Public rezoning hearing coming up for Ravenswood, 21st St apartment buildings

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A public hearing is planned on May 24 for rezoning applications for an apartment building planned for 12th Street near 35th Avenue in Ravenswood and the Variety Boys and Girls Club mixed-use redevelopment on 21st Street.

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Hour Children Thrift Shop’s relocation leaves behind strip of underused retail space on 34th Avenue

Hour Children has relocated one of its thrift stores to Steinway Street, leaving behind two retail blocks dotted with vacant and inaccessible storefronts on 34th Avenue on both sides of Crescent Street. The former thrift store location at 25-22 34th Avenue has been permanently closed since January 9 due to flooding, Corner learned by a call to Hour Children. The spacious 34th Avenue property, owned by Fred DelRosario, according to city records, is joined by five other closed storefronts, plus a permanently gated storefront and a storefront being used for industrial use.

Near the former Hour location is a large storefront, 25-14 34th Avenue, used by Possible Productions, a set design company that has on its portfolio website the 2016 Democratic National Convention and Coachella. Possible Productions has a wide exterior with the gate down, and a sign which reads: “AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.” I rung the bell and asked when the “season” ends, referring to the other sign, and when the store will be open. The man who answered briefly implied it’s not a store, and said the gate will stay down. The set shop seems to be listed as part of the same building or owner as the former thrift shop — when I search the block and lot, I’m only seeing this under “K1” retail code. But a set design shop isn’t retail. I think it’s either light manufacturing or warehouse. So I need to find out more about this use of a storefront on a retail block. Update: So this is what I learned from a Department of Buildings rep who acted like I was asking the most absurd question she’d heard all day. That storefront is allowed to have its gate down forever. 

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There’s an Aladdin bakery that also appears to be in a building zoned K1-retail. Bakeries, from what I understand, are industrial. Whaa? Yea, so I’m not sure — maybe it’s allowed to be there so long as there is retail in the other storefronts of the building, or conjoined buildings? I will find out! So, on two retail strips on both sides of Crescent, eight of the storefronts are not being used as storefronts. Six of those are vacant, one is Possible Productions and the other is an Aladdin bakery. (Photos below.)

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City: Sunnyside Yards yes, BQX maybe later

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Images from EDC and Friends of the BQX.

There are two threads of headlines this week for the LIC and Astoria area: 

  1. The city is officially moving forward with a Sunnyside Yards development master plan.
  2. The city officially left important BQX stuff out of its budget. 

That means, the city is on top of developing a mega housing development over the Sunnyside Yards (a lot of people in Astoria and LIC don’t know what that is, but it’s the huge swath of train land east of Northern Boulevard that you see from either the N/W or 7 trains when approaching or leaving Queensborough Plaza). But when it comes to running a streetcar through LIC and Astoria to connect with Brooklyn, it’s just not there yet. 

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Hotel Nirvana opens, JVB goes to the Met Gala

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Today, that gray brick block building called Hotel Nirvana in the Industrial Business Zone in Ravenswood opened and has a lotus flower logo. 

Also, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer was at the Met Gala, which was Catholic themed. “It’s almost time for this kid from to head to the for the !” he tweeted earlier on. JVB has gone before at least in 2013 and 2014. He was also hanging out with Jesse Eisenberg the other day. 

As the Times explains, last year only about 550 people went to the gala, which is invitation only, each invitation overseen by Anna Wintour and tickets cost $30,000. Are all the council members invited? Who sponsored or invited the councilman of the 26th District? I hit him up with questions on Instagram so let’s see if he responds. 

 

City announces Sunnyside Yards planning team, hears hell from JVB, Nolan

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The city is officially moving forward on developing a neighborhood over the Sunnyside Yards by launching a master planning process this summer. The Economic Development Corporation announced today that Alicia Glen, deputy mayor of economic development and Anthony Coscia, chairman of Amtrak, which owns most of the space, signed a letter of intent to collaborate on the plan. The EDC’s announcement confirms Crain’s New York Business’ March 29 report that urbanist Vishaan Chakrabarti will be heading the master plan team. But more people are involved! Cali Williams, an EDC vice president for the last decade, now has the title: director of Sunnyside Yard. And a steering committee headed by Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the Long Island City Partnership and Sharon Greenberger, head of the YMCA for Greater New York (what?) will be consulting on the plan. But wait… what about elected officials who don’t want this to happen? 

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district spans both the LIC and Sunnyside sides of the yards, has been vocal against this project. How the EDC and mayor’s office will be able to push this ahead without the support from the 26th city council rep, I’m really not sure. The yards would have to be rezoned to allow residential development and super tall buildings, something the council member would have to approve. Sunnyside Post reported shortly after the EDC’s announcement today that JVB and State Rep. Catherine Nolan, who also opposes the plan, complained the city went around them on this. Well of course. 

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Last day to take Ravenswood survey

Today’s the last day to fill out Community Board 1’s Ravenswood survey. My understanding of this is: the CB launched the survey to create a point of reference when confronted with development in the area. The CB seems to define Ravenswood as Broadway down to 39th Avenue and Vernon Boulevard all the way past 31st Street. You can fill out the link here or go straight to the PDF with links here.

http://www1.nyc.gov/site/queenscb1/announcements/announcements.page

Opens the survey:

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Update: But who knows when this really ends, though?

 

 

A souvenir shop opens in industrial Long Island City

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A Times Square-style souvenir shop has opened in industrial Long Island City. Just New York Souvenir, at 38-85 13th Street, half a block from the NYCHA Queensbridge Houses, sits within a 10 block Industrial Business Zone where low-rise warehouses and factories dominate but at least 13 hotel sites have cropped up.

“This looks like something on Canal Street,” said a man who stopped in mid-day to sell recycling services.

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The owner, Telisha Lee, an LIC native, is assistant to the CEO of Urban Upbound, a public housing community-support organization with a location across the street. “When I started seeing all the hotels popping up I said wow,” she said. “I said hey, maybe I could open up a souvenir shop.” She added she saw the shop as a way to help her jewelry business by eventually displaying her jewelry there.

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The Ravenwood IBZ, between 21st Street and the East River, was carved out more than a decade ago under a zoning regime intended to preserve manufacturing. The city succeeded in preventing residential development from taking over this stretch of the Queens waterfront but saw instead the rise of a hotel district. The de Blasio administration, with the support of the city council, announced in 2015 it would create special permit requirements for hotels and storage facilities in these carve-outs. But this has been slow to get underway. The permit requirement for storage facilities came about last year. And just this week, the Department of City Planning launched a public review processfor the hotel special permit proposal.

Ten years ago, after the IBZs were established, the late New York Daily News real estate reporter, Jason Sheftell, compared this carve-out in LIC to “Williamsburg 20 years ago or the Meatpacking District of the 1960s.”

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The area is part of the LIC IBZ, which is actually six zones, with this one in Ravenswood, where LIC meets Astoria along the waterfront. In 2008, Sheftell predicted: “(Ravenswood) is five to 10 years from being a completely different place. The IBZ can’t last forever. This area will have to become more residential than it is now. Nothing this close to Manhattan can remain factory land forever.”

Residential development has been underway in the Ravenswood area, at Alma Realty’s waterfront rental complex at 34-46 Vernon Boulevard and Excel’s Vernon Tower by Socrates Sculpture Park. And Blue Mountain Capital recently bought a warehouse property at 11-35 31st Drive, a site zoned to allow residential use.

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But the IBZ in Ravenswood is still gritty. Cats still crawl under iron fences and the streets are still desolate at night. Troma Entertainment, the indie-horror movie company is still based here, woodworkers still make custom boxes on 10th Street and newspapers are still printed on Vernon Boulevard before dawn.

“Even though it’s an industrial area I still believe that it’s going to keep turning into the new New York City,” Lee said.

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This is what it looks like now. Every day, tourists roll their suitcases from the 21st-Street Queensbridge F-train station past a mural of native rapper Nas and his serious gaze, to the large, beige, Best Western Plus. Or they pass the souvenir shop to get to the Sleep Inn, which sits next to a vacant warehouse. Further down the street is the Giorgio Hotel, between Stone Masters Inc. and Chris Auto Repair. The Howard Johnson on 12th Street looks out onto a vacant lot where another hotel is planned, next to the James Paretti building, an old political club house once known as a club called Exile and now home to an event space called Tammany House. The Mayflower Boutique Hotel a couple doors down opened a few weeks ago. A couple of the near-complete hotels are more original in appearance. The La Quinta Inn, with some tropical color, mostly matches the gray, industrial power plant right behind it. And Hotel Nirvana on 37th Avenue is all gray and bulky like a factory, lit up by blue lights at night.

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The oncoming hotels suggests more retail and even souvenir shops will come to the IBZ, says Shan, an employee at Just New York Souvenir. “A year, a year and a half, you’re going to find so many stores here,” he said, before specifying gift shops.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Rob MacKay, director for Queens Tourism Council. “I don’t think any of those tourists necessarily walk around down there. Most of the Long Island City tourists are there because they want to be one subway stop from Manhattan so they’re probably going to Manhattan.”

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Asked if Just New York Souvenir is the first gift shop of its kind in Queens, MacKay said some stores have some New York souvenirs, but he hadn’t heard of entire shops as such in the borough.