curb to curb
SEPTEMBER 21, 2016
It is infuriating that almost a billion dollars in taxpayer money for resurfacing continues to be undercut each and every day by wild, wild west-like utility cut rules. It simply must stop. Here is the truth: utility companies, builders and their hired plumbing professionals, and the Department of Environmental Protecting (DEP) are systematically destroying all the progress DOT is finally making on our streets.
Drive around Staten Island and take a look at “fully restored” street cuts on roads that were resurfaced by DOT just months ago and cut into recently. These “fully restored” roads, which in reality are anything but, are tomorrow’s problematic streets.
The only answer is legislating curb to curb milling and repaving of these street cuts. They all fail otherwise. I’m not sure why, but it appears Steve Matteo and I are the only people in city government talking about this and trying to find solutions. We are drafting a legislative package that would finally address this issue.
The current rules simply don’t work. Consider an example of Remsen Avenue, where those rehabbing a home for more than six months cut into the street mere months after it was fully resurfaced by DOT. It’s not as if the rehab project began after the resurfacing took place. No! The project was already underway, the street was resurfaced, and soon after the newly resurfaced street was cut into. This is a clear demonstration that the process if not only flawed, it is broken.
We here at Borough Hall were duly proud of the success of Pave, Baby, Pave, our very vocal campaign directed at City Hall which resulted in a large increase in the number of lane miles re-surfaced in our borough. Indeed, from FY ’16 through FY ’18 the city will have allocated $834M for 4,000 lane miles of re-surfacing. This is taxpayer’s money, the impact of which we cannot allow to be undercut (pardon the pun) by utilities, agencies and contractors.
Has this always been a problem? Yes! But it is more noticeable and maddening now that we have this opportunity of a lifetime of a Mayor who allocated so many resources to fixing our streets. His efforts are being undermined each and every day, and will continue to be the city makes a real effort to address this problem.
UP NEXT: TODT HILL REZONING
SEPTEMBER 15, 2016
I think many folks have imagined, at one time or another, what it would be like to live in the stately and bucolic Todt Hill section of Staten Island, amidst a housing stock that runs the gamut from modest ranches to majestic estates.
Now envision someone having the bright idea to start knocking down those detached houses and replacing them with attached townhomes – you’d think him crazy, and besides, there’s no way that could be legally permitted, right? You’d likely assume that Todt Hill’s zoning protects those homes, with an eye on maintaining the character of that neighborhood for posterity.
Well guess what – it doesn’t.
Not only does the existing zoning along Ocean Terrace permit attached buildings, it also supports apartment houses. So when we notice one house being knocked down to make way for four townhouses – despite the Special Natural Area District controls to preserve the natural features and existing character of the neighborhood - we start making lists and taking names.
We begin with the Department of City Planning (DCP). DCP has approved what’s called a “non-discretionary” certification, allowing a developer to start the obliteration of a portion of this neighborhood in short order. Despite CM Matteo’s and my best efforts and strenuous objections to the proposal, DCP basically laid it on the line for us: do what we need to do to change the zoning, or prepare for the destruction of the character and natural features of that lovely hillside neighborhood with the introduction of more dense building types.
And while we’re at it we’ll take a look at other large lots and soft sites too. Soft sites are under-developed lots where density can be increased. So changing the zoning is what we will do, as well as inoculating soft sites against the ravages of inappropriate development.
pass on gas
SEPTEMBER 12, 2016
The record abounds with what we feel are poor decisions on the part of the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) when it comes to granting special permits or variances to developers. Far too often the referencing “hardship” is as twisted as a pretzel, yet the BSA swallows it with barely a chew.
As you hopefully know by now if you’ve been following these rants, the BSA is part of the City's system for the regulation of land use, development and construction. They are empowered with interpreting the meaning of zoning laws, including the ability to vary, in certain instances, the provisions of these regulations.
A case in point is the special permit request for 1842 Victory Boulevard, at Lester Street. For years it was a small, non-conforming, neighborhood gas station with an even smaller attendant’s booth, where you could buy an ice-cream or a soda pop.
As in similar cases we’ve described, the owners are seeking a BSA approval to re-install pumps that have been gone for years – and to which they are simply no longer entitled. In addition to the gas pumps, the owners want to construct a new two-story building, a convenience store with offices above and a drive-through.
CM Matteo and I have been vehemently opposing this proposal. We have communicated with the BSA in writing and have testified before the Board at each public hearing. In our opinion, if you are going to build an as-of-right convenience store, then go ahead and build it. If you are requesting a special permit to build an incompatible gas station, then go ahead and request it – we will argue that it flies in the face of the spirit of the law and must be denied.
But the idea that the owners are seeking relief to permit the installation of gas pumps, while at the same time building an as-of-right project is, as far as we’re concerned, a non-starter. Add to that the fact that the new proposal will have no parking, but will have a drive-through that will impact the quality of life on Lester Street, and it’s easy to see why we object so strenuously and maintain that this project should never be built as requested.
And here’s the nail in the coffin of this monster of a proposal: we also have a capital improvement project along Victory from Lester to Sommers Lane. This proposal will basically undo everything that the improvements on Victory might achieve regarding traffic mitigation, and could potentially cause a “Traffic Armageddon” along a major arterial in the middle of a viable retail district.
This proposal will shatter the quality of life for homeowners on Lester Street, potentially bring back even more incompatible gas pumps while increasing the degree of non-conformance and reward the property owner with a use that is not permitted. That the BSA is even considering this bait-and-switch is appalling to us.
We at Borough Hall will continue to voice our concerns about any and all projects that put our communities’ quality of life in jeopardy. It is beyond my ability to understand how the BSA can be so tone-deaf to the needs of Staten Islanders - and trust me, these are only two of the many, many examples with which we take issue.
The list is as long as it is perplexing…
en garde at cunard
SEPTEMBER 6, 2016
Here’s what you have to love about the American private sector, especially land developers: if there is a buck to be made, whatever creative brain-power must be brought to bear to make it WILL be brought to bear. It’s what makes America’s economy pre-eminent in the world. I applaud it and encourage it…however, as you might have guessed, there is a “but” I wish to discuss.
The “but” in question occurs when the afore-mentioned creative brain-power contrives to directly conflict with public safety, and seeks assistance from New York City’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to do it. Such is the case with a scheme by developers to achieve access to five proposed houses on land-locked properties fronting an unmapped and unopened portion of Cunard Avenue on Grymes Hill.
Because it is generally prohibited to issue certificates of occupancy for buildings that do not front a mapped street, the developers are seeking a BSA approval to do so. But how, you might ask, will they access the property without connecting to an existing street?
Well, their proposal includes a “back door” scheme to provide restricted access through the purchase of a private residential lot from an adjacent street. That street is narrow, hilly, Cedar Terrace, and their plan is to construct a private road on that residential lot, next to existing houses on Cedar, in order to access Cunard.
For one thing, Cedar Terrace is barely navigable as it is – especially for emergency vehicles. To ask residents to accept additional traffic bound for the proposed new houses on Cunard is at the very least unfair – if not altogether unwise. As well, for our purposes the key word in “private residential lot” is “residential.” The lot in question is not designed, by zoning laws, to function solely as a private road. And without this connection, the BSA need not even opine on new construction fronting Cunard, since they wouldn’t be in any way accessible anyway.
Again, I admire American entrepreneurial initiative as much as the next person, but zoning laws exist for a reason. The BSA needs to look long and hard at this project before approving it, and when wielding their discretionary powers, do it with the entire community in mind.
bruzer on van duzer
SEPTEMBER 1, 2016
I love it when a good plan knits together and becomes a reality. But when an obviously bad plan – and a potentially dangerous one - has a shot at getting an approval from a city agency like the Board of Standards and Appeals, I shake my head in disbelief and voice my strenuous objection to the madness.
Case in point: the folks at BSA are being asked to consider the approval of a variance for three townhouses in an area zoned strictly for one-family detached homes on Van Duzer Street where Broad Street currently dead-ends, forming a “T” intersection. And I mean literally at the foot of Broad Street: cars parked on the driveways of these homes would be forced to drive through the pedestrian crosswalk only to then enter directly into the signalized intersection of Van Duzer and Broad.
Remember the admonition: Don’t Block the Box? Well, our friends at DOT apparently have no qualms about allowing those who purchase these homes to blindly back into it. And to make a crazy situation even crazier, the cars entering the intersection from the driveways won’t have a traffic signal and won’t be able to see the existing traffic light which faces oncoming traffic from Van Duzer and Broad.
That’s right, DOT has ok’d the proposal “as-is,” and City Planning is on deck preparing to follow suit. That now allows the owner to go to the BSA, hat-in-hand, looking for a variance. It’s kind of strange that BSA would even consider it, since this seems to fly in the face of Vision Zero.
Although the owners of the property undoubtedly knew the difficulties they faced when purchasing these lots, that won’t deter them from claiming that a “hardship” exists, compelling them to seek relief from the BSA. Remember, the table has already been set for the owner to say the proposal has been accepted by DOT and, potentially, City Planning. That DOT has acquiesced and that the BSA and City Planning would even consider granting such relief – to the detriment of drivers and pedestrians who use that intersection – is what makes me question the sanity of the process and methods of doing business with the BSA.
I am as big a defender of the rights of individuals and business folks as anyone, but the property owners knew of the restrictions when the property was purchased; indeed, it may have factored into the offer they made to the former owner. By seeking to circumvent zoning rules - the rules everyone else has to follow and about which they had full knowledge - they lose my support.
So I sit and wonder if the Department of Buildings will fall in line or ask the DOT, City Planning and the Board of Standards and Appeals why a proposal with an obvious inherent public safety issue would be considered for such relief.
looks like a job for scott lobaido
AUGUST 30, 2016
You have read about the ongoing saga about the lack of an American flag atop Borough Hall in previous posts on this page.
Although I'm a tenant of this building, which is operated by the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), I can't just sit back and allow this building to not have an American flag clearly visible.
That is why we're calling on our friend, Scott LoBaido, for help. Tomorrow at noon,if you are in the vicinity of Borough Hall I invite you to the Richmond Terrace side to see the temporary solution Scott and I came up with to ensure Old Glory is visible at Borough Hall once again!
no old glory. same old story.
AUGUST 25, 2016
The saga of our quest to have Old Glory flying once again atop Borough Hall sadly continues. In case you don’t know the story, this past Memorial Day weekend we noticed the flag above the building was gone, and were told by DCAS (the Department of City Administrative Services, our landlord) that something-or-other was broken and the flag soon would be replaced. Well, that didn’t happen. Further examination revealed that the flagpole itself needed to be replaced.
Okay, sounds simple enough, right? Wrong.
I was then told that in the last week of June a crane would be sent to Borough Hall and a replacement pole would be installed. Not so fast. They discovered Con Edison vaults were below the sidewalk in the area where the crane would stand, and it was too risky to position heavy equipment there. Uh-oh. No flag for the Fourth of July either.
Subsequently I learned that once they found a spot for the crane and the pole was removed, DCAS would need to ensure that the base on the roof was structurally sound enough to hold a new pole. It seems they have had issues in the past at other locations, where they found the beams holding the base of the pole were rotted and needed to be replaced.
If that turns out to be the case, they would need to open the roof, repair or replace the beams, then replace that section of the roof. You can’t make this stuff up.
The story doesn’t end there, oh, no. A few weeks ago, DCAS informed me that the job had to be filed, which means their existing contractor couldn’t do this work, and they needed to find an MWBE (Minority or Women-Owned Business Enterprise) vendor who could complete the filing and do the work for under $35k. However, if that cannot happen DCAS will be required to bid it out – which takes a minimum of 4 months.
So someday, by the dawn’s early light, we will see the Stars and Stripes flying once again over Borough Hall. But apparently, not anytime soon.
By the way, the reason I have detailed this story is not because life cannot go on without the Stars and Stripes flying above this building; real efforts are being made to correct the situation. I tell it to illustrate the kinds of hurdles we must clear, every day, on so many other matters - matters that impact the lives of Staten Islanders to a much, much greater extent.
say no to monroe
AUGUST 8, 2016
This project just does not fit this block and it would set a dangerous precedent for all of Staten Island. Join us in opposing this plan to drop a 6 story building on Monroe Avenue. Let your voice be heard. #SayNotoMonroe