2009-10-14 / Features

Zoning Changes Lead To Fireworks At Dutch Kills Civic

BY THOMAS COGAN

Although at the October meeting of the Dutch Kills Civic Association one scheduled speaker sent notice she would be unable to attend while another simply didn’t show up, available items for discussion and contention elicited both. 114th Police Precinct Commander Deputy Inspector Douglas Vorbeck was very much in attendance and Assemblymember Michael Gianaris put in an appearance when informed of the double absence, even though his district no longer covers Dutch Kills.

Vorbeck said that crime in Astoria was at the lowest it had been “in a long, long time”. During the year thus far, the volume of burglaries has declined 11 percent and grand larceny auto is down a remarkable 36 percent, he reported. But there’s no cause for rejoicing in the increased rape count, which stands at 19 incidents compared to 13 during the first three quarters of 2008. The commander said that all those incidents occurred between parties known to each other. While that’s not a good situation, at least it does not bring in street rapes, which can send a neighborhood into a panic.

He reported that the command is using undercover police posing as prostitutes and in the process has managed to arrest several solicitors. One questioner in the audience wanted to know if any of the new hotels in Dutch Kills were in on the sex trade. The commander could produce no evidence that prostitutes were using any of them for business. He said that other undercover cops, quite young ones evidently, have lately been dropping in on local bodegas to see if they could purchase beer without any age check. Time after time they have succeeded, the commander said, proving to him that such stores are more interested in making money than following the law.

Gianaris, whose 36th Assembly District abuts the 30th District of Marge Markey that includes Dutch Kills, immediately heard remarks about the chaotic legislature in Albany and had to plead that he was in the Assembly, not the state senate, where the power struggle ensued in June. He said that he was on the committee that recommended to Governor David Paterson that he appoint Richard Ravitch as lieutenant governor, so senate deadlocks might on occasion be broken by his vote. He turned to the situation at Mount Sinai Queens Hospital. The small hospital at 25-10 30th Ave. has come under great pressure since the recent closings of St. John’s, Parkway and other borough hospitals (Gianaris said that at present in Western Queens there is on average only one hospital bed for 100,000 persons). There is talk of relocation, or of building a nine-story addition behind the hospital. Either alternative requires money that Mount Sinai simply doesn’t have, Gianaris pointed out.

Hotel building goes on, more than a year after the new zoning for Dutch Kills was passed in the City Council. The case of the prospective builder at 39-35 27th St. was brought up, since there is a question of vestment. The site is currently a narrow lot with a plywood fence in front of it, but the builder proposes to put up a nine-story hotel there. The owners were not certified for a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 5 under the old M-1 zoning, because there was no foundation, DKCA President Gerald Walsh said, and the owners want to file with the Board of Standards and Appeals on the grounds that commonly vested provisions apply. So far, no hearing date has been set. The association and the community do not support the FAR 5 designation because granting it would cause the area to revert to the old zoning provisions, and if one application gets such an exception to the rule, all of them should, Walsh added. The DKCA maintains that the builder did not properly secure vestment before the new zoning took effect and thus would be building illegally. The case may be returned to the Board of Standards and Appeals at 40 Rector St. in Manhattan. Walsh said that if another hearing is held, Dutch Kills residents should be in attendance.

A squabble arose about a residential building at 39-01 29th St., where an architect is setting up an office in the basement, the building having four floors above it. The architect called it something that is both positive and possible only under the new zoning. Local resident John Donegan said it’s only an alteration, not any new development that would reflect well on the new zoning. Walsh commented that the alterations could not have been made if rezoning effected in October 2008 did not give the builder the right to build as R5D zoning. George Stamatiades assailed Donegan’s deprecation of the new zoning’s effect, and soon shouting arose that Walsh had to calm before going on to the October 25 street fair on 36th Avenue, which will be the first one held locally on a Sunday.

A $20,000 state grant to Dutch Kills, delivered by state Senator George Onorato, came next. Walsh said again, as he had last month, that he sought suggestions about the best way to spend the funds and thus appear worthy of similar grants in the future. He held out a small shopping bag as a suggestion box and pleaded for written entries. Time is fairly short: the suggestions have to be acted upon and the money spent on them before next spring.

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