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Queens Chronicle

YEAR IN REVIEW 2013 Points, Pointz and traffic lights

Developments and street safety made 2013 a year of change

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Posted: Thursday, January 2, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:22 am, Thu Jan 9, 2014.

In Western Queens, 2013 was the year of development and affordable housing. Willets Point, Hallets Point, Hunters Point and 5Pointz became names commonly thrown around by politicians, community boards and civic groups throughout the area. There wasn’t a month that didn’t go by when residents, electeds and developers went head to head on major development projects, illegal apartments, a massive soccer stadium plan or even the possible closing of their neighborhood movie theater.

January

Several aspects of the plans to reconstruct Willets Point had been presented, including hotels, a million-square-foot mall and new exits off the Van Wyck Expressway. But in January 2013, residents demanded more affordable housing and held a number of rallies informing elected officials and developers that the project would not receive their blessing without their being assured that the housing wouldn’t be all luxury.

In Astoria, parents argued that the new gifted and talented proposal from the Department of Education discriminated against students at PS 166. The controversy began when parents found out that the plan would call for the students in the advanced program at PS 166 to retest when entering the sixth grade. No other school in District 30 was required to have their students retest.

February

Small businesses began speaking out for and against the Major League Soccer stadium proposal in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. It was just the beginning of a long battle but lines were drawn and signs were posted in the windows of surrounding businesses in support of and against bringing another major sports arena to an already congested area.

Following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Sunnyside community members organized a fundraiser for former residents and parents of 6-year-old Benjamin Wheeler, who died during the massacre. The foundation raised tens of thousands of dollars to help the family rebuild their lives.

Sunnyside residents clamored over the expected closure and redevelopment of Center Cinemas, the only movie theater in the neighborhood. Dime Savings Bank sold it for $6.67 million and members of the community were not pleased with the idea of their cinema being taken away but the net profit was just barely covering debt payments on the space. The theater will remain open until Dec. 2014 when the lease is up.

A plan to transform Astoria Park’s former diving pool into a community entertainment space was announced.

March

Astoria residents and supporters of the landmarked property formerly owned by the Steinway family formed the Friends of Steinway Mansion. The group announced that it was looking to garner state support or public money as well as raise private funds with which to purchase the home. The group, full of music buffs, historians and longtime residents, would turn the mansion into a museum. Throughout 2013, the group hosted a number of fundraising events to raise money but have not yet brought in enough.

Shovels hit dirt on March 4 at the Hunters Point South project, the largest new affordable housing complex to be built in New York City since the 1970s. The project recently completed the first of two phases that includes two residential buildings with 925 affordable apartments, 17,000 square feet of new retail space, a five-acre park and a 1,100-seat high school — the Academy for Careers in Television and Film.

The DOE presented a proposal to add an international school to Newtown High School in Long Island City, which serves a diverse population of students. Parents, Community Education Council 24 representatives and others felt a co-location would be unnecessary because the facility already offers English as a second language classes as 60 percent of the 2,251 students are Hispanic and 25 percent are Asian.

Almost 100 Trade Fair supermarket union employees working in the meat department at nine Queens store locations began an unfair labor practice strike on March 13.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-Corona) announced “A New Deal for Roosevelt Avenue” on March 19 to increase sanitation services, brighten the area along the avenue from 82nd to 114th streets, create a business improvement district, install more police cameras, update zoning, continue programming at Corona Plaza and create a task force for the bustling thoroughfare.

April

The fourth month of the year started with a big win for the Amazin’s as the Mets won their season opener.

A zoning variance for a new educational annex for the Louis Armstrong House Museum went before Queens Borough President Helen Marshall to accommodate for the developer’s plans which, unamended, were out of compliance.

The borough president OK’d the USTA’s planned expansion in Flushing Meadows Corona Park despite not having a quorum of the Borough Board, which calls for a least one person more than half of the 22 eligible voters. She promised to demand replacement parkland.

Legislaton sponsored by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) went into effect on April 23 that requires restaurant delivery workers on cycles to wear helmets, reflective vests, lights, bells and identification linking the riders to their employers’ establishments.

May

Once again, the controversial MLS proposal to build a stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park re-emerged when the league found an oil-rich possible owner for the proposed franchise, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. A billionaire member of the Abu Dhabi royal family and deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, Monsour was ready to bankroll the stadium as team owner.

Then, Queens elected officials and some park advocates lauded one of the more controversial announcements made by the United States Tennis Association. The nonprofit would replace the .68 acre of parkland needed for its expansion with 1.56 acres of what appeared to be used as and mapped as existing parkland already within Flushing Meadows. The USTA gave back parkland it leased but continued to use it as if it was paying rent.

Kermit and Miss Piggy announced with Mayor Bloomberg that the family of the late Jim Henson — the artist behind the Muppets, “Sesame Street,” “Fraggle Rock” and other children’s programs — donated 400 puppets, costumes, props, clips and storyboards to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, which in turn will build a 2,200-square-foot gallery for them on the museum’s second floor.

Tension between the street artists of graffiti mecca 5Pointz and the building’s owners, Jerry and David Wolkoff, grew in May when architects representing the Wolkoffs told the artists that the structure could be torn down immediately if the developers wanted. Since the Wolkoff family was looking to develop the building into a 1,000-unit residential structure, the demolition wouldn’t begin until a variance was granted by the City Council.

June

More problems with gifted and talented studies arose in June when parents and teachers from a citywide G & T program criticized a prolonged phaseout period and potential overcrowding. Under a new DOE proposal, science technology engineering and math (STEM) students who attended PS 85 at the time will attend kindergarten through fourth grade at PS 17 and continue sixth through eighth grade under the direction of the same principal at IS 126. Parents were furious at the idea of the administration splitting its time between the two facilities.

VFW Post 2348 was renamed in honor of Rocco Moretto, an Astoria resident and serviceman during World War II.

Allegedly the principal at Pan American International High School in Elmhurst racially discriminated against the school’s three African-American teachers, according to 150 individuals crowding the steps of DOE headquarters on July 8. Principal Minerva Zanca called teachers John Flannagan and Heather Hightower racially charged names and graded them unfairly, leading to their termination, according to reports. She allegedly compared one of the teachers to a gorilla.

The battle over Willets Point continued as ralliers walked down 126th Street asking for relocation for the auto body shops that call the site home and for affordable housing in the complex planned to replace them. The next day, Marshall approved the proposed mall plan.

July

Van Bramer joined the Woodside Houses Tenants Association which wants to form a quality-of-life committee so the New York City Housing Authority can work directly with its tenants to fix problems that have been backlogged for years.

Despite being purchased by a Brooklyn-based developer in 2009, the Elmhurst building that once held St. John’s Hospital was put back on the market. The plot was approved for mixed-use purposes and was originally set to have commercial tenants on the first floor, offices on the second and residential on the remaining floors. The asking price was set at a $55 million.

August

Despite test scores statewide being lower than most years, PS 122 in Astoria placed 40 percent higher than the rest of the state on the new Common Core test this year.

Jackson Heights nonprofit New Immigrant Community Empowerment launched the borough’s first organized construction workers’ center. The center is designed to prevent wage theft, certify workers and educate both workers and employers on fair compensation.

The Chronicle endorsed Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) for the Democratic nod for Queens borough president during the 2013 campaign season.

September

Costa Constantinides and Melinda Katz clinched the Democratic nominations for Council member for District 22 and Queens borough president, respectively.

A debate was sparked regarding the expansion of the 82nd Street Partnership onto Roosevelt Avenue. Businesses owners opposed to the proposal, which was included in Ferreras’ New Deal for Roosevelt Avenue, marched from the Corona pedestrian plaza to the councilwoman’s office where they dropped off a letter asking that the proposed Jackson Heights-Corona Business Improvement District expansion be denied.

Early in the month, Ever Orozco, a 69-year-old man, was stabbed to death on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, alledgedly by Steven Torres, who reportedly told police he stabbed the victim because he thought Orozco was gay. A rally was held near the location where Orozco died to bring an end to hate crimes and improve the living conditions on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights.

Community Board 2, Van Bramer and residents of Sunnyside Gardens spoke out against a proposal to bring the historic Aluminaire house to the landmarked neighborhood. Critics said the building would clash with Sunnyside Gardens’ all-brick buildings and suggested it be moved to an area where it would blend in better. The house is a relic from a 1931 Museum of Modern Art exhibit.

October

Fourteen-year-old Avonte Oquendo ran out of his school in Long Island City and disappeared. The city initiated a massive search but could not find the nonverbal autistic boy.

Nineteen-year-old Luis Bravo is killed by a dark sedan at the intersection of Broadway and 58th Street in Woodside. Though Bravo had been crossing the street against the light, Van Bramer, state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria), Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) and residents of Woodside urged the Department of Transportation to implement traffic-calming measures.

After the stabbing of Orozco in September, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) called on the city to reassemble the Roosevelt Avenue Task Force, a group originally convened in 1991 that drew from the Police, Fire and Buildings departments and other agencies that monitor the corridor. This task force was a more offensive approach in response to crime as opposed to the one recently proposed by Ferreras that would also address quality-of-life issues.

The City Council unanimously voted in favor of a zoning variance to transform the 5Pointz street art center into a mixed-use residential complex with artist studios, commercial businesses and a park.

In addition to the 5Pointz approval, the City Council approved proposals for Hallets Point in Astoria and Willets Point in Corona. Council members praised Ferreras for the last-minute negotiations made with developers who are designed to bring more affordable housing to the area as requested by ralliers and protesters since the modified plan was announced earlier in 2013.

On Oct. 24, representatives from major city agencies gathered in Corona to discuss the improvements that need to be made to Roosevelt Avenue, the major corridor many refer to as “old Times Square” because of its high crime and prostitution rates. Together, the agencies make up the Roosevelt Avenue Task Force, which would be expected to combat crime, clean up the area and improve lighting.

November

Constantinides became councilman-elect for District 22 and Katz was elected borough president.

The New York Coalition to Expand Voting Rights conducted a mock election complete with mock voting booths, ballots, poll workers and ballot boxes in Diversity Plaza on Election Day. An estimated 900,000 legal immigrants who hold green cards, student visas, worker visas or are otherwise legally permitted to reside in the country are not permitted to vote in local elections, something NYCEVR said is not fair.

The artists at 5Pointz filed a lawsuit to block Jerry Wolkoff — the primary owner of the building — from razing the graffiti mecca. The presiding judge refused to grant an injunction but did place a temporary restraining order on the building, preventing both parties from painting, knocking down or tampering with the premises.

The PS 339 project in Woodside broke ground.

The Wolkoff family had 5Pointz white-washed unbeknownst to the artists who then held a vigil in honor of all the work lost. The paint job came just days after Jonathan Cohen — the curator — filed a landmark application.

The first round of business relocations from Willets Point were completed as part of the deal made by business owners and developers. Those who took the developers’ offer by the end of November were awarded a year’s worth of their present rent. Some businesses owners begged for an extension but were not successful.

December

Kaufman Astoria Studios opened New York City’s first outdoor movie lot on Dec. 3.

With just weeks left in office, Vallone introduced a bill that would remove former Mayor Ed Koch’s name from the Queensboro Bridge and place it on the Municipal Building in Manhattan, though the measure will not be voted on until 2014.

Oquendo’s family opened official headquarters in Astoria.

Another car careered off the Queensboro exit ramp, slamming into a vacant storefront and throwing the driver from the vehicle, killing her instantly. Elected officials gathered at the site to demand the DOT come up with an alternative design for the exit ramp.

Two weeks before Christmas, more than 50 employees were left out in the cold when the Jackson Heights Trade Fair was sold in secret. The workers picketed and rallied outside the store demanding that Key Food, the new owner, hire back all of the employees who were unceremoniously thrown out onto the street.

Noshat Nohian, an 8-year-old boy, was run over by a tractor trailer as he crossed Northern Boulevard in Woodside. The driver was operating the vehicle without a proper license on Dec. 20.

Welcome to the discussion.