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Election Challenges Plaque Mitchell Lama Cooperative

Rochdale Village

‘Nobody cares’.

That was the statement from a cooperator the day after Rochdale Village’s annual shareholders meeting.  Less than 100 individuals reportedly turned out for that meeting where cooperatives are given a report on the state of the Village.  Rochdale Village is the second largest Mitchell Lama complex in New York City with over 5,000 units. 

A week later, Rochdale Village failed to reach the quorum necessary for a valid election to fill open seats on its Board of Directors.  The Election Committee voted to extend the election another day in an effort to receive the additional 64 votes necessary for a quorum.  The cost…an additional $22,000 on top of the over $55,000 already spent on the election. 

What’s at stake?  Some believe Mitchell Lama Properties are facing privatization.  In Brooklyn, residents are fighting against the privatization of Starrett City, a Mitchell Lama Complex.  Brooklyn has lost 4,300 Mitchell Lama units since 1990.  This loss speaks directly to the issue of affordable housing with which the city is currently grappling.  In February 2016, the NYC Council Committee on Housing and Buildings had its first hearing on Mitchell-Lama housing in nearly seven years.  At the hearing the concerns of supporting the developments, protecting affordability and oversight were discussed. 

Elections are typically hard fought, but that is nothing compared to a Rochdale Village Board of Directors Election.  On the days prior to an election, apartments are typically inundated with negative material about candidates which contain anything from accusations of impropriety, assertion of criminal acts by candidates and allegations of corruption.  These materials arrive with no signature from those making the charges and very little evidence to substantiate them. 

Residents are also inundated with election materials: Palm cards, flyers, announcements, used to gain voter attention.  It is clear which candidates have the most finances as their materials come more regularly and are the most alluring: glossy papers and dynamic graphics.  In typically elections, candidates proudly display their parties backing and endorsements.  There is also a dearth of oversight and accountability. 

In a Rochdale Village Board of Directors campaign, there is little to no transparency regarding from whom and where campaign funds are derived.  That mystery has long opened the door to conspiracy theories of Rochdale Village’s Management company’s clandestine involvement in elections.  One such conspiracy theory is that company Managing the Cooperative is using its money and clout to influence the campaign and keep its desired Board Members in place.  Whether or not it is true can not be ascertained without transparency. 

Elected officials are typically hands off on the matter of Board elections and the Management of Mitchell Lama Cooperatives.   However, that may be changing.  Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, recently penned an op-ed and testified about the crisis of the Mitchell Lamas.  Although he was referring to Brooklyn sites and non-cooperative tenant occupancies, he makes some interesting points about Board oversight and city agencies that may be slacking. 

“For too long, the Mitchell-Lama portfolio has lacked funds for regular maintenance and oversight, and many of the boards overseeing these buildings have run amok, playing their own rules while ignoring the needs of residents who generally do not participate in the voting process. Instead of safeguarding the integrity of the Mitchell-Lama program, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the state’s Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) have allowed these select boards to defy the rules regarding apartment allocation, contracting and financial reporting. This needs to change, for the sake of those living under these conditions, and to restore accountability and integrity in the system.”  -Eric Adams

Rochdale Village cooperators have long been trying to receive real attention for its issues from HPD and DHCR.  During the period leading up to its extended one day election, several cooperators were trying to put a face on what they consider unfair promotional practices.  Flyers for one group of candidates were removed from Village wide bulletin boards while another group’s flyers remained in place. 

Jamaica Queens is currently slated for revitalization supported by city and state funds.  Its Downtown area is already seeing developments of hotels and apartments, a portion of those are said to be filled with affordable housing.  The area also has one of the highest concentration of homeless shelters.  JFK International Airport, currently slated for a billion dollar renovation is less than a mile away from Rochdale Village, the Jewel of Jamaica.  This $75 million dollar Mitchell Lama Cooperative exists in the midst of it all.

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Traffic, Traffic, Traffic! Changes Coming Soon to Springfield Gardens and JFK Business District

Most everyone has a horror story of crossing Rockaway Blvd near the DMV or a tale of a terrific accident on the Conduit turning onto Rockaway Blvd or a roaring conflict between vehicles exiting the Belt Parkway and merging into traffic.  Pedestrian traffic navigating to public transportation is a challenge on 147th street and there are hairpin truck curves and turns throughout the area.  If you can survive all of that, good luck finding a place to park the car. 

The Greater JFK Industrial Business Improvement District (IBID) hosted a presentation from the Department of Transportation (DOT) at its September 27, 2017 meeting.  The Department of Transportation shared the recommendations it will be implementing from its Springfield Gardens/JFK Transportation Study. 

The study area, which has been problematic for some time, covers the triangular area bordered by North Conduit Blvd, Nassau Expressway/ Rockaway Blvd and Springfield Blvd. 

The goal of the study was to improve traffic circulation and safety for all street users: trucks, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.  These recommendations came after public participation town halls and meetings with community boards, city agencies, state agencies, elected officials and the NYPD.

The timeline for implementation of solutions can be a few months to years depending on the required improvements.  Of course, smaller fixes have a shorter timeline than larger scale projects.

Based on the feedback there are still some solutions which require further review prior to moving forward with the recommendations.

Recommendations include changing parking regulations, changing street directions, adding signals, improving or adding pedestrian pavements and/or walkways, moving bus stops and adding turning signals to traffic lights.  The recommendations are detailed below.

Intersection of Rockaway and Guy R Brewer Blvd. 

One of the issues at this intersection is the lack of pedestrian protections while crossing at the intersection.  The intersection includes pedestrian traffic to the nearby bus depot.  MTA employees are challenged to find parking and then walk back to the depot across congested traffic.  There was a concern that the MTA had not opened the depot to employee parking as yet.  Recommendation: install concrete islands, ramps and stop bars on North Boundary Road.  Make increases to signal timing to allow extra time for crossing.

155th  and 156th between South Conduit and 146th  Avenue

The challenge in this area is the difficulties trucks have making right turns from 115th Street onto the South Conduit Avenue/Rockaway Blvd.  The recommendation is to reverse the traffic direction on 155th and 156th streets.  Feedback from participants felt that solution was not viable.  The new direction of 155th street would not allow for right turns.  They believe the street is too narrow and that the DOT is not accounting for whether there would be cars parked on the street at the time of the turn.  “There are too many buses, trucks and trailers entering and exiting on one road,” said Frank Liggio, Chairperson of IBID.  “We need another exit to the Nassau Expressway.  That is the answer,” he said. 

Farmers and Rockaway Blvds

This intersection sees heavy traffic with no lanes for left turns.  On Farmers Blvd, the bus stop causes traffic tie ups.  The recommendation includes adjusting signal timings, including street pavement yellow markings for North and South Bound left turn lanes.  The bus stop will be relocated 80 feet forward and a ‘No Standing Anytime’ sign will be placed at the former bus stop just behind the new stop. 

147th Avenue off Guy R Brewer Blvd

This is an area of particular pedestrian concern due to its commercial and residential mixture.  Speeding has been a problem in the area as well as a commercial truck repair business.  Recommendations include speeding signs, adding a bus shelter and repairing/enforcing the sidewalk.  A proposed traffic light will not be added to the area which caused particular concern to those in attendance.  The area is prone to flooding and has no catch basin.  A new hotel at the site is operating a shelter which has led to increased pedestrian traffic.  “A couple of my neighbors almost got killed there last week,” said Springfield Gardens advocate Fay Hill.  Michael Griffith, Deputy Direct of Traffic Analysis for the DOT explained that the traffic signal will not be installed because the area doesn’t meet federal guidelines.

Springfield Blvd and 145th Avenue/145th Road

This newly constructed area has seen speeding, no pedestrian crossing allocations and buses challenged when making U-turns.  The MTA is also considering extending the Q77 bus route to Springfield Lane.  The recommendations for this site includes a pedestrian signal at 145th Avenue, a pedestrian fence, a sensor for buses making U-turns at 145th road and signs for no standing and speed restrictions. 

Belt Parkway Exit/N. Conduit Avenue

The exit 21B (Farmers Blvd/Guy R Brewer Blvd) from the Belt Parkway onto North Conduit is short and obstructed by trees.  Fast moving traffic on the Conduit leads to vehicular conflict at the exit.  The recommendations are to install a stop bar on the Belt Parkway’s exit ramp and relocate the stop sign 20 feet before the point of the merge (where there currently exists a sign).  The trees at the exit ramp will also be pruned. 

An area not covered in the study but the group still wants a solution is 227th and 228th streets which are being used by trucks.  Griffith stated that although that site is not included in this study, the DOT will continue to review the streets. 

The group also didn’t fully comprehend the recommendations for proposed new truck routes for Nassau Expressway, Farmers Blvd, and Guy R Brewer Bvld sections east of the S. Conduit.  DOT representatives explained the new truck routes, which would have the same trailer size constraints, are an additional way to get trucks with deliveries into the area without having to loop around the entire area. 

To read the full report visit nyc.gov/dot.

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Lt Gov Announces Upcoming Upgrades to Downtown Jamaica

Lt Gov K. Hochul on the steps of the Jamaica Performing Arts Center

On a beautiful, hot and sunny day in front of the historic façade of the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul announced the winning projects selected for the Jamaica Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI). 

In August 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Downtown Jamaica was the winner of the $10 million DRI, a plan that looks to transform local neighborhoods into the next generation of communities.   The winner was selected as part of a competitive process by the state’s Economic Development Council. 

The projects that will be funded under the grant include a space for businesses, pedestrian plazas, infrastructure upgrades, support for dining options, increased broadband width and employment supports. 

Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC) will create a 10,000 square foot shared workspace for approximately 90 local entrepreneurs and independent professionals at the Moda Building.  The LIRR 159th Street underpass will be converted into a pedestrian gateway between York College and Downtown Jamaica.  The underpass will include vendor and event space, public art work and seating.  Pedestrian, lighting and the streetscape will be improved along Parsons Boulevard between Jamaica and Archer Avenues.  Jamaica’s broadband infrastructure, to support high speed delivery, will be strengthened.  There will be funds to invigorate nightlife and dining options as well as an incubator space for new food businesses.  Entrepreneurship training for low income residents to launch and grow their businesses and career preparation at Edison Career and Technical Education High School will help develop a qualified workforce. 

“We still have a lot to do,” said Senator Leroy Comrie who delivered remarks at the announcement.  On his to-do list was the initiative to ensure that “promotional dollars” were in place guaranteeing that any development was adequately populated.

In addition to this grant, Downtown Jamaica’s is seeing the infusion of revitalization dollars from the Jamaica Now Action Plan.  Jamaica Now is a $153 million dollar investment from the City which will add upgrades to local parks, provide additional transit routes, redesigned store fronts and add new mixed income housing, retail stores and business incubator spaces. 

Downtown Jamaica’s transit hub will be getting a boost as well with $8 million dollars in state allocated funds for upgrades to its transit hub.  The Jamaica transit hub is one of the city’s busiest transit centers hosting the E,J and Z trains, numerous bus lines, the LIRR and AirTrain to JFK.

JFK International Airport, which is located just minutes from Downtown Jamaica, will also be revived with an influx of funds.  Governor Cuomo announced $10 billion in funds last year to transform JFK and its connecting commuter links into a 21st Century airport redesign. 

In addition, both the city and state have set goals that 30% of its awarded contracts should be allocated to Minority and Women Owned Businesses.

All this opportunity and redevelopment would seem a boom for local businesses and the area’s high unemployment rate, but challenges remain.  “Unemployment is high,” acknowledged Queens Borough President Melinda Katz in her opening remarks at the podium.  Along with the grant, Katz sited the Jamaica Now Plan and private funding as initiatives that can close the gaps. 

But local businesses are challenged when it comes to working with the larger companies that are central in the revitalization of Downtown Jamaica.  Thomas Crater, owner of newspaper ‘The New York Page’, frequently expresses frustration at his attempts to connect with GJDC and York College for possible funding avenues.  It is a frustration shared by this news organization.  “It’s hard,” Crater reported that Hope Knight President GJDC of said of the challenge of working with area black media businesses due to having no money.  Knights’ resume includes as stint with the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone whose chief area, Harlem, has recently experienced revitalization.  Dr. Marcia Keizs, York College President, and Earl Simons, York College Director of Government and Community Relations were eager to set up a meeting, and receive proposals about types of partnerships. 

Residents and community stakeholders who participated in the planning and provided recommendations for the Jamaica Now plan provided input stressing that it was vital any Downtown Jamaica revitalization touched the neighboring communities and include the main thoroughfares which connect the neighborhoods to Downtown Jamaica.  A few members of the Leadership Council of the Jamaica Now Initiative did not want to speak on the record of their concerns of the early efforts of the program. 

York College President, Dr. Marcia Keizs, serves on Governor Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council and has been credited with helping to secure the grant.  The council was designed as a shift in the state’s effort towards economic development which includes a community-based approach that harnesses local expertise. 

For more information on the seven winning projects, click here.

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So You Want to Open A Food Business

So you make a killer oxtail stew and you want to be in the food business.  Then the Jamaica Food Entrepreneurship and Services Training Space is for you.  Jamaica FEASTS is a free incubator program for aspiring food entrepreneurs.  It entails 12 weekly classes on how to open your own food business.  Topics include, but are not limited to, licensing, fees, menu planning, banking, human resources and real estate.  Expert guest speakers from the food business community including lawyers and QuickBooks professionals will help guide participants.

Halfway through the program, participants are assessed by their presentation of a business plan, elevator pitch, operational plan along with planned next steps to ensure they are advancing successful through the program.  At the end of the program, participants are given a final evaluation and recommendations for future success. 

FEAST is part of a two year grant from the New York Economic Development Corporation.  The program is administered by the Queens Library and classes are held at the Central Branch.  The grant covers 3 sessions a year.  The upcoming session, which begins in October, is its final cohort for 2017.  The next session will open in January of 2018.  On Tuesday, July 25, Jamaica FEASTS Manager Morgan Earle held an information session for interested entrepreneurs at which she outlined the details of the program and the selection process.

Participants selected for the program must begin by submitting an application.  After that, individuals will be interviewed to assess their level of program readiness.  The program is looking to seat individuals that have a clear vision of what they want to do in the food industry including tested recipes.  Just wanting to open a bakery and sell muffins and scones are not sufficient objectives warranting entry.  Interested parties must know the types of scones or have proven muffin recipes.

Resources for starting and running a food business as well as the food truck industry are also covered in the program.  Future iterations of the program will include access to a commercial kitchen space.  (The kitchen space is currently under construction.)

The application deadline for the upcoming session is Friday, August 4th at 5PM.  To apply online visit this link.  For questions and more information call 718-990-8699.

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Lt Gov Announces Upcoming Upgrades to Downtown Jamaica

Lt Gov K. Hochul on the steps of the Jamaica Performing Arts Center

On a beautiful, hot and sunny day in front of the historic façade of the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul announced the winning projects selected for the Jamaica Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI).

In August 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Downtown Jamaica was the winner of the $10 million DRI, a plan that looks to transform local neighborhoods into the next generation of communities. The winner was selected as part of a competitive process by the state’s Economic Development Council.

The projects that will be funded under the grant include a space for businesses, pedestrian plazas, infrastructure upgrades, support for dining options, increased broadband width and employment supports.

Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC) will create a 10,000 square foot shared workspace for approximately 90 local entrepreneurs and independent professionals at the Moda Building. The LIRR 159th Street underpass will be converted into a pedestrian gateway between York College and Downtown Jamaica. The underpass will include vendor and event space, public art work and seating. Pedestrian, lighting and the streetscape will be improved along Parsons Boulevard between Jamaica and Archer Avenues. Jamaica’s broadband infrastructure, to support high speed delivery, will be strengthened. There will be funds to invigorate nightlife and dining options as well as an incubator space for new food businesses. Entrepreneurship training for low income residents to launch and grow their businesses and career preparation at Edison Career and Technical Education High School will help develop a qualified workforce.

“We still have a lot to do,” said Senator Leroy Comrie who delivered remarks at the announcement. On his to-do list was the initiative to ensure that “promotional dollars” were in place guaranteeing that any development was adequately populated.

In addition to this grant, Downtown Jamaica’s is seeing the infusion of revitalization dollars from the Jamaica Now Action Plan. Jamaica Now is a $153 million dollar investment from the City which will add upgrades to local parks, provide additional transit routes, redesigned store fronts and add new mixed income housing, retail stores and business incubator spaces.

Downtown Jamaica’s transit hub will be getting a boost as well with $8 million dollars in state allocated funds for upgrades to its transit hub. The Jamaica transit hub is one of the city’s busiest transit centers hosting the E,J and Z trains, numerous bus lines, the LIRR and AirTrain to JFK.

JFK International Airport, which is located just minutes from Downtown Jamaica, will also be revived with an influx of funds. Governor Cuomo announced $10 billion in funds last year to transform JFK and its connecting commuter links into a 21st Century airport redesign.

In addition, both the city and state have set goals that 30% of its awarded contracts should be allocated to Minority and Women Owned Businesses.

All this opportunity and redevelopment would seem a boom for local businesses and the area’s high unemployment rate, but challenges remain. “Unemployment is high,” acknowledged Queens Borough President Melinda Katz in her opening remarks at the podium. Along with the grant, Katz sited the Jamaica Now Plan and private funding as initiatives that can close the gaps.

But local businesses are challenged when it comes to working with the larger companies that are central in the revitalization of Downtown Jamaica. Thomas Crater, owner of newspaper ‘The New York Page’, frequently expresses frustration at his attempts to connect with GJDC and York College for possible funding avenues. It is a frustration shared by this news organization. “It’s hard,” Crater reported that Hope Knight President GJDC of said of the challenge of working with area black media businesses due to having no money. Knights’ resume includes as stint with the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone whose chief area, Harlem, has recently experienced revitalization. Dr. Marcia Keizs, York College President, and Earl Simons, York College Director of Government and Community Relations were eager to set up a meeting, and receive proposals about types of partnerships.

Residents and community stakeholders who participated in the planning and provided recommendations for the Jamaica Now plan provided input stressing that it was vital any Downtown Jamaica revitalization touched the neighboring communities and include the main thoroughfares which connect the neighborhoods to Downtown Jamaica. A few members of the Leadership Council of the Jamaica Now Initiative did not want to speak on the record of their concerns of the early efforts of the program.

York College President, Dr. Marcia Keizs, serves on Governor Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council and has been credited with helping to secure the grant. The council was designed as a shift in the state’s effort towards economic development which includes a community-based approach that harnesses local expertise.

For more information on the seven winning projects, click here.

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Community Fights Against Alcohol at Parks Events

Days prior to the R&B concert event ‘Groovin’ in the Park’, civic leaders, residents, elected official representatives and Southern Queens Parks Association (SQPA) board members met with representatives from the Parks Department to discuss authorizing alcohol as part of the event.

The community’s position was clear. No alcohol.

Although NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver’s presence was requested, Queens Borough Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski was the designated representing official. She was apologetic about another appointment she had that would mean leaving the meeting early.

The issue at hand was whether the promoter would be able to add alcohol to the event slated to take place in three days. Alcohol would be in the form of four two ounce wine samplings which would be reserved for the event’s VVIP and VIP sections and not for the general ticket holders at large. There would be an estimated 1500 concert goers and samplings would be tracked by a wristband system.

In order to have this item attached to the event, the promoter was required to fulfill three requirements: reach out to the local community, provide a site security plan and have a license from the NYS Liquor Authority. At the time of the meeting, the promoter had only done one of those three items, provided a site security plan.

It was a who’s who of community leaders that gathered for a heated conversation in opposition to granting authorization to the promoter including civic organizations in closest proximity to Roy Wilkins Park: Addesleigh Park Civic Association, St. Albans Civic Association and Greater Tri-Angular Civic Association.

The community was concerned about ‘Groovin’ and alcohol because it was outside of the scope of the mandates regarding liquor at events. Furthermore, the promoter did not do his due diligence in order to be in compliance with the waiver by reaching out to the community and obtaining a liquor license. As other promoters are lining up for the same types of alcohol provisions, there is a concern that there is no standing policy. Most who gathered in favor of the community were clear that they were not against alcohol being served at events, but rather at the manner in which this particular case was being decided.

“A policy needs to be established,” said Andrea Scarborough, Addesleigh Park Civic Association. “Follow the law that is in place”.

Policy aside, those in attendance not in favor of granting the waiver felt that the addition of alcohol burdened an event already plagued with issues.

“Who knows what affect alcohol adds,” said Scarborough.

Concerns surrounding the event included loud noise that begins early in the day with sound checks and is followed by a concert which lasts well into the late hours. A myriad of parking issues arise as concert goers use and block driveways, park multiple cars at dead ends and double-park throughout the neighboring community causing residents to be trapped in their homes less they lose a parking space. Other issues were the garbage left behind and a parade of unlicensed merchants who congregate along Merrick Blvd.

There was concern that SQPA was acting independently of the community. “SQPA being run like a private club. We don’t know what is going on. We see a sign, buses or vans. We deserve better than this. This is a first class community,” said Archie Spigner, former Council Member, to applause, about not learning of upcoming events until he sees signs in the community.

The community also wondered, why now?

“Prior to this year, there have been no efforts to serve alcohol. What changed that? They make a fortune off this community. Why is it different this year to sell alcohol,” asked Elmer Blackburne.

Many who gathered felt that there was a clandestine effort by elected officials to push alcohol at events, with Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman’s name dropped frequently an agent in that effort. Their evidence of such included the speed and secrecy of the initiative coming to pass, especially in light of an approved liquor license. Some even asked why Council Member Ruben Wills’ office, who supported the authorization, had a representative at the meeting as his District does not include Roy Wilkins Park.

The community proposed a town hall, post event, to talk with promoters about issues and concerns surrounding the event. Community Board 12, which is remaining neutral on the subject, was willing to host such the event.

“Before you weigh in on something as important as this, wait, hear from the community,” said Scarborough.

Lewandowski suggested a larger conversation including a stakeholder group would be beneficial when moving forward on events in Roy Wilkins Park.

By the end of the meeting, most felt the decision would support the promoter and the event would move forward with alcohol. The next day, the Park Department’s press office confirmed the decision to approve the ‘Groovin’ event with alcohol.

The City, with SQPA, has authorized the sampling of wine in the designated VIP areas only, for this weekend’s event. Please note that the event promoter has approval from Parks, but also requires a permit from the State Liquor Authority.

The Parks department gave no rationale for their decision, despite being asked. The NYS Liquor Authority did not grant the promoter’s request. The concert took place without alcohol.

This meeting took place on Thursday, June 22 at Roy Wilkins Park. Groovin the Park took place on Sunday, June 25 at Roy Wilkins Park.