by richard gentilviso
Deteriorating quality of life conditions on 30th Avenue and in Athens Square Park led several people to express growing frustration during the October meeting of Community Board 1, held at Astoria World Manor.
"It’s homeless people," said a resident of 30-05 Newtown Ave., blaming vagrants in the area for the situation. He told the board that kids could no longer play in the park and claimed there was a diminished police presence, adding, "It used to be safe, it used to be quiet."
"Every night, there’s an incident," added another resident about the one-acre park and playground located at 30th and Newtown Avenues between 29th and 30th Streets. "We need some kind of protection, please." Moreover, Joseph Kwan, proprietor of a fish market on 30th Avenue and 31st Street said, homeless people were congregating on the street in front of his store and smoking marijuana.
"My customers are afraid to come in," he said, also asking for help.
Board 1 District Manager George Delis said while police have been patrolling Athens Square and issuing summonses for drinking in the park, they could not hold homeless people for that offense or force them into shelters. "It’s their decision," Delis said, acknowledging there was also a problem with panhandling.
City officials believe many homeless who used to remain in subway stations below the World Trade Center and in other locations in downtown Manhattan have been forced to seek shelter elsewhere. The average number of single adults sleeping in city shelters is now 7,728 per night, the highest since 1991, according to an October 13 New York Times report. New York City is mandated under a court order to provide shelter to anyone who seeks it.
Under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, because of a 1999 attack on a woman by a man thought to be homeless, police were ordered to force homeless living on the streetAthens Square Park Homeless Are Cause For Concern to move or face arrest but according to the October 13 Times report, there has been a 20 percent reduction in police contact with homeless people so far this year as compared to the same period in 2001.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said, in an October 14 Times report that the number of homeless people on city streets was not increasing and was, perhaps, even declining.
"The homeless on the street, all of the statistics that we have—calls to community boards, calls to the Community Assistance Unit—say that the numbers are no greater than last year," Bloomberg said in the Times report.
Board 1 Chairperson Vinicio Donato said the board would advise the police on behalf of the residents who spoke and Board Member Ann Bruno urged all residents to voice their concerns at meetings of the 114th Police Precinct Community Council, held at 7:30 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Riccardo’s.
Delis said the New York City Department of Homeless Services could be contacted through its emergency hotline at 1-800-994-6494 or at its citywide mobile outreach response number, (212) 533-5151.
In other business, the board voted to approve its capital and expense budget priorities for Fiscal Year 2004. The request for a parking lot over the Grand Central Parkway remained the number one capital budget priority in Board 1 although the city Department of Transportation has not recommended the project for approval while air pollution testing stood as the number one expense budget priority. The Department of Environmental Protection has said it will try to get funding for that project.
Rounding out the top 10 capital budget priorities were a second level for a sanitation garage, a hockey rink at the Steinway playground, construction of a roller blade park, a new Newtown Square, construction of a sound stage in Astoria Park for summer concerts, improvements on 32nd Street, rehabilitation of Placella Park, school construction funding, a tree pruning contract, and funds for street tree planting.
Top 10 expense budget priorities were increased senior programs, expanded after school and day care programs, increased library funding, additional traffic cameras, additional building inspectors, full-time park workers, restoration of housing inspectors and a parking study.
The shortfall for the Fiscal 2004 budget is now projected to be between $5 and $6 billion. The 2003 budget gap was $5 billion. A $1 billion shortfall next month could force a rise in taxes, further cuts or combinations of both.
A motion in support of a proposed text amendment by the Department of City Planning to remove the current regulations governing unenclosed sidewalk cafes was also approved. Madeline Gillis, consumer affairs chairperson for the board, said the proposal would streamline the current process, which she described as "very cumbersome."
At present, although applications for enclosed and unenclosed cafes are filed with the city Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), copies are also sent to the Departments of Transportation, City Planning, Environmental Protection and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Eliminating these regulations will speed up the process and enhance enforcement under the aegis of DCA.
"We sent a letter to DCA recommending more severe penalties including padlocking," Donato said.
Three public hearings were held and voted on by the board. In the first hearing, a Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) application requesting a variance for the construction of a three-story, four-family dwelling with an accessary garage on a vacant lot in an R5 zoning district with 10 foot side yard requirements located at 24-64 27th St., was approved by a vote of 24 in favor, one against, and one abstention.
In the second public hearing, a Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) application for a five-year renewal of an unenclosed cafe with 12 tables and 24 seats at Aliada Cafe/Restaurant, 29-19 Broadway, was unanimously approved.
In the final hearing, the board unanimously disapproved a DCA application to establish a new unenclosed cafe with 10 tables and 20 seats at Cafe Shakespeare (operating as Cafe Valentino) at 37-19 Broadway.