From the perspective of many north and northeast Queens residents, 2013 was a good year for developers and not so great for the average citizen, who had to put up with increased airplane noise, overcrowded schools and more from College Point to Little Neck.
Like any year, 2013 brought many changes, but the overriding story here is Flushing Meadows Park, which has been bombarded on all fronts with some unpopular projects as the New York State Pavilion from the 1964 World’s Fair continues to suffer from neglect.
First on the park list was the proposal by Major League Soccer to erect a 25,000-seat stadium on the site of a fountain that dates back to the 1939 World’s Fair. Though proposed in 2012, the plan picked up steam in 2013 as the city encouraged it.
The talks never materialized into a formal deal, despite reports of a sweetheart offer of at least 10 acres of parkland for $1 a year, as well as tax breaks on the cost of construction.
Despite the Bloomberg administration pushing the project, the public didn’t like the idea of giving up public parkland and parking couldn’t be worked out for the deal. In December, it was reported that the $400 million arena is expected to be built in the Bronx, south of Yankee Stadium. It will be located at the site of a bankrupt parking garage and adjacent property. Score one for the little guy.
Despite protests, rallies and petitions, the massive Willets Point redevelopment project was approved by the city, even though the plan was different than originally announced. Now, the developers, one of whom is the owner of the Mets, will build a shopping mall and garage on the present Citi Field parking lot, technically parkland. Across the street in Willets Point, shops, restaurants, a hotel and parking will be built first, possibly followed by affordable housing in the distant future.
Objectors say the housing should go in first, but as the proposal is outlined, it could be 2025 before any action is taken on the residential units.
Still in question is the legality of using public parkland for private gain. The city is relying on a 1961 statute drawn up for the Mets, but legal experts say it does not allow such a mall. Also, the city still needs to get state approval for the parkland giveaway.
Once the mall is completed, the city will go ahead with the federally approved construction of new Van Wyck Expressway access ramps.
Phase 1 work will conclude with constructing more retail space, offices, 2,500 housing units with 875 of them affordable and a 280-room hotel in Willets Point.
Less invasive, but still controversial, the U.S. Tennis Association’s plan to expand its facility in Flushing Meadows was also met with resistance. That project was also approved by the city this year, giving .68 acre of parkland to the USTA to expand its complex there in return for $10.05 million and 16 community programs.
The $500 million construction project calls for replacing the existing Louis Armstrong and Grandstand stadiums, expanding the public plazas and making general improvements adding space for 10,000 more spectators.
Tennis officials also announced this year that they would add a retractable roof to the Armstrong facility, to be completed in 2017.
In other park developments, the expansion of the Queens Museum of Art was completed this year, almost doubling the facility’s space. It took over the adjacent former ice skating rink.
Attempts to landmark the park were rejected by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
In area school news, St. Fidelis, a 156-year-old Catholic school in College Point, closed its doors in June due to decreased enrollment caused by rising tuition and changing community demographics. The city is eyeing the property for use as a middle school.
Bayside residents protested the School Construction Authority’s plan to put an elementary school at the site of Keil Brothers Garden Center, which is closing. Neighbors say it’s not a good location for various reasons.
The proposed site on 48th Avenue is close to two other schools — MS 158 and PS 31 — and in the middle of an area primarily made up of homes. Residents and civic leaders are concerned that a new school would bring more traffic to mostly residential blocks.
But in November, the City Council voted overwhelmingly to approve a 416-seat school there, despite the plan having being delayed and thought to be dead.
The SCA is also looking at the former Cresthaven Country Club site in Whitestone to build a high school. Neighbors also oppose the plan because of lack of transportation and infrastructure, including sewers. No decision has been made yet.
School overcrowding remains an issue in the area. Bayside, Francis Lewis and Cardozo high schools are bursting at the seams and without plans for a new school, there don’t seem to be any remedies.
At Queensborough Community College in Bayside, acting president for three years Diane Call was named president. At Queens College in Flushing, President James Muyskens announced his retirement after 11 years at the helm. He will return to teaching.
In May, St. John’s University President the Rev. Donald Harrington announced his retirement in the midst of enduring accusations of corruption.
The 67-year-old, who previously acknowledged that he accepted expensive gifts from crooked former Dean Cecilia Chang before she committed suicide, sent an email to students and faculty saying that he will step down effective July 31. Harrington served as president of the university for 24 years.
The Rev. Joseph Levesque, former president of Niagara University, took over the helm and will remain until a replacement is found.
Airplane noise became a major issue over the skies of Northern and Northeastern Queens. A change in routing and increased flights have had an impact on homes in Malba and adjacent areas.
At a press conference at Little Bay Park in Bayside in September Reps. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Grace Meng (D-Flushing) were among those who called on the Federal Aviation Administration to exempt Kennedy and LaGuardia airports’ flights from a new rule that would allow the agency to make changes to flight procedures without conducting an environmental review to study the impact of the changes.
In April, a judge rejected an appeal from Friends of LaGuardia Airport to stop the city’s construction of a waste transfer station 2,000 feet away from Runway 31. The building is nearing completion, but some fear that birds will be attracted to the waste and cause potential problems to planes. Authorities say the garbage will be fully contained.
The biggest news in politics was the arrest of Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) on federal charges of bribery in April. He and state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) were both charged in an alleged plot to bribe GOP officials in an attempt to gain support for a potential Republican primary candidacy by Smith for mayor this year. Also arrested was Bayside attorney Vince Tabone, deputy Queens GOP chairman, and others, of trying to bribe officials into allowing Smith to gain a Wilson Pakula certificate — an agreement that he can run on the Republican line for mayor even though he is a registered Democrat. No trial date has been set for 2014.
In the November elections, Paul Vallone, a Democrat, was elected to replace Halloran, who did not seek re-election. Former state Sen. Rory Lancman will replace term-limited Councilman Jim Gennaro of Fresh Meadows. They’re both Democrats.
A tragedy took place in Kissena Park in August when a large tree toppled onto pregnant Yingyi Li-Dikov, 30, who was sitting on a bench, and killed her. Park advocates called for more tree inspections and maintenance to prevent such disasters in the future.
The future of a Fresh Meadows stable remains in question as the property owner wants it out so he can sell the property for development by a Korean church. Joy Tirado, who runs the riding academy, has been trying to raise money to hire a lawyer to stop the eviction and to purchase the site herself. Her facility has been open for three years, but the location has been a stable for at least 100 years.
Little Neck residents seem happy that the Leviton manufacturing site on Little Neck Parkway has been leased by a watch manufacturer, who will move in this spring. The property has been vacant for four years. No added traffic, noise or congestion are expected with the new tenant.
Not so happy are businesses in Douglaston, which lost a key merchant, Giftalicious, a jazzy cafe-bakery that planners hoped would encourage more shops to open on the north side of the Long Island Rail Road tracks on 235th Street. The store opened there in the spring of 2012 and closed this past July.
It was previously located on the other side of the railroad tracks, but needed more space.
Tow pound moves
In October, it was announced that the city’s largest tow pound, located in Maspeth, had been moved to the College Point Corporate Park. Elected officials were not notified.
The new Police Academy, still under construction, replaced a tow pound that was never resituated. Community Board 7 and other officials are angry that no prior notice was given. The NYPD said it is only a temporary measure as police had to get out from under the Kosciuszko Bridge. Work is scheduled to begin at the bridge this winter, with a completion date scheduled for 2018.
Lest we sound too negative, this article ends with six positive stories:
• Arvind Mahankali, an eighth-grader at MS 74 in Bayside, won the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC in June. He took home $30,000.
• In July, Major League Baseball held its All-Star Game and related events at Citi Field. For once the stadium was filled with fans.
• Elected officials, representatives from city agencies and the Historic House Trust broke ground on the $3.2 million restoration of Flushing’s historic Bowne House in June.
The work will include new roofing, gutters and leader pipes for drainage, wood wall shingles and weatherboard cladding; the restoration of the historic wood window sash, doors and associate trim and shutters; and new concrete footings.
The circa-1746 house has been closed for years due to lack of funds for restoration. A visitors center located on the grounds is also planned for the future.
• In an exclusive Queens Chronicle story in August, it was announced that the Bayside post office on 42nd Avenue would not be combined with an annex on 216th Street, in a remote area of the community without parking. The move was first announced in 2012 and was supposed to happen this year.
Postal officials told the Chronicle that the cost-cutting plan had been scrapped.
• After years of delays and located in cramped quarters, Alley Pond Environmental Center in Douglaston will be getting a new headquarters, with work expected to begin later this year.
Executive Director Irene Scheid told the Chronicle that a new $9 million building will be constructed behind the existing facility at 228-06 Northern Blvd. It now houses one of APEC’s parking lots. Once the new facility is completed, the old building, which started out as an outdoor furniture store, will be razed to create additional parking space.
• Two delayed Flushing projects are expected to get off the ground this year: Municipal Parking Lot 1 in Flushing will be converted into a mixed-use development called Flushing Commons. Phase 1 will take three years to complete. And the RKO Keith’s Theatre has been sold and the new owner promises either apartments or condominiums, shops and a senior center.