OP-ED: Gramercy Park is grateful to NYPD

Arlene Harrison with Lieutenant Sammy Ponce of the 13th Precinct at a luncheon honoring cops there last week (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Arlene Harrison with Lieutenant Sammy Ponce of the 13th Precinct at a luncheon honoring cops there last week (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Arlene Harrison
President, Gramercy Park Block Association 

On October 8, 1993, my then 15-year-old son Tim was beaten by a random wilding gang of over 20 guys in front of my home on Gramercy Park.

Three months later on January 6, 1994, Rudolph Giuliani became mayor and appointed William Bratton police commissioner.

As a result of my son’s attack, in March, 1994, hundreds of neighbors joined together to form the Gramercy Park Block Association. Its mission – public safety.

That same month (March, 1994) Mayor Giuliani’s office asked me to help organize one of their first neighborhood meetings. Its purpose was to show that crime had become so rampant that neighborhoods throughout the city were affected. The meeting, co-hosted by Congresswoman Maloney, Commissioner Bratton and me, was held at the Brotherhood Synagogue, and was attended by over 900 people.

A major focus was the 23rd St. Kenmore Hotel, which had become the epicenter of neighborhood crime, including drug dealing, robberies, prostitution, gangs, murders and crime that spilled onto the streets.

Maloney and Bratton stayed after the meeting, and devised a plan where Maloney contacted Attorney General Janet Reno. Federal marshals and the FBI began a three-month sting operation, which led to the June 1994 takeover of the hotel, the largest asset seizure in the history of the US government. The success of the operation was credited largely to 13th Precinct Police Officer Scott Kimmins, who for eight years visited the Kenmore daily to look after those who needed his help, and to document the crime. The headlines read “Police Officer Kimmins – Hero of the Kenmore” and the lobby of the Kenmore was named in his honor at a ceremony in front of the Kenmore.

This was one local example of NYPD efforts 20 years ago to make the city safer. In the following two decades, from 1994 until now, as a result of effective policing, New York City became “the safest city in the world.”

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Old Peter Stuyvesant Post Office to become 8-story apartment building

The current Peter Stuyvesant Post Office, which will be relocated to another space on East 14th Street (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The now closed Peter Stuyvesant Post Office on East 14th Street (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The plans for the soon-to-be demolished former Peter Stuyvesant Post Office have been revealed — it, along with a now vacant shop next store, are to become an eight-story apartment building with 114 apartments.

The plans were announced by Benenson Capital Partners (Benenson) and Mack Real Estate Group (MREG) who are partnering on the development of the property, which will also have 15,400 square feet of ground floor retail.

Benenson has owned the property at 432 East 14th Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A, since the 1940s, and recently filed demolition plans. The post office closed almost a year ago and has since moved into a smaller space a block west.

The new building, across the street from Stuyvesant Town, will be designed by Robert Laudenschlager of SLCE Architects.

“We are delighted to work with Mack Real Estate Group on this exciting new project, which we believe will maximize the long-term value of a property that has been part of our portfolio for many years,” said Richard A. Kessler, Chief Operating Officer of Benenson, in an official statement. “The Macks share our multi-generational investment philosophy, and we look forward to creating an outstanding building by combining our expertise.”

In a press release, the partners touted the location as a prime spot due to its proximity to the L train connecting the trendy Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick and Williamsburg to the East Village.

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Letters to the Editor, Jan. 22

Jan22 Toon Uber gray

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

In defense of de Blasio on horses and pandas

Re: Cartoon in T&V, Jan. 8, depicting a panda driving a horse-drawn carriage in front of an irate Mayor de Blasio

Dear Editor,

I disagree with attacks and cartoons aimed at Mayor de Blasio with regard to his defending the rights of horses in this city. He is concerned with the treatment and welfare of them living in a very noisy, overcrowded city where they do not belong “working” in traffic. This is not early 1900s NYC with few cars going about 15 miles an hour on virtually empty streets with few pedestrians walking around Central Park, no steel drums, no electrifying manhole covers and stray voltage, no taxis careening in and out, no millions of horns continuously blasting nonstop at everyone and everything. Quite honestly, this is not even a peaceful place for humans to live.

As for pandas, I wouldn’t subject these adorable animals either to a life in this noisy city. Politicians note: Pandas cost a fortune to feed and the taxpayers will pay for this – in a city where humans go hungry and homeless.

Politicians joking about de Blasio imply he must “hate horses” when he took a stand against the inhumanity of having carriage horses in this city, surely must know that animal lovers of this city have a conscience and do vote. Everyone should take a lesson from de Blasio’s comment and get a better understanding of treating these animals more humanely which will reflect upon us as a more caring and humane society.

With regard to carriage horses bringing income into the city through tourism, why can’t carriage horse drivers decorate and drive Pedicabs – the city would be cleaner and by pedaling pedicabs, the drivers would be healthier!

Siobhán Cronin, ST

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Airbnb grilled at packed Council hearing

Stuyvesant Town tenants Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios were among hundreds protesting Airbnb outside City Hall before  a legnthy hearing attended by Airbnb execs, hosts who use the service, tenants and politicians. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Stuyvesant Town tenants Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios were among hundreds protesting Airbnb outside City Hall before a legnthy hearing attended by Airbnb execs, hosts who use the service, tenants and politicians. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Airbnb, the controversial home sharing listings site, was the subject of a lengthy and contentious hearing on Tuesday that consisted mainly of accusations being traded between politicians and the company’s director of global policy.

At the heart of the conversation was whether Airbnb was making efforts to comply with state law that forbids short-term rentals in most residential buildings, which the hearing’s chair, City Council Member Jumaane Williams, said he doubted. Meanwhile, Airbnb’s representative, David Hantman, threw in — at every chance he could get — a chance to defend Airbnb users who rent their homes out infrequently, who he said make up the bulk of the service’s users — and asked repeatedly why the law couldn’t be changed to exempt them. Instead, he argued, the law should just focus on “bad actors,” tenants or landlords who regularly rent apartments to tourists for short-term stays, making life hell for neighbors.

Most of the people in attendance were tenants opposed to Airbnb, due to illegal hotel activity in their own buildings, but there were also a few dozen supporters of the company, including hosts, with both groups demonstrating outside before the hearing. Those against the company carried signs with slogans like “I don’t want strangers for neighbors” and “sharing = selfish.”

A couple of demonstrators in that camp were Stuyvesant Town residents Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios.
Both said they’d seen suspected illegal activity in the community.

“We’ve seen it for sure, definitely in the past year,” said Metalios. “A lot of people coming in with suitcases and garbage being kept in the wrong place.”

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Also at the event was ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg, who’d hoped to speak about illegal hotel operations in Stuy Town, but finally gave up at around 5 p.m. since she had a meeting to go to. At this time the hearing, which began at around 11 a.m., was still going on. Since the City Council chambers were filled with around 200 people, some of them standing, the rest of the attendees, like Steinberg, had gotten herded into an overflow room.

Had she been able to give testimony, Steinberg said she would have focused on how, when residents’ use of Airbnb started to take off in 2011, it coincided with an uptick in bedbug infestations in Stuy Town buildings where short-term rentals were taking place. Following meetings with company reps alongside reps from CWCapital, illegal hotel activity in the complex has decreased, though it hasn’t ended completely.

Steinberg also had included in her testimony how the TA had heard concerns from neighbors about their safety when they challenged short-term renters who wanted to gain entry into buildings. In one case, an irate guest “just pushed their way into the building.”

One tenant who did get to testify at the hearing was West Side resident Audrey Smaltz, who said she’d lived in a penthouse apartment in her building since 1977, always feeling safe with the same neighbors for many years. But in recent years, this changed, with the owner renting vacant units as hotel rooms. “The entire fourth floor is for short-term rentals and (there are) many units on other floors,” she said.

As for Airbnb supporters, not too many had signed up to testify at the hearing, which Hantman had explained as being because they’re working people who can’t afford to wait around five hours.

“They have jobs; they have no voice right now,” he said.

However, politicians seemed less than sympathetic about the plight of New Yorkers resorting to home-sharing to help pay their own rent.

Council Member Corey Johnson, who represents Greenwich Village, said he lives in a tiny studio apartment for which “the rent is too damn high,” but added with what New Yorkers pay in rent, they should have the right to not be surrounded by transients.

Another Council Member, Robert Cornegy of Brooklyn, asked Airbnb for their revenue in 2014 and projected revenue for this year, which Hantman said he wouldn’t be allowed to provide. “I’ve got to FOIL that?” Cornegy asked him. “You’ve got to go to our finance people,” Hantman responded.

When questioned about how the attorney general had found that 72 percent of Airbnb rentals to be illegal, Hantman said this was “inaccurate,” especially since Airbnb has since removed thousands of listings by users who don’t provide a “quality” experience.

In response, Williams blasted Hantman for mentioning the word “quality” more than once when discussing hosts’ renting practices.

“You keep mentioning quality — you never once mention following the law,” said Williams. “I’m sure you have lobbyists that can try to change the law, but I don’t know how you can be a business person and never mention state or federal law. You only mention quality of experience. That’s not an effective business model in the City of New York.”

Hantman had argued that very few Airbnb rentals turned out negatively out of two million people using the service to stay in New York over the past few years. He also said 1400 of those people had found places to stay when they were impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, asked about quality of life issues related to short-term rentals, when Hantman mentioned Airbnb has a neighbor hotline that can be called if a resident wants to report problems with an Airbnb guest or host. Rosenthal challenged this, asking “How would they know?” if a neighbor is in fact an Airbnb user as opposed to a client of some other home-sharing service or that the number even exists for the reporting of such issues.

When accused of putting tenants at risk for eviction for hosting, Hantman said the company does have a pop-up on its site for New York City users warning them hosting may not be legal in their buildings or allowed in their leases.

“We know how much they earn, but we don’t know what their lease is,” he said. “We ask our hosts to obey the law.”

One host there to support the company, Lee Thomas, told the panel about how after he became ill with cancer, his high-paying career on Wall Street came to an end and the only means he had of supporting himself was by renting out his getaway cottage. In response, Williams told him the illegal hotels law didn’t even apply to him because it applies to multi-family buildings while his property was just a two-family one.

Along with Airbnb, also getting quite a bit of criticism was the city office tasked with investigating illegal hotel activity, with Council members accusing its director of not doing enough or having the resources needed to adequately deal with the ongoing problem.

Elizabeth Glazer, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, kept saying she believed her office was doing a good job at keeping up with complaints, but politicians countered that the system shouldn’t just be complaint-driven. Rather, Rosenthal said, it should be proactive enough to keep up with any suspicious short-term rental listing. This was after Glazer had said her office last year had received 1,050 illegal rental complaints, up from 712 in 2013. In response, Rosenthal told her there were over 2,000 listings in Council Member Antonio Reynoso’s district in Brooklyn alone.

“I publicly take issue with what you’re saying,” said Rosenthal.

When asked how the office investigates tips of illegal activity, Glazer said there is “an array of techniques that we use,” but she declined multiple times to say what they were.

This answer didn’t impress Council Member Peter Koo, who threw back, “I don’t see you using them though.”

He told Glazer about how he’d seen an inspector show up at an address where there was suspected illegal activity and knock once. When no one answered, the inspector knocked again. Then, after a few minutes more, when the door remained unanswered, he was gone.

“How come it’s so hard to open a door?” asked Koo. “Pretend you’re a tourist. Send a decoy. Tell them they’re here to give a massage.”

Despite getting some chuckles from the audience, Koo was then cut off by Williams. Koo said he represents an area in Flushing that’s become a “gateway of Asian tourism.”

Also sitting in at the hearing were the authors of the 2010 illegal hotels law, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried. Krueger said what she hoped would come out of the event would be more and not less enforcement of the law at the city level.

“Without enforcement at the local level, it’s as if we didn’t pass it,” she said.

According to Glazer, out of the 1,050 complaints received in 2014, 883 resulted in inspections and 495 violations being issued.

Council Member Dan Garodnick, who was not at the hearing since he is not a member of the housing committee, later said he does support “more aggressive enforcement” of the law.