By The City

LIC Community Board Changes Colors on ‘5Pointz’ Towers After Library Added

The 5Pointz complex in Long Island City in 2013 before it was painted over and demolished. Photo: Jeanmarie Evelly/DNAinfo

A Queens community board reversed its opposition to a new proposal for 5Pointz Towers — a luxury complex planned at the site of a famed former Long Island City street art mecca — thanks, in part, to a library. Continue reading

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Board of Elections Running Late on Early Voting Rollout

Voters faced long lines at a Bedford-Stuyvesant polling place during the 2018 midterm election. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on 9/25/19 by THE CITY. (By: Reuven Blau)

The city Board of Elections is scrambling to launch early voting for the first time in New York’s history — with voters still in the dark on where they’re supposed to cast ballots.

The elections board has designated 61 sites for early voting, which is set to begin on Oct. 26. Under the BOE’s plan, voters must go to a specific location and can’t simply use any polling site in their borough. Continue reading

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State Fines Developers for Their “Gifts” to Mayor Mayor De Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on 9/20/19 by THE CITY. (By: Greg B. Smith)

On the same day would-be President Bill de Blasio unveiled a campaign finance reform plan he hopes to take national, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own fundraising tactics shadowed him at home.

A state watchdog agency on Thursday revealed three deep-pocket developers seeking favors from City Hall settled charges that they had made illegal gifts to de Blasio by writing five-figure checks to his now-defunct charity, the Campaign for One New York (CONY). Continue reading

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Group Floats Separate Swimming for Men and Women at Williamsburg Pool

The Metropolitan Recreation Center pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Photo: Mathew Katz/DNAinfo

This story was originally published on 9/18/19 by THE CITY. (By: Claudia Irizarry Aponte)

Some Williamsburg residents are asking for more women’s-only hours at a local public pool, but with a compromise: Give men some alone time, too.

A group of local women — of various ethnicities and religions — got unanimous approval last Tuesday from Brooklyn Community Board 1  for three additional hours of women-only swimming at the Metropolitan Pool on Bedford Avenue. Also okayed: creating men-only hours.

The Parks Department, which did not respond to a request for comment, will have the final say.

“It’s not a contentious issue in our neighborhood,” said Jan Peterson, the chair of CB1’s Women’s Issues committee. “White, black, Hispanic, Polish — all the community leaders support this issue.”

Still, the vote threatened to reignite the controversy over the decades-old, single-sex swimming sessions that surfaced in 2016 after an anonymous tipster alerted the City Commission on Human Rights.

That triggered a review and spurred the Parks Department to shut down the women’s-only sessions, which were eight hours a week at the time.

The Commission reversed course a few months later, however, and the no-men-allowed swim times were reinstated, on a limited four-hour schedule that remains today.

The practice, which notched national attention, was widely criticized by everyone from The New York Times Editorial Board to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which argued the decision to keep any restricted hours violated the Constitution.

The Parks Department shut down a request in March 2017 for the return of the full eight-hour schedule. The Williamsburg women believe now is the chance to reclaim their time — with a nod to offering men some privacy as well.

“We polled women of all ethnicities of women of all religions, of all ethnicities, ages: Jewish women, Muslim women, Hispanic women, Italian women, pregnant women, who just don’t want to swim with men,” said Maria Aragona, a lawyer who is behind the proposal.

“If I had a young daughter, I wouldn’t want to bring her to a pool where there might be a child molester,” added Aragona, a Williamsburg resident for 23 years.

Aragona, other members of CB1’s Women’s Issues Committee, non-board members of the committee, and representatives of at least two local elected officials will meet next week to draft a letter to the Mayor’s Office and the Parks Department with their revised proposal.

‘It’s a Disgrace’

The women’s-only sessions, also available at the St. Johns Recreation Center in Crown Heights, are open to all women. They largely serve the neighborhoods’ Hasidic population, whose beliefs forbid women from swimming with men.

Bella Sabel, a Hasidic woman in her mid 70s who has lived in Williamsburg since the early 1960s, said the women-only pool hours should never have been reduced.

“It’s a disgrace,” she said. “Something in the city functioning for so many years for the health of the women, and it’s just taken away from them for no good reason whatsoever.”

The women want three additional hours a week: one more hour each on Mondays and Wednesdays, and an additional hour for women and children on Sundays, for a total of seven. They are proposing the same amount of time for men, according to Aragona.

Aragona balked at the notion that the taxpayer-funded pool shouldn’t allow separate schedules for men and women on Constitutional grounds. “There are charter schools that are just for boys — those receive public funding,” she said.

Victoria Cambranes, a local activist who is running for City Council in the 33rd District, says the partitioned hours would benefit everyone from religious practitioners to survivors of sexual assault.

“Because it’s a city-funded pool, it should be open to all New Yorkers,” she told THE CITY. “We’re not trying to glorify women or put them on any kind of pedestal. We want to make sure everyone who wants to use the pool is comfortable doing so, and that includes men as well.”

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City Council Puts Brakes on Community Board Spending

Brooklyn Community Board 1’s SUV parked in front of the office, May 29, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on 9/17/19 by THE CITY. (By: Gabriel Sandoval and Claudia Irizarry Aponte)

Community boards now have to vote before making pricey purchases with a budget-boosting grant from the City Council, which recently placed sharp limits on how boards can spend the funds.

The new rules followed the THE CITY’s May report that leaders of one Brooklyn board bought a $26,000 SUV using taxpayer money allocated by the Council. Continue reading

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Williamsburg Loft Building’s Tenants See Hopes to Stay Fade

240 Broadway in South Williamsburg, on Sept. 12, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on 9/16/19 by THE CITY. (By: Claudia Irizarry Aponte)

In May, residents of Williamsburg’s 240 Broadway thought they’d won a fighting chance to stay in their homes, with the launch of an audit into their landlord’s long-ago transformation of their once-industrial building into apartments.

Tenants had pinned their hopes on the Department of Buildings revoking the structure’s certificate of occupancy, which they contended had been invalidly issued based on sub-par construction. That would allow the tenants to claim protection against eviction under New York’s Loft Law, which shields residents during and after conversions of the industrial spaces they call home.

But since then, tenants say, they’ve faced intensifying pressure to leave now that the Brooklyn building has been sold.

Soon after buying the building for $16.5 million, the new landlord, 240 Broadway Properties LLC, started issuing notices to tenants in the 24 apartments, demanding they vacate within 30 days.

So far, nine households have departed or are fighting eviction proceedings, while the remaining 15 wait anxiously as expiration dates on their leases approach. Construction has begun, according to holdouts, who say their gas has been shut off.

Tailor Arthur Arbit has worked in his 240 Broadway loft for more than 10 years, Sept. 12, 2019.
Tailor Arthur Arbit has worked in his 240 Broadway loft for more than 10 years. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A representative for the building’s operator, Livingston Management, did not respond to THE CITY’s request for comment.

Last month, the Department of Buildings informed tenants it could not find sufficient evidence to scrap 240 Broadway’s certificate of occupancy — undermining the residents’ claim on staying put in the increasingly upscale neighborhood.

“We don’t know what’s going on,” Arthur Arbit, a tailor who has lived in the building for 11 years and keeps his studio there, told THE CITY. “We’re just waiting for answers.”

‘I Feel Cheated’

The Department of Buildings began its audit into the century-old building’s certificate of occupancy in the spring, following inquiries from THE CITY.

In an Aug. 15 email to tenants, department representative Benjamin Colombo noted the examination uncovered “several deficiencies that were inconsistent with the approved plans and subsequent inspection” that led to the department’s 2003 green-light for the certificate of occupancy. Among the problems: non-compliant space heaters and lack of fire-rated construction.

But, he wrote, “There is insufficient proof to demonstrate that the deficiencies existed at the time of the issuance of the certificate of occupancy.”

Britta Riley is unsure if her family will able to stay in their loft home at 240 Broadway.
Britta Riley is unsure if her family will able to stay in their loft home at 240 Broadway. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Colombo added that the department had written up the new owners for code violations, giving them until Sept. 12 to fix the problems.

Tenants argued that the certificate of occupancy had been erroneously secured in 2003 by Henry Radusky, an architect investigated and sanctioned for filing questionable paperwork on past projects.

They sought to follow the success of loft tenants in another Brooklyn Radusky building, whose certificate of occupancy was revoked as “unlawfully issued.” Those residents were able to apply for Loft Law protection, which includes rent stabilization.

“I can’t vocalize my frustration about the hard earned money — I have paid over $300,000 in rent — I spent for a city-certified property that turned out not to merit that certification,” Britta Riley, a resident of 240 Broadway, wrote in a June 24 email to the Department of Buildings.

Riley has lived in the building for the last 11 years and has two infant daughters. “I feel cheated learning that this supposedly city-certified building is so gravely out of code,” she added.

A spokesperson for the Department of Buildings, Andrew Rudansky, told THE CITY that the new owners are playing by the book.

“So far, the owners have been complying with DOB orders,” he said. “However, if they fail to continue this progress bringing the building into code compliance, we will take further enforcement actions, including additional violations and associated civil penalties.”

Facial Recognition Entry

Many long-term residents describe an increasingly difficult environment in the building.

While a partial stop-work order halted roof repairs, construction is still underway in the hallways. On a recent visit by THE CITY, dropped ceilings had been torn down in the hallways on the second and third floor of the six-story building, exposing decrepit tin ceilings, pipes, mold and dust.

A Health Department notice was put up on Thursday, Sept. 12. Photo: 240 Broadway Tenants Association

An inspection by the city Department of Health on Thursday found dust “caused by unsafe work.” A notice posted in the building that same day says the dust samples are being tested for lead.

The management company, meanwhile, is proceeding with a facial recognition security system, and demanding residents turn in their metal keys by Sept. 20, according to notices sent to tenants.

Asa Pingree, who lives in the building with his wife, teenage son and 2-month-old baby, received an eviction notice last month after his lease expired. Now he’s fighting the landlord in Housing Court. The 38-year-old furniture designer moved to the building in 2015 after losing a similar conversion battle at a nearby loft on Hope Street.

While Pingree hopes 240 Broadway will eventually achieve Loft Law status, he’s most worried about his newborn’s wellbeing.

“My main concern is they’re risking our health without actually improving our living situation,” he said.

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L Station Repair Spending Projected to Double as MTA Takes Different Track

An L Train entering the Eighth Avenue station. Photo: Jose Martinez/THE CITY

L train riders were spared shutdown for more than a year at the last minute in January, but other construction work pushed back by the change of plans is looming — and costs are booming.

The projected price tag for structural repairs at the L’s five Manhattan stations along 14th Street could nearly double — from $43.8 million to $77.8 million — MTA documents project.

An MTA spokesperson said some of that work would have begun during the now-canceled full-time shutdown of the L’s Canarsie tunnel in the East River, as part of a “piggybacking” onto repairs in the tunnel.

But reports that provide updates on MTA capital projects now show that a bid opening previously scheduled for May 2019 has been postponed until January 2020 to “re-examine the scope of the work in light of the changed service plan of the Canarsie Tube.”

There is no timetable for when the bulk of repairs will begin to fix steel defects in station columns, beams and braces, as well as work to repair leaks and concrete defects in walls and ceilings.

The work could potentially have impacts on riders, the MTA acknowledges, as crews come in to shore up nearly century-old stations. Continue reading

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Developers Hope to Draw Artists Back to Queens’ 5Pointz

5Pointz building in Long Island City in 2013 before it was painted over. Photo: Jeanmarie Evelly/DNAinfo

This story was originally published on 7/1/19 by THE CITY. (By: Christine Chung)

The developers who whitewashed the street art at the legendary Queens graffiti hotspot 5Pointz want to paint over bad feelings and lure artists back to the site.

The owners are vying to capitalize on the Long Island City property’s colorful history — replacing the once-art bedecked warehouse complex with a luxury apartment development dubbed 5Pointz Towers.

“It’s hard when you get bashed in the papers, but we’ve always been pro-artist and we always wanted artists and we would love to have some of the artists that were at the building before to come back again,” said David Wolkoff, who co-owns the complex with his father, Gerald. “That’s up to them. I would love to speak to them.”

In November 2013, before the warehouse complex’s demolition, painters erased the work of thousands of international street artists who had decorated the ever-changing building.

That spurred some artists to file a federal lawsuit in Brooklyn. In February 2018, a judge ruled in their favor and ordered the developers to pay $6.7 million in damages. The Wolkoffs appealed the decision and are awaiting a court date.

The planned 5Pointz development in Long Island City.
The planned 5Pointz development in Long Island City. Photo: Rendering by HTO Architect

David Wolkoff said the name of the 1,122-unit development was picked because “that was what the site has been for…years.” A promotional website is littered with renderings of people leisurely strolling in verdant open space, bordered by street-art murals.

“We really enjoyed the work they placed on the walls previously. We have always enjoyed it. If we didn’t, we would not have allowed it to happen,” Wolkoff told THE CITY. “For 20 some-odd years, longer than that, we were always planning on building a big building.” Continue reading

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Brooklyn Bistro Owner Says Far-Right Polish Pol Duped Her

More than 100 people packed into Greenpoint restaurant to hear a Polish nationalist politician speak on June 5th. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on 6/6/19 by THE CITY. (By: Claudia Irizarry Aponte)

A Brooklyn restaurant owner said her staff was blindsided when a Polish nationalist politician showed up with 100 followers Wednesday — spurring a backlash that may force her to permanently close.

“There was someone there who shouldn’t be and no one was expecting,” the woman, who asked not to be identified by name, told THE CITY through tears. “I don’t have nothing [to do] with this, I didn’t do anything… I don’t even agree with this.”

“We are not evil,” she added. “We didn’t do anything to bring this guy.”

Robert Winnicki, leader of the National Movement (Ruch Narodowy), a nationalist Polish political party, spoke at French Epi in Greenpoint after being barred from nearby St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.

The restaurant’s manager, Jolanta Filip, said she received a reservation for 15 Wednesday night. Filip and her mother were the only two people working when a huge crowd rolled in to the small restaurant.

“In a matter of 15 minutes, we had a full house,” she said. “We weren’t prepared for this mass of people.”

More than 100 people packed into French Epi, overwhelming the staff.
More than 100 people packed into French Epi, overwhelming the staff. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Filip said she called the owner, who told her to eject Winnicki and his supporters. But the crowd — which threw out two journalists from THE CITY — wouldn’t leave.

“We are not a platform for anything,” added Filip, a single mother of three who was hoping to buy the restaurant from the recently widowed owner. Continue reading

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Far-Right Polish Politician Finds Brooklyn Perch After Church Ouster

More than 100 people packed into Greenpoint restaurant French Epi to hear Polish nationalist politician Robert Winnicki speak, June 5, 2019.
More than 100 people packed into Greenpoint restaurant French Epi to hear Polish nationalist politician Robert Winnicki speak, June 5, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A far-right Polish nationalist whose planned appearance at a Brooklyn Catholic church was canceled amid protests took his act to a Greenpoint restaurant Wednesday night.

Robert Winnicki, the leader of the National Movement (Ruch Narodowy), a nationalist Polish political party, drew a crowd of about 100 that packed the French Epi restaurant, a little under a mile from St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.

Facebook posts had touted Winnicki’s appearance at the Humboldt Street church even after Brooklyn Diocese Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio canceled the speaking engagement Monday amid an uproar.

DiMarzio also nixed plans for speeches at St. Stanislaus Kostka and St. Frances de Chantal in Borough Park by Ewa Kurek, a Polish historian who has claimed some Jews collaborated with Nazis and enjoyed the German-occupied Polish ghettos of World War II.

The New York Archdiocese later canceled a stop at East Harlem’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel by Kurek, who gained kinder notices for a 1996 book she wrote about Polish nuns who saved Jewish children during the Holocaust. Continue reading

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