposed changes in FMCP emerged at meetings arranged by the Fairness Coalition of Queens, a amalgam of local community groups opposing the creation of a soccer stadium, USTA expasnion and a mall next to Citi Field.

OCTOBER

A Queens Chronicle contributor managed to decipher the ingredients of “Flushing soup,” the malodorous mixture coating the neighborhood’s streets and causing a real stink. The mix of food garbage and liquid that was improperly disposed of poses a continuing problem for the neighborhood and business associations trying to beautify the area.

Attorney General Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against a Tinny Beauty, a Flushing beauty school, claiming it filed misleading paperwork that promised customers manicurist licenses without the required number of hours of instruction.

The city was hit by a historic post-tropical cyclone named Sandy, a storm of hurricane strength and epic proportions. Flooding, power outages and washed-away homes were left in its wake in Manhattan, Staten Island and Brooklyn. Queens was no different.

The borough’s southern neighborhoods, from Rockaway to Howard Beach, endured the brunt of Sandy’s wrath, and face a recovery process that could take years, the northern portion’s damage mirrored that of Hurricane Irene and a microburst, which hit the area the two previous years, causing downed trees, flooding and damage to the above-ground electrical grid.

NOVEMBER

Some parts of the area remained without power, and it was later discovered the Deptartment of Buildings was handing out violations for downed trees on houses. The agency maintained there would be no fines attached.

The storm revealed vulnerabilities in the city’s infrastructure, specifically an antiquated power grid that’s still above-ground. Calls for a faster response from Con Ed were mixed with demands the grid be upgraded and shifted below ground, though no major legislation or action was planned as of this writing.

CB 7 members called upon the City and MLS to consider the old Flushing Airport as the potential home to new replacement parkland for a proposed soccer stadium in FMCP.

Meng became congresswoman-elect when she defeated Councilman Halloran in the general election race for the 6th Congressional District seat. The win will make her the first Asian American lawmaker from New York State to enter Congress.

In other races, Stavisky retained her seat, while Democrat Ron Kim won the race for Meng’s former Assembly seat.

MLS released a poll showing a majority of 600 Queens residents like the idea of a soccer stadium in the borough, though most didn’t know anything about the plans.

Redrawn Councilmanic district lines drew the ire of residents, who said the changes did not match the actual lay of the land. North Flushing’s shifting lines in particular were striking, though Koo and Halloran said the changes were welcome. The redistricting plans were scrapped and set to start over.

Schneiderman called out four borough gas stations for price gouging, including a Delta station in College Point.

A series of protests blasting Flushing Savings for alleged shady dealing broke out around the borough.

A bust by Schneiderman for sex ads both online and in print nabbed a number of Flushing residents.

DECEMBER

Flushing High School was placed in the DOE’s sights again, with its performance probed for possible closure.

A “town hall” meeting held for the proposed MLS stadium left opponents of the plan calling the event a carefully staged and orchestrated pep rally.

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