Residents discuss issues at Astoria town hall
by Benjamin Fang
Oct 10, 2018 | 1694 views | 0 0 comments | 72 72 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Hundreds of Astoria residents gathered inside PS 171 last Thursday night to share their concerns with local officials, with issues ranging from housing and transit to safety.

Councilman Costa Constantinides and Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who hosted the event, touted the millions of dollars in victories for the neighborhood in the last budget cycle, including fully funding the $7 million Astoria Library renovations.

Constantinides noted that in the last five years, the City Council has allocated $26 million for projects west of 21st Street, including for the Astoria Houses. The NYCHA complex will soon receive new basketball courts, renovated children’s playground, security cameras and lighting.

The NYC Ferry system also expanded to Hallets Cove last year.

“In the last five years, we’ve really been able to make an impact here,” Constantinides said. “We’ve had a great partnership.”

One issue that loomed large over the town hall was the feared foreclosure of Acropolis Gardens, a 17-building, 618-unit co-op complex stretching from Ditmars Boulevard to 21st Avenue.

Multiple residents from the complex spoke out against Metropolitan Pacific Properties, the management company that oversees the development. They said the condo board hasn’t had a meeting in years, and accused the board of mismanaging the complex’s finances.

In July, the owners failed to make a loan payment, forcing a Wells Fargo-managed trust to file a foreclosure action last week.

According to reports, the trust discovered multiple legal actions against the condo board. The board requested reserve funds from the trust because they needed to pay the legal fees.

Acropolis Gardens has received nearly 300 violations from city agencies. In April 2015, FDNY found a flimsy gas connection, and residents were left without cooking gas or hot water for months.

“I have some deep concerns about what’s going on there,” Constantinides said. “You have a management company that’s not listening to the residents who live here. It’s unacceptable, it’s shameful, it’s not what should be going on.”

The Astoria councilman said the first step is to make sure the complex doesn’t go into foreclosure. Secondly, he wants the New York attorney general –– whether it’s acting AG Barbara Underwood or her successor –– to investigate the situation, since co-ops are regulated by the state.

Johnson pledged to help “in any way,” including forwarding complaints of unscrupulous practices to the attorney general’s office.

Residents also decried the overdevelopment in Astoria. One local said she disagrees with a city proposal to replace a municipal parking lot at Broadway and 31st Street with housing.

Constantinides argued that 22,000 seniors in the district are on a waiting list for affordable housing. The city-owned lot in question was identified as a potential site to build senior affordable housing as part of a $500 million City Council initiative.

“When we identify land, we have to pick the best use for it,” Johnson said.

Both elected officials also weighed in on transit issues facing western Queens. On the proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar, Johnson said he conceptually supports the idea, but the trolley doesn’t go through his district. It would, however, affect seven council districts.

“I am not getting out in front of my colleagues whose constituents are going to be directly impacted by it,” the speaker said.

He noted that the city still needs federal funding, which he doesn’t see happening under the current Congress. And the BQX still needs to undergo an environmental impact statement for every neighborhood, which will flesh out important details, such as the impact on utilities or parking spots.

“I’m sure we’re going to hear very specific, granular feedback, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, where there are concerns,” Johnson said.

Constantinides said he’s excited about the prospect of more transit in western Queens, but still needs to hear more before supporting it.

“I’ve always said the devil’s in the details here,” he said. “We need more information from the administration on what the end of the line is going to look like, what the impact’s going to be, how we mitigate that.”

He also addressed the potential need for more bike lanes in Astoria. In July, 22-year-old Astoria resident Xellea Samonte was fatally struck by a van while riding down 35th Street. Many cyclists have also called for a bike lane going down Crescent Street.

Constantinides said there should be a borough-wide bike plan.

“I think there needs to be a holistic plan for the entire borough for bike lanes,” he said. “We can’t just do one street or one neighborhood.”

The Astoria town hall was just the first of many that the speaker will attend. He said he’s hoping to have more across the city.

“Any council member that wants to have me, I’m happy to come to their community, learn about the local issues that matter to them,” Johnson said, “and hear directly from New Yorkers, which I think is the most important thing.”
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