New DOB unit wants you to be able to spot an illegally converted apartment

At 216 Third Avenue, the FDNY found signs of illegal conversion from a two-family building to a four-family one. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Renting an apartment in New York can be a nightmare, but the Department of Buildings wants to help prospective tenants identify shady situations before making a commitment to a new home.

The Quality of Life unit in the Department of Buildings focuses primarily on the illegal conversion of apartments, which often happens when building owners make changes to an apartment and list the place on AirBnB, and the shoddy workmanship can end up being hazardous to tenants. The main concern with illegal conversions and the reason for the DOB’s crackdown is safety, spokesperson Abigail Kunitz said.

“We want to make sure that people have a safe place to live,” she said. “With illegal gas and electrical work, we want to prevent a situation that causes tragedies like the East Village gas explosion. Especially when housing is scarce, we want to make sure that it’s safe.”

Although the Quality of Life unit doesn’t deal with issues related to illegal gas and electrical work, owners may often overlook fire exits when renovating an apartment and failing to maintain two means of egress, which is considered a serious safety issue and one that the QOL unit would address.

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Editorial: Another store closing, don’t blame Amazon

May4 Garodnick presser Amott

Natasha Amott, owner of Whisk

Earlier this month, Town & Village interviewed three local business owners to ask their thoughts on a package of legislation aimed at helping mom-and-pops.

One of those business owners was Natasha Amott, whose business, kitchen supply shop Whisk has three locations, one on Broadway in Flatiron, and two in Brooklyn, one in Williamsburg and the other in Brooklyn Heights. While the three shops have no shortage of loyal customers, Amott told Town & Village on Friday that the Williamsburg location on Bedford will be closing at the end of the month after 10 years due to an astronomical rise in rent. Currently $18,452, the landlord asked for a 44 percent increase that would have brought it up to $26,500. Such asking rents have become the norm in a neighborhood that, like so many others in the city, have been zeroed in on by chains.

Amott explained her decision to close in a “love letter” to customers, while also telling T&V via email, “This is NOT a story of a small business that could not survive the growth of online retailers. This is a story of a tremendously successful little business in a neighborhood that has become overrun with national and multinational chains, often supported by private equity, who choose to pay high rents as an advertising investment to grow their brand. The commercial banking system to underwrite mortgages on this land has often demanded these high rent rolls. And the small landlords – like Whisk’s – are now able to benefit too from these inflated market rents.”

In addition to the Brooklyn closure, there has also been a “For Rent” sign in the window of the Manhattan store.

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A ferry costly commute? Council debates subsidies

Council Member Keith Powers, pictured at left with Stuyvesant Town General Manager Rick Hayduk on the maiden voyage of the Lower East Side ferry last August (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Earlier this month, the news that the city’s ferry system was costing taxpayers nearly $11 in subsidies has raised concerns about the value of the service and if the ferries are serving commuters in an equitable way.

The City Council held a hearing on the subject last Wednesday, although an attending representative for the Economic Development Corporation, which operates the ferries along with Hornblower, offered little in the way of information about demographics of ferry riders and just how much they’re using the system.

Later, Council Member Keith Powers, whose East Side district residents utilize two of the new ferry stops along the Lower East Side route (20th and 34th Street) said there are still many questions that need answering. However, for him, it’s not a question of whether the ferries are worth the investment — he believes they are — but how money can be saved in the future and how the system can be tweaked to better serve commuters with the most need.

The current $10.73 per person subsidy, he noted, is in part due to the cost of buying the fleet of ferries upfront as opposed to having rented them, which over the long term, is estimated to save the city $150 million.

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Easter egg hunt in Stuyvesant Town

Due to an April shower on Saturday, the traditional Easter activities for children in Stuyvesant Town, an egg hunt and visit from the Easter Bunny, were postponed by a day. However, children and their families still turned up en masse on Easter Sunday and an egg-citing time seemed to be had by all. (Photos by Steven Noveck)

By Stephen Noveck

Despite a rain-related delay of one day, the annual Stuyvesant Town Easter egg hunt had a massive turnout for children of all age groups on Sunday.

Countless pastel colored eggs were laid out for the taking in the middle of Playground 10, and the Easter Bunny also showed, drawing a long line for pictures at the end of the age 2-4 egg hunt. Each group took about two minutes to clear out the playground of eggs, which were quickly delved into for the treats inside. Stuy Town was recycling the egg shells and it didn’t take long for the bag to fill up.

A seven-year-old named Camila won the grand prize of a $25 gift card to the Ibiza Kids toy store on 1st Avenue in the age 5-8 group. Hundreds of children participated.

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Police presence increased at local churches after Easter Sri Lanka bombing

Calvary Church in Gramercy

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The NYPD announced heightened security measures at houses of worship throughout the city over the Easter weekend in light of bombings in Colombo, Sri Lanka over the holiday and while some local churches noticed an increase in officers during the weekend, parishioners mainly celebrated the holidays in good spirits.

“I don’t think people knew why (the officers) were there and no one expressed any concern, but we did pray for the people of Sri Lanka during the mass,” said Father Jim Mayzik of Epiphany Church, noting that officers stood outside the church on the plaza during the services. “It was a nice day and we had a giant number of people come to celebrate the holiday.”

Karin Rosner, a spokesperson for Calvary-St. George’s, said that she had actually requested the presence of auxiliary officers during the church’s Palm Sunday Procession in Gramercy and the Maundy Thursday Procession from Stuyvesant Square up to Gramercy with the violence in Pittsburgh in mind, but there was also a noticeable police presence at Calvary on Easter Sunday, with at least two officers at the church for the 11 a.m. service.

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How to get around during the L slowdown

The mayor’s office released this graphic to illustrate how traffic along 14th Street will be managed.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The lesser L train apocalypse is scheduled to begin this Friday and although service will be maintained in Manhattan under the slowdown unlike in the previous full shutdown plan, riders can still expect longer wait times and service changes during nights and weekends until at least next summer when the project is expected to be completed.

The biggest change with the revised L train project is that the L will run normal service during weekday rush hours and service is expected to be available in Manhattan at all times.

According to the MTA’s dedicated page for the plan, available at new.mta.info/L-project, there will be normal L train service between 1:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. throughout the entire line on weekdays, but starting after 8 p.m. this Friday, trains will become less frequent compared to normal service until 10 p.m. during the week.

Service will then be reduced from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. compared to regular service and while trains are expected to run every 20 minutes from 1:30 to 5 a.m. on weeknights and until 6 a.m. on weekend nights, this is the regular overnight frequency for the line.

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Letters to the editor, Apr. 25

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Congestion pricing will drive us out

The following is an open letter to Council Member Keith Powers in response to an e-blast from the council member updating District 4 residents on the passing of congestion pricing in the state legislature’s budget on April 1.

Dear Council Member Powers:

Thank you for the community update. I hope you decide to work toward a greater exemption from congestion pricing for residents in the zone who keep their vehicles garaged and who are not in the protected group of residents [Exemptions for residents making less than $60,000 who live inside the zone] who must use the streets to park and double park when streets are cleaned.

I offer the worst of all indignities: Garage parkers at Waterside Plaza, Peter Cooper Village who enter the FDR north or south who never enter into the grid of midtown streets are either hit with the scanners leaving home or coming home – a high price tax to live in those communities, alongside a highway, that never intersects the congested streets of mid-Manhattan. Does that make sense?

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Homeless man accused of smashing over 40 WiFi kiosks in Manhattan

Juan Rodriguez was arrested in connection with the incidents.

By Sabina Mollot

Police have arrested a man they believe is responsible for a week-long LinkNYC kiosk smashing spree in different neighborhoods in Manhattan.

Juan Rodriguez, 41, who’d been staying at the East 30th Street men’s shelter, was picked up by police in front of 230 East 21st Street at about 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

From April 16-23, a man, who was seen on surveillance video, smashed 42 Wi-Fi hubs with a brick or other blunt objects in Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Flatiron and in midtown.

Rodriguez has been arrested a number of times since 2006, mostly for alleged marijuana possession and criminal mischief, police said.

Police Watch: Girls arrested at Good Shepherd, Man accused of groping Barnes and Noble employee

GIRLS ARRESTED FOR ASSAULT OF COP AND EMPLOYEE AT GOOD SHEPHERD
Police arrested a teenage girl for an alleged assault inside Good Shepherd Services, a residence for girls, at 337 East 17th Street on Tuesday, April 16 at 3:59 p.m. Police said that the girl bit a staff member at the group home on the forearm, causing swelling, marks and pain.

The victim told police that the girl also threw a big, hard object at his face, causing a broken nose, bleeding and swelling to his left eye. The teen was also charged with resisting arrest because she reportedly flailed her arms and legs to prevent officers from handcuffing her, resulting in four officers being injured.

Nineteen-year-old Shaniah Daniels was also arrested inside Good Shepherd while police were attempting to arrest the other teen. Police said that Daniels attempted to intervene in the initial arrest, allegedly punching one of the officers in the face.Daniels was charged with assault of a peace officer and an unclassified misdemeanor.

The name of the first teen is being withheld due to her young age.

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Do you recognize this woman?

Police are asking the community’s help in identifying a woman who has been admitted to Mount Sinai Beth Israel at 281 First Avenue.

The woman was found on the street disoriented by passersby, who then walked her over to the hospital on Thursday, April 18 at around 4 p.m.

She is described as white, about 55-65 years of age and 180 lbs. She was wearing all dark clothing.

Anyone with information is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the CrimeStoppers website at Nypdcrimestoppers.com, on Twitter @NYPDTips. All calls are strictly confidential.

$1,000 reward offered for kitten stolen from Petco

By Sabina Mollot

Cat rescue organization KittyKind is hoping to find a kitten that was stolen on Friday at around 2:25 p.m. from the Union Square Petco.

Though no one saw him in the act, a man breezed into the store on East 17th Street while the cats and kittens up for adoption were in their cages. Volunteers are only there in the mornings, evenings and weekends, so none were present when the man came in mid-afternoon, walked over to the cages and broke the lock of a lower cage. He then took a 12-week-old striped kitten named Sage from inside, leaving its sister Rosemary behind, and walked out the door.

According to Valerie Vlasaty, a KittyKind volunteer later briefed on the situation, a customer happened to see the man leave and mentioned he’d walked out with a kitten to an employee. The employee then went outside to try and stop the man, but it was too late; he’d already disappeared into the Union Square crowd.

“We’re devastated, heartbroken,” said Vlasaty.

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Opinion: Truth or consequences

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Anti-Vaxxers. That’s what they call themselves. They are mostly parents who for one reason or another refuse to have their children vaccinated for any number of childhood diseases or annual flu shots. Sometimes it is based on religious grounds and sometimes it is from fear that a vaccination can cause harm or that a child’s immune system may be compromised by avoiding these diseases and the antibodies that result.

This issue has been brought into sharp focus by the outbreak of the highly contagious measles infection in New York and other cities which had virtually been eradicated two decades ago due to the vaccination protocol.

Obviously all parents want what is best for their children. But to deny the availability and effectiveness of modern medicine does not seem a wise choice. And when children are not vaccinated, or adults opt not to get flu shots, it puts the public health at much greater risk.

Influenza kills thousands of Americans each year. Measles, chicken pox and mumps can also cause permanent damage to a young child in severe cases, and even death.

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Man found dead outside Stuy Town building

647 East 14th Street

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A 60-year-old man was found dead outside 647 East 14th Street in Stuyvesant Town around 6:30 a.m. on Monday, and is believed to have jumped out of an apartment on the sixth floor of the building.

Police said that while it appears to be a suicide, an investigation is ongoing. Emergency services personnel found the victim face down and unresponsive, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The victim’s name is being withheld pending family notification.

Former Stuyvesant Town resident’s memoir details fostering, adopting child on the spectrum

Margaret Gonzalez, author of Body in Space

By Sabina Mollot

Like many people who’ve retired, former teacher and Stuyvesant Town resident Margaret Gonzalez had fully intended to write a novel. But after joining a writing group, she was instead encouraged to get out her own story, which involves the lengthy and often frustrating process of becoming a foster parent and eventually adopting her daughter, who’s on the autism spectrum. Now a grandmother living in Cape Coral, Florida, Gonzalez said she’s now glad she took this advice, and over the holidays, self-published the memoir, Body in Space: My Life with Tammy. 

Gonzalez, who had a career as a French teacher at Friends Seminary for 34 years, became a foster parent after hearing from a friend about five children who were placed into foster care, four boys and a girl. Due to privacy regulations in the system, Gonzalez never learned the full story about the situation, other than that the father was incarcerated and the mother may also have been involved in illegal activities. Her friend had taken in the four boys and Gonzalez decided to take in their sister, Tammy. At that time, Tammy was already living with a foster family, though it wasn’t their intention to keep her.

She was four at the time, and so speech-impaired that she couldn’t say her own name. Then, like now (at the age of 40), Tammy isn’t one to talk about her biological family or the system.

“I still to this day don’t know what her family was like,” said Gonzalez. “Now she’ll say, ‘Been there, and it sucked.’”

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Cops and neighbors share frustration on homeless encampments

Deputy Inspector Steven Hellman, commanding officer of the 13th Precinct (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

While the topic of scofflaw cyclists normally dominates meetings with local police officers, on Tuesday night, those in attendance at the most recent gathering of the 13th Precinct Community Council told officers homelessness has them concerned.

A Union Square resident noted that there have been homeless encampments in the park recently, despite him having raised the issue at the meeting last month. Executive Officer Ernesto Castro said that the precinct has been to the park to break up the encampment but the problem is recurring.

“We have gone over there and taken it down but they’re just coming back,” he said.

“It is a tough situation but one point of leverage we do have is that you can’t have a mattress on the street so we can keep going back there to break it up,” Deputy Inspector Steven Hellman, the precinct’s commanding officer, added. “It’s not illegal to have a sign or just to be on the street but mattresses are definitely not allowed.”

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