Bringing a close to years of debate about the future of Willet’s Point, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Manuel Mendez decided in early August in favor of developers who want to put a mega-mall – or in their vernacular, “first-class shopping center” – on a parcel of land that is technically a part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park and serves currently as parking for Citi Field.
Originally, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg sold the plan for redevelopment at Willet’s Point under the premise that it would become New York City’s first green residential neighborhood. The plan would have seen the installation of sewer lines, environmental remediation and a re-grade of the entirety of the infamous Iron Triangle.
Instead, Sterling Equities and Related Companies, which together form the Queens Development Group, proposed a plan that would see 47 acres of the parking lot turned into a shopping center, with a portion of Willet’s Point turned into a parking lot.
The developers argue that he revenue for the mall is necessary to fund the remediation and redevelopment of Willets Point.
Local advocates, led by State Senator Tony Avella, fought the plan tooth and nail. They were shocked that the city would so readily give away public parkland, and were opposed to the establishment of another mall in Queens that would overshadow established local businesses.
Together with the city, the developers argued that a provisionary law – Administrative Code 18-118 – that allowed for the development of Shea Stadium in 1961 gave them the authority they needed to build on the parkland, and Mendez agreed.
The residential development of Willet’s Point remains a part of the long-term plan, however the process of ironing out the details of such development will not be revisited until at least 2026.
9. Nightclub Shooting
Elmhurst residents were shocked by the news that a woman was shot to death and two others were injured outside of The Hive nightclub at 79-21 Queens Boulevard on Halloween.
At around 4:05 a.m., police responded to reports of a disorderly crowd at The Hive, a relatively new nightclub at 79-21 Queens Boulevard. When they arrived, the crowd made their way out to the streets, and an unknown suspect began shooting near the corner of Queens Boulevard and Barnwell Avenue.
Three people were hit. A 20-year-old woman, later identified as Tamar Sermons, was shot in the neck and leg and was pronounced dead at Elmhurst Hospital. She was a student at York College.
Another woman, 21, was shot in the butt and leg, and a 31-year-old man’s head was grazed with a bullet. Both recovered from their wounds.
The Hive was shut down shortly after the incident, as the owners were illegally operating a nightclub, billing themselves officially as a bar and grill.
The NYPD is still seeking information that would lead to the arrest of a suspect in the shooting.
8. Airport Worker Rallies
Airport workers can look forward to another year of battling for what they feel are fair wages in 2015, as only a little progress was made this year to that end.
Continuing two years of steady protests, members of 32BJ SEIU and workers employed by PrimeFlight Aviation Services, a company dedicated to ground handling, aircraft and terminal services at airports across the country, gathered in the food court of a LaGuardia airport terminal in early November to fight for higher wages.
Some workers reported at the time making only around $6-7 per hour, and one worker we spoke with was supporting his six children on $10 per hour with no additional income.
It was recommended earlier in the year by the Port Authority that workers should be paid at least $10.10 per hour, but workers believe they deserve wages of at least $13-14 per hour, and many believe they should be earning more.
Aviation Safeguard security officer Michael Maragh, who after almost a year of working at the airport earned $8 per hour when we last spoke to him in May, said that if doormen in Manhattan can earn $30 per hour plus benefits, there is no reason airport workers should be laboring for less.
The problem lies with individual airlines, which are unwilling to raise the wages of their employees. Protests in November and throughout the year specifically targeted American Airlines and JetBlue.
7. Astoria Cove
After months of rallies, meetings and backdoor dealings, the City Council’s Land Use Committee approved the controversial Astoria Cove development in November, clearing the way for a 1,700-unit mixed-use development at 11-15 Broadway.
One of the requirements set by Mayor Bill de Blasio for the project’s approval was that 27 percent of those units would be set aside as affordable housing.
Besides the 468 units for low- and middle-income residents, developers Alma Realty also agreed to hire union construction workers and building staff, construct a co-op supermarket, invest money in improvements to local parks and a senior center at NYCHA's Astoria Houses, and commit $5 million to construct a ferry dock.
The mayor lauded the agreement surrounding the development as historic, but it still didn’t meet the requests of housing advocates or the local community board.
While the number of affordable units is higher than the developer’s original proposal of 20 percent, it still falls far below the 50 percent that housing advocates and residents were calling for, and even the 30 percent that Community Board 1 asked for.
Borough President Melinda Katz agreed with CB1 that 30 percent of the housing stock should be affordable, and also advocated for the establishment of alternative transportation options to reduce congestion.
6. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero
Eleven people were killed in traffic-related accidents in the first 15 days of 2014, seven of which were pedestrians.
It was those very numbers that then-newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio focused on for one of his very first citywide initiatives to reduce pedestrian fatalities to zero.
Standing with the family of eight-year-old Noshat Nathian just blocks from where he was killed by an unlicensed truck driver on Northern Boulevard in Woodside, de Blasio unveiled a plan that would include a concerted effort from the NYPD, Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Taxi and Limousine Commission to develop a blueprint for safer streets – a plan know collectively as Vision Zero.
Since then, council members have petitioned for slow zones and called for traffic cameras at dangerous corridors in their districts while dozens of bills have been signed into law.
“This will be a top-to-bottom effort to take on dangerous streets and dangerous driving,” de Blasio said. “We aren’t going to wait and lose a son, a daughter or a grandparent in another senseless and painful tragedy.”
5. Maspeth Parking Spot Stabbing
Parking spots are a top commodity in the busy commercial streets of New York City, and in Maspeth, tampering with that could put you in the hospital.
That was what happened in one vicious and under-reported crime that took place in front of Maspeth Bingo at 69th Place and Grand Avenue on the morning of October 29.
Francisco Colon, 54, explained that it all began when he got out of his car to move trash cans that were blocking a vacant parking spot in front of the bingo hall that morning.
“I saw three garbage cans in the street and I went to move them out of the way and went to park,” Colon recalled after being released from Elmhurst Hospital. “The guy ran out of the bingo hall and said he was saving the spot for the ‘lady who runs the bingo hall.’”
That “guy” was 55-year-old Heriberto Zepata of East New York. After retuning to his car, Colon said Zepata hit his truck while he was again trying to take the free parking space.
“I asked him not to hit my truck or he’s going to have a problem,” Colon said.
When he turned around to walk back to his truck, Zepata pulled out the knife and began to charge. That was when Colon said Zepata slashed his face and hand.
Zepata, who fled the scene, was later arrested and Colon was rushed to Elmhurst General, where he received five stitches just above his brow and four in his hand.
“The crazy thing is that I got stabbed for a parking spot,” he said. “Obviously I can’t talk to people any more. I just have to do my own thing.”
4. Katz Sworn In as Borough President
Following a heated political showdown in the November elections of 2013, Melinda Katz officially took office as Helen Marshall's successor.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Congressman Joseph Crowley formally swore in the Forest Hills native at the January inauguration ceremony, held at Queens College’s LeFrak Concert Hall.
From her work toward reviving the dormant World’s Fair grounds in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to helping create legislation to reform the Queens Public Library system, she has made it her focus to reshape the way New Yorkers and beyond view the borough.
Whether it was coincidental or not, her work saw near-immediate returns as the borough was later crowned with the top spot on Lonely Planet's top 10 American destinations primed for a visit in 2015.
“Does anyone have any doubt that she is going to be one great borough president?” asked Senator Charles Schumer before ripping up his planned speech at the inauguration ceremony. “Melinda, congratulations, good luck, Godspeed and God bless.”
3. The Liu/Avella Campaign
When former City Comptroller John Liu left his position to take on an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2013, the stage was set for one of the most heated political campaigns in the borough’s recent history.
At the start of 2014, Liu was out of a job and in the market for something new. For the Queens County Democratic Party, he was their knight in shining armor.
Congressman Joseph Crowley and friends called on the former council member and political powerhouse to take down State Senator Tony Avella, who had defected from the traditional Democratic Conference to join the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).
Both Liu and Avella carried similar ideals: they both hoped to decrease airplane noise, they both supported a minimum wage increase, they both supported the Women’s Equality Act and they both pledged to focus on quality-of-life issues in northeast Queens. The campaign centered on Avella's decision to side with the IDC.
When the votes came in, Avella was re-elected and held on to his seat.
“The voters of northeast Queens have spoken loud and clear,” read a statement from the Avella campaign. “Senator Avella has been declared the victor in his race for re-election, and now is the time to come together to implement a truly progressive Democratic agenda for all New Yorkers.”
2. Thomas Galante
It would be an understatement to say that the now former Queens Library president and CEO Thomas Galante had a rough year.
Since Borough President Melinda Katz and City Comptroller Scott Stringer were tipped off on his questionable spending habits at the start of 2014, the head of the borough’s public library system underwent the gamut of financial scrutiny.
After it was reported that Galante was earning a $392,000 salary, it was later revealed that he was also spending the library’s funds – much of which were taxpayer dollars – on elaborate meals, expensive furniture and concert tickets.
The findings later led to policy changes from the state legislature, passing swiftly with support in both houses, and by year's end a new board was appointed and Galante was relieved of his position.
The epilogue of the quickly evolving story has yet to fizzle as Galante’s lawyers announced in early December that he now plans to sue the library for an unpaid $2 million severance package. The library’s board has responded saying the offer is no longer an option under the circumstances from which he was fired.
1. Homeless Shelters
This year saw the introduction of new homeless shelters in several neighborhoods in Queens – at The Westway Inn in Astoria, the Pan Am Hotel in Elmhurst, and a proposed permanent facility at 78-16 Cooper Avenue in Glendale – and in every case there was severe backlash from the local communities.
In Glendale, the Glendale-Middle Village Coalition was formed to raise money and fight the establishment of the Cooper Avenue shelter site.
In Astoria and Elmhurst, residents were upset by the lack of transparency on the part of the Department of Homeless Services in its decision to create the temporary shelters, which could actually transition to permanent shelters in the coming year.
Tense protests became a common sight near 79-00 Queens Boulevard at the Pan Am shelter, as residents were outraged that they were told the former hotel wouldn’t be used for a homeless shelter because it didn’t have the proper kitchen facilities to host families. Just a few weeks later, homeless families were shuffled into the back door under the cover of darkness.
In Glendale, the coalition is is well on its way to raising $130,000 to cover legal fees, and has already filed its first legal proceeding against the city.
This is sure to be a hot topic in the coming year, and might even top our year-end list in 2015.