Yesterday, State Senator Tony Avella, John Duane, Chrissy Voskerichian and Austin Shafran stood with me to denounce the "hit pieces" being paid for by real estate PAC Jobs For New York on behalf of Paul Vallone.
AVELLA AND CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES TO DENOUNCE ATTEMPTS BY REAL ESTATE INDUSTRY TO BUY 19TH COUNCIL SEAT
Tomorrow at 12:00 PM, Senator Tony Avella will join four out of the five Democratic candidates for the 19th City Council District, John Duane, Paul Graziano, Austin Shafran, and Chrissy Voskerichian, at a press conference denouncing the negative tactics used by Jobs for New York, the political action committee backed by the Real Estate Board of New York, the City’s strongest and biggest pro-development advocacy group. Jobs for New York has endorsed Paul Vallone in this race.
Many of the council candidates have been the target of mailers from Jobs for New York attacking their respective records while often distorting the truth.
With overdevelopment being one of the biggest issues in this district, Avella will blast the attempts by the real estate industry to buy this important election and undue all the gains the community has made against overdevelopment.
WHO: Senator Avella, John Duane, Paul Graziano, Austin Shafran, and Chrissy Voskerichian
WHERE: 213th Street and 41st Avenue in Bayside, Queens (near Bayside LIRR station)
WHEN: TOMORROW, TUESDAY, August 27 at 12:00 PM
GRAZIANO SPARS WITH OPPONENTS AT BAYSIDE HISTORICAL SOCIETY ABOUT OVERDEVELOPMENT, PRESERVATION - EXCEPT PAUL VALLONE, WHO DOESN'T SHOW UP
GRAZIANO SPARS WITH OPPONENTS AT BAYSIDE HISTORICAL SOCIETY ABOUT OVERDEVELOPMENT, PRESERVATION - EXCEPT PAUL VALLONE, WHO DOESN'T SHOW UP
In the third scheduled debate for the 19th Council District, Paul Graziano and other candidates discussed their differences at an event at the Bayside Historical Society at Fort Totten, sponsored by that organization as well as the Historic Districts Council and the New York League of Conservation Voters.
As the forum was focused upon overdevelopment, preservation and environmental issues that affect the 19th Council District and beyond, the bulk of the questions, from both the organizations and the audience, stayed on point.
Unlike most of his opponents who focused on having at least a significant majority of residents in favor of landmarking before they would give their support if elected to the City Council, Graziano gave unqualifying support to landmarking all critical buildings and neighborhoods in the 19th Council District.
"Saving our neighborhoods from being destroyed is the number one historic preservation issue in this district," stated Graziano. "If we had [only] majority rule, half of the neighborhoods that are landmarked in the City of New York would never have been landmarked. We wouldn't have Grand Central Station landmarked, we wouldn't have the Empire State Building landmarked and we wouldn't have other neighborhoods that want to be landmarked, landmarked. In Broadway-Flushing, 85% of the neighborhood wants to be landmarked, but as I said: when you have places like the Ahles House [in Bayside] or you have neighborhoods that have been artificially severed off like the Douglaston [Historic District] Extension there is no issue with having 50%. It deserves to be protected. We need to protect these neighborhoods for us and future generations."
Graziano also focused on protecting the remaining undeveloped land in the 19th Council District.
"We have very little public open space, much less than people think we do. [Fort Totten] was actually my first victory in 1998 when the city wanted to sell this fort to developers," Graziano stated. "The organization that I co-founded, called the Fort Totten Conservancy, actually helped stop the city from doing that and [instead] turned it into a park and historic district...there are about 100 acres of land, both public and private, that need to be protected in this district. We're one of the few districts in the city that actually has unprotected, undeveloped land. So, between Flushing Airport; the six acres that are left in Cresthaven - the former country club - which need to be turned into athletic fields, the remaining property in Udalls Cove which are currently privately owned, which need to be purchased and brought into what is currently within a park zone but is still privately owned - those are things that we need to do."
Graziano also spoke about other issues, including common sense solutions for "superstorm" preparedness, including restoring oyster reefs along the coastline to reduce flooding and storm surges and regularly pruning trees to make them sturdier in the case of high winds. Additionally, he commented on the Real Estate Board of New York's (REBNY's) attempt to destroy landmarking and historic preservation in New York City, noting that Paul Vallone is REBNY's endorsed candidate and that they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on his candidacy to date.
finally, as reported in both the Times Ledger and Queens Courier newspapers on Thursday, August 23rd, Graziano was also the only candidate to respond to Paul Vallone's conspicuous absence at the debate.
"Unfortunately, there's been a deafening silence at the far end of the table...there's someone who's missing and for all of his protestations of not being able to make it because of someone passing away, it didn't bother him from campaigning a few hours ago in Bay Terrace. When you have situation where one of the candidates who you're running against chooses not to come here because of his connections with the real estate industry, his truly miserable response four years ago - and I should know, since I was the moderator of the debate here four years ago - when asked whether he was a lobbyist and he refused to respond and respect the audience, I think it's incredibly disrespectful for him not to be here.
"We've had two candidates nights. This is the third one. We have one more next week and we have a debate on New York 1 on Labor Day. For the people in this district to not be able to question this person for, I believe, phony reasons is incredibly disrespectful and, again, you can take his word for it, you can decide how you want to approach it, but that's my rebuttal. One of the people in this race didn't even have the courtesy to show up tonight and while I know people have personal emergencies, why was he campaigning right before this event?"
To view the full debate, click here.
Graziano Stands in Solidarity with Senator Avella, Teachers, Parents & Students at P.S. 29 Calling for the Removal of Rogue Principal
Dozens of teachers, parents and students of P.S. 29 in College Point, as well as State Senator Tony Avella and local community leaders including 19th Council District candidate Paul Graziano, called for the removal of Principal Jennifer Jones-Rogers this morning and an immediate investigation into numerous allegations of misconduct and misappropriation of funding.
"During the past year, I've heard from a number of teachers and parents about very disturbing things happening at P.S. 29, and the considerable slide in academics that began when Principal Jones-Rogers began her tenure there," Graziano said. "Intimidation, harassment and punishment seems to be the norm in her behavior towards the teachers in her school. Anyone - whether teachers, parents or students - who disagrees with Principal Jones-Rogers is treated horribly, with teachers given a "U" or unfavorable rating, students removed from classrooms and placed in Special Eduation or expelled from the school and staggering disrespect towards the parents. Additionally, the continued misallocation of funds meant for the students, including the dismantling of a computer lab that Senator Avella funded when he was a Councilmember and over $100,000 payed out to "consultants" who have done absolutely nothing to help school performance is completely unacceptable."
P.S. 29 used to be a very high-achieving school, one of the best in School District 25, according to Graziano.
"Since Principal Jones-Rogers tenure began, P.S. 29 has become one of the lowest performing schools in the 19th Council District," Graziano stated, "which is absolutely tragic, as it's hurting our future: our kids. It's happening to a greater or lesser degree across School Districts 25 and 26 and jeopardizing the future of these neighborhoods as, historically, young families have moved here to send their kids to the best schools in the city, among other things.
"This slide in educational achievement is substantially due to Mayoral control of our schools through the Department of Education, which has removed what schools are supposed to be about - teaching and learning. It has been replaced by a corporate model that seems intent on wanting to make our public schools fail so they can be replaced by privatized charter schools and other 'educational alternatives.' This is why I have called for an immediate ending of Mayoral control of our schools and a reconstitution of the Board of Education in modified form, which would emphasize local control with significant parental input in the decision-making process for our public schools in northeast Queens."
ILLEGAL CONSTRUCTION IN NORTH FLUSHING IDENTIFIED AND HALTED; DEVELOPER FINED $5,000 FOR VIOLATING STOP WORK ORDER AFTER INTERVENTION BY GRAZIANO, NEIGHBORS
Several weeks ago, a construction fence went up around 156-10 32nd Avenue, a quiet block in Broadway-Flushing across the street from Bowne Park. The house's new owner, Jian Wen Zhu, had recently applied for an alteration permit known as an "ALT 1" which specifically states that over 50% of the building must be retained, including the basement or cellar. In other words, an alteration permit means just that: an alteration to an existing building, not a new building.
Two days later, the building was more than 50% demolished; within another two days, almost the entire building had been removed, except for two exterior wall stubs.
Paul Graziano, candidate for the 19th Council District, had contacted the local homeowner association as well as State Senator Tony Avella, and wrote a "Zoning Challenge" to the Department of Buildings, as it was clear that the architect on record, Ling Li, had self-certified a project that violated the R1-2A zoning - New York City's most restrictive - which covers much of Broadway-Flushing.
After a series of 311 calls were made and official complaints were lodged by residents of the area, the Buildings Department sent an inspector, who stated that 'No violation warranted for complaint at time of inspection; site is fenced, gated and secure with permits posted and current for ALT 1 - no workers on site.'
"This was an outrage," Graziano stated, "as the complaint that was filed with 311 called for a Stop Work Order, as the demolition for the house far exceeded what an ALT 1 permit allows and the permit itself should not have been granted as the floor area was over what is allowed under the R1-2A zone. The 311 operator had listed that the complaint was concerned with safety, and the Buildings inspector responded to that instead of what they were supposed to."
One week later, the Department of Buildings finally responded to the correct complaint, after much pressure from Senator Avella, Graziano and local residents. On Thursday, July 18th, a Full Stop Work Order was served to the owner for demolition contrary to approved plans. However, the contractors at the site continued to work on Friday, July 19th and Monday, July 22nd.
On Monday morning, Graziano and a resident involved with the homeowners association confronted the foreman of the construction crew - which numbered at least a dozen - and engaged him in a heated exchange which lasted for more than 10 minutes. The foreman stated that he was allowed to work and "do maintenance" to the property, and that they hadn't done anything wrong. When pressed as to why there was a Stop Work Order and they were still working, he stated that "the house had some extra rot in it so we had to take down more of it than we thought." He followed this statement with a discussion about how this was America and it was the owner's right to build what he wanted.
That afternoon, again pressed by Senator Avella, Graziano and the homeowners association, the property was inspected by the Buildings Department a third time. A violation of the Stop Work Order was issued for "failure to obey stop work order" and a $5,000 civil fine was levied.
Now, the owner must apply for full demolition and new building permits as well as file new plans, which must be approved by the Department of Buildings.
"I'm glad the Department of Buildings finally did what they were supposed to do," said Graziano, "but it shouldn't have taken so long. More importantly, this house, along with all of the other teardowns that have occurred in the last decade, would have never happened if Broadway-Flushing had become a New York City landmark historic district as more than 85% of the residents have supported. The homeowners association and residents of this area have spent significant time, money and effort to protect their century-old neighborhood from speculative developers."
All of Broadway-Flushing was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 and was downzoned in 2009 with the most restrictive "anti-McMansion" zoning in New York City (R1-2A and R2A), both of which were authored and designed by Graziano.
"Last week's victory against the developer who tried to break the restrictive covenants and split a corner property is wonderful and the Stop Work Order is welcome," Graziano stated, "but if Broadway-Flushing had been landmarked almost a decade ago as it deserves, neither of these - nor other - bad development situations would have happened. The house at 156-10 32nd Avenue was a beautiful house and there was absolutely no reason to tear it down in the first place. Should I be lucky enough to be elected by the people of the 19th Council District in November, landmarking Broadway-Flushing and our other historic neighborhoods in the 19th Council District will be one of my absolute top priorities to make sure this doesn't ever happen again."
Stop Work Order / Civil Penalty for 156-10 32nd Avenue can be viewed here:
Paul Graziano, Candidate for the 19th City Council District, stood with State Senator Tony Avella, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and dozens of residents of Bayside on Friday, July 19th to protest the School Construction Authority's elementary school proposed at Keil Brothers nursery at 210-11 48th Avenue.
"Keil Brothers is a terrible place for a new school," Graziano stated later on Friday, "as 32 houses adjacent on either side of the site would be directly affected because of its mid-block location. The immediate neighborhood is already significantly impacted by two schools - P.S. 31 and M.S. 158 (Marie Curie) - only a block away. While the neighborhoods of northeast Queens are very open to new educational facilities, as education is a top priority for the residents here, to propose a school in such an awkward location, especially after overwhelming opposition from the neighborhood and Community Board 11, is incredibly tone-deaf and must be stopped immediately."
Senator Tony Avella was joined today by preservationists and several area civic groups at a press conference protesting the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s (LPC) decision to reject landmark designation for Flushing Meadows Corona Park (FMCP).
The 1,255 acre Flushing Meadow Corona Park is the Borough of Queens’ most prominent park and provides open space and recreational benefits to thousands of borough residents and low and middle income families. The Park is a valuable asset for the City and the residents of Queens not only because of its green space and natural areas, but also due to its embodiment of historical structures and leading cultural and educational institutions. The Park also has a unique history, serving as host to two World Fairs in 1939 and 1964, plus hosting the General Assembly of the United Nations from 1946 to 1950.
That is why, earlier this year, Avella asked LPC to review landmark status for Queens’ most prominent and historic park, which is under the threat of devastating development interests. Currently, the Mets organization is floating the idea of building a Mall in the park, the United States Tennis Association is proposing to expand and Major League Soccer is still interested in building a stadium that would further eliminate parkland.
Unfortunately, LPC recently denied this request and indicated that the park did not meet the criteria for designation.
Avella stated, “I am very disappointed in the Landmark Preservation Commission’s decision to not designate Flushing Meadows Corona Park as a landmark. It is clear to me that with its rich history and importance as Queens’ most significant and treasured park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park deserves landmark recognition, especially now. With three separate development proposals threatening to take away valuable parkland, Flushing Meadows Corona Park needs to be preserved now more than ever.”
“Parkland is sacred,” continued Avella. “The City should not be entertaining these proposals which would radically reduce open and recreational space for the hundreds of thousands of Queens residents who use this park on a yearly basis. Instead, the City should landmark this vital borough park to ensure its continued usage for generations to come and send a clear message that parkland is not for sale!”
“That is why I am calling on the Landmarks Preservation Commission to immediately reconsider their decision and demand that they hold a public hearing on this important issue. At the very least, the residents of Queens deserve to have their voices heard,” concluded Avella.
Paul Graziano, representing Save Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and a candidate for the 19th City Council District blasted the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the decades-long neglect of important historic structures in the park. "The first preservation battle that I ever got involved in was the Aquacade, which stood just to the south of the Long Island Expressway on Meadow Lake," stated Graziano, "and it was an incredibly important as it was one of the last remaining buildings from the 1939 World's Fair. The building suffered neglect in the 1980s and 1990s, and former Borough President Claire Shulman drew up a plan for its restoration - until she decided to hand a demolition contract to one of her financial supporters."
"We also almost lost the façade of the Queens Museum a decade ago, when the plan was to radically alter its façade. Thankfully, the financial crisis of the last few years ended that terrible plan - but it could have easily happened, and the place where the United Nations first met would have been unrecognizable to future generations."
"The New York State Pavilion also stands as a ruin, due to the neglect of New York City. This amazing structure by Phillip Johnson - one of the greatest architects of the 20th Century - stands as a testament to the lack of support that the remainder of the World's Fair fairgrounds and park plan has been jeopardized by the Landmarks Commission and city government for decades. It must end through the immediate landmarking of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and subsequent funding to restore and enhance our borough's 'Central' park."
On Wednesday, July 17th, the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association won an incredibly important legal victory: the Honorable Jeffrey D. Lebowitz of Supreme Court of New York State ruled in favor of the association against a developer with intentions of breaking the restrictive covenants that cover the neighborhood.
City Council candidate Paul Graziano, an urban planner and historic preservation advocate and consultant – who placed 1,330 buildings in Broadway-Flushing on the National and State Register of Historic Places in 2004 and designed the contextual rezoning for the entire neighborhood in 2009 (including the "anti-McMansion" R1-2A and R2A zones) to stop overdevelopment – had volunteered his time as an expert witness for the case, along with Mel Siegel, a past-President for the association. The lengthy decision extensively refers to Graziano's more than 3 hours of testimony on the witness stand on April 24th - as well as several other days of attending court and helping prepare the case with the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association's lawyer, Vincent Nicolosi, - all for no compensation of any kind.
In his decision, Judge Lebowitz specifically mentions that "The Court found unwilling the defendant's attempts to discredit the Graziano testimony as trying to curry favor with Association members as he was presently running for City Council in a district that included the BFHA. In any event, Mr. Graziano did not testify to opinions, as much as relevant historical data."
The defendant, a developer named Xudong Siao, purchased the property at the southeast corner of 35th Avenue and 163rd Street in 2010 with the intention of tearing down the existing single-family house and subdividing the property. While the zoning in the area, R1-2A, is the strictest in New York City, it would have allowed the 120' x 100' property to be legally subdivided into two single-family houses on 60' x 100' lots. However, the Rickert-Finlay restrictive covenant which covers the area mandates that corner properties have a minimum of 80' x 100', meaning that he would need an extra 20' in order to subdivide the property to comply with the deed restriction.
The defendant's lawyer, Simon Rothkrug, attempted to argue that there were too many violations of the deed restriction over time and that they were no longer valid, nor did the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association have the ability to defend them. Graziano proved that, to the contrary, according to his research over 98% of the properties were still in compliance with the deed restrictions, and his argument helped to win the day.
"Along with the recent Appellate Court decision (the Dilluvio case) upholding the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association's right to prohibit walls and fences in front yards, Wednesday's decision reinforces the association's ability to stop all of the larger properties with frontage on the avenues from being subdivided, thereby helping to preserve the look and feel of this beautiful neighborhood" Graziano stated.
As described in the decision, "Corner lots are specifically identified...as requiring construction on larger parcels, which the Court finds was to maintain the ambiance and establish open and unobstructed views, or as Mr. Graziano testified, to create a ‘rural-like setting.’” The decision goes on to say that "The Court accepts the Plaintiff's (Broadway-Flushing's) position that the restrictions continue to serve a legitimate purpose, especially as it relates to corner lots, to allow for the continued ambiance afforded the community by open and unobstructed views. This purpose remains as compelling today as the day it was created. In fact this open air view is a substantial reason that homeowners are attracted to this area. Therefore, the Plaintiff has met their burden of showing the continued vitality of the Covenant today."
Finally, for the first time in history, Judge Lebowitz took an adversarial position - and legal opinion - against undesirable development that has been plaguing northeast Queens for over a decade: McMansions.
Judge Lebowitz stated that "The Court takes judicial notice of the rampant development of "McMansions" (though evidence of this problem and the subsequent zoning relief can be found in the trial testimony) in the County of Queens, which were concededly built in conformity with then existing zoning laws, and which prompted a change to the present, more restrictive, R1-2A. This "McMansion" crisis was not experienced in areas covered by restrictive covenants, and underscores the continued vitality of these covenants to maintain the existing landscape of these respective neighborhoods."
"This is a game-changing decision," Graziano stated, "which should help ALL of the deed restricted communities in Queens County and beyond to defend themselves from the crass intentions of speculative developers. Their only intention is to make money for themselves regardless of the price paid by the neighborhood itself, in terms of compromising the integrity of the planned communities of our borough."
Judge Lebowitz's entire decision can be found here:
Democratic candidate for 19th New York City Council District