Schools in flux, state funding fiascos, and dogs roaming free these were just some of the hot topics that rocked Park Slope in 2006. But the biggest issue continues to be the development or what many call the overdevelopment of the neighborhood. Throughout the year, community residents blasted developers for constructing buildings so high they appear to touch the sky. Getting tempers going was a plan to build a high-rise in Greenwood Heights that would forever alter the environment around a historic site. As it was proposed for the corner of 7th Avenue and 23rd Street, the five-story residential building would have blocked the currently unobstructed view between the Statue of Liberty and a seven-foot-tall statue of the Goddess of Minerva, which is located on Battle Hill in Green-Wood Cemetery. As Richard Moylan, president of Green-Wood Cemetery, said at the time, For 85 years, the statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, has stood sentry atop Battle Hill, carefully watching over the Statue of Liberty and protecting the memories of Revolutionary War soldiers who are buried at her feet. We cannot allow one misplaced and intrusive building to wipe out the legacy of our patriotic and historic past. After a battle between the developer and the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA), the project was rejected by city officials. While this new construction was stopped dead in its tracks, others that should have been were given the green light to keep on trucking. As a result, several workers were injured while constructing new buildings in the neighborhood. One of the worst cases occurred in February when two workers were hurt when a developer continued to demolish a building on 16th Street even though a stop-work order had been issued. The city Department of Buildings (DOB) just took steps to prevent developers from constructing or demolishing buildings in unsafe conditions. New legislation passed by the City Council, which must be signed into law by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would increase the penalties for companies that violate a stop-work order or perform demolition work without a permit on one- or two-family homes. If the bills ultimately become law, the new penalties for defying stop-work orders will be $2,000 for the first violation, $5,000 for the second, and $10,000 for the third and any future incidents. Fines can be as high as $15,000. Violators could also spend up to six months in prison. In cases where a demolition is done on a one- or two-family home without a permit, the punishment would be up to $10,000 in fines and six months behind bars. Champions of the bills say they are necessary because developers need to get the message to build responsibility. Moving Ahead That same message is being delivered from Brownstone Brooklyn residents to Bruce Ratner. Although the developers extraordinarily controversial Atlantic Yards project just received state approval, many locals are fighting his plan to use private and public subsidies and eminent domain laws to knock down homes and replace them with a super-sized sports stadium and sky-high housing. Daniel Goldstein of Develop Dont Destroy Brooklyn calls the states approval of Atlantic Yards misguided. Lawsuits against the project are pending. Causing more uproar is the planned construction of a new school to handle the influx of children expected to accompany the creation of the developments housing units. If the $4.2 billion Atlantic Yards project is built to scale, included will be a 100,000-square-foot elementary and intermediate school. It would be built during the second phase of construction on the lower floors of Building 5, which would be located on Sixth Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street. The school would be open by 2013. But neighborhood parents, who demanded that a school be built to address the educational needs of prospective Atlantic Yards residents, are discontent with the proposed school site. When District 15s Community Education Council (CEC), which represents schools in Red Hook, Park Slope and Sunset Park, passed a resolution calling for the construction of at least one new school near the development, members said the idea of using Building 5 for the school should be reconsidered. Building 5
is a highly inappropriate site for a school, CEC President Mary-Powel Thomas said at the time. Its right in the middle of all the traffic, noise, and air pollution of Flatbush Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, and Fourth Avenue. Instead, I suggest putting the school or schools within the residential buildings, as far as possible from Flatbush Avenue. Learning Aint Easy The New York City school system continues to be a source of strength and strife for Brooklyn parents. Causing the most problems this year was the citys unwavering support of its longstanding but often ignored ban on cell phones in public schools. Bloomberg and schools Chancellor Joel Klein spent months adamantly backing the rule, insisting that students use the devices to cheat on exams and text message friends during class. But opponents of the ban said most kids keep their phones in their backpacks when lessons are in progress. We shouldnt penalize the 90 percent of kids who follow the rules, Bob Zuckerberg, District 15s United Federation of Teachers (UFT) representative, said at a rally against the ban. Parents contend that their kids use cell phones to remain in contact before and after school hours providing a vital way to ensure that they are safe when away from home. As the mayor and chancellor spent months refusing to back down from the plan, parents grew frustrated and angry. In July, a group of outraged parents filed a lawsuit against the city in hopes of overturning the ban. Backed by civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, the parents contended that they have a right to be able to contact their children during the day and said that cell phones are their best and oftentimes only way to do so, especially when youths travel to after-school programs or jobs. Cell phones are part of the way that parents know [their children] are safe in school, city Councilmember Bill de Blasio said at the same anti-ban rally. They can reach them before school, they can reach them after school. It has become a lifeline. Even students chimed in on the ban. Alyssa DiMari, a tenth-grader at Edward R. Murrow High School, says her peers are pretty respectful about not using cell phones in school and making sure they are turned off during class. So, she says, If they dont use it in school, why should you take it away? The city Department of Education (DOE) lightened up on the ban in November when it agreed to offer medical exemptions so students with health problems could carry cell phones as long as they are not used in school. But that wasnt enough for parents. With the court date for the lawsuit against the city looming, officials decided to consider a plan to allow kids to carry cell phones but pay to store them in lockers outside school buildings until dismissal time. A hearing is set for later this month. Shortchanged by the State? Thats what some parents asserted after state officials tried to knocks the $4.7 - $5.6 billion owed to city schools down to less than $2 billion. Then, to the bewilderment of local parents, the state won. In a damning ruling for the city, the Court of Appeals decided that local schools need just $1.93 billion more to remediate years of underfunding, as was found in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit. Brooklyn parents were outraged by this figure, as the funding would be used to lower class sizes and bring more books, computers, and teachers into the school system. They chastised the court for the alarming and absolutely unacceptable ruling. Providing some relief to parents was the knowledge that the $1.93 billion figure is a flexible one. The actual operating aid increase for city schools will be decided in the spring by Governor Eliot Spitzer and the state Assembly and Senate when they fight over the fiscal budget. Some state politicians swore to fight for more than $2 billion. After the ruling came down, Spitzer said, We must provide more statewide funding than this constitutional minimum, so that all of New Yorks schoolchildren have the opportunity to thrive in the 21st century workplace
The executive budget that I submit in February will propose significant additional funding on a statewide basis as part of a multi-year plan. Parents are taking action to hold him to that statement. The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), a citywide advocacy group, is asking parents to fill out and mail a postcard to Spitzer reminding him of his promise to boost financial assistance to schools in the five boroughs. Sign the electronic version of the postcard at www.aqeny.org. Who Let the Dogs Out? The city did. In a monumental ruling for pet owners, the Board of Health decided to allow the Parks Department to make official its longstanding policy of permitting dogs to run in parks without leashes from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. Although this policy was never legal, it was considered a courtesy for New Yorkers who bring their mutts to parks without dog runs. The Parks Department still has to put the rule on its books to make it official but is expected to do so without incident. The ruling was championed by the boroughs canine-friendly residents. Were very relieved, Laurie Bleier, director of the Brooklyn Animal Foster Network, said after the ruling. If dogs dont get the time they need for exercise and socialization, behavioral issues are bound to start popping up. The nearly two-decade-old courtesy came under fire earlier this year by a civic association in Queens which filed a lawsuit demanding that city officials no longer allow dogs to roam free during specific hours. To support their request, civic members insisted that dogs could bite or intimidate park visitors. There are nice dogs but there are also vicious dogs, says Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden. Dogs can all of a sudden attack people for no reason for what they perceive as a threat to themselves or their owner. He says he was knocked down by a German shepherd when watering a ball field in Queens in 1999 and that a civic member walking past a park last summer was brutally attacked by a Rottweiler that was let off its leash and ran out of the park. But Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe says there have been fewer incidents of dogs biting people in recent years. But Holden believes that the legalization of the policy will lead to an increase in the number of people letting their dogs off their leashes and injuring park visitors. Many New Yorkers didnt know about this because Parks [officials] did not publicize this at all, he says. If more people found out about this, which they did, its going to get out of hand. If the Health Department finds that dog bites or cases of disease, such as rabies, increase during off-leash hours, the policy can be limited or done away with. Medical Makeover In a quick sweep, the state announced plans to revamp Brooklyns health care system. The changes include plans to merge a Park Slope hospital with a struggling facility in Midwood. If the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Centurys recommendations to close select hospitals and consolidate others are approved by state officials, New York Methodist Hospital, 506 Sixth Street, will partner with New York Community Hospital, 2525 Kings Highway. The NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System, whigh oversees the hospitals, proposed the merger in hopes of preventing the panel from calling for the closing of New York Community, which has struggled financially. Methodist was never in danger of closing. Lin Mo, president and CEO of New York Community, says the deal was a strategic one. To unite the two hospitals, which will remain in their current locations but share the same name, the state has allocated a $12.5 million grant. The money will be used to build new progressive and intensive care units at New York Community. And for the first time, New York Communitys patients will have access to obstetrics and pediatrics care in the hospital. Both Methodist and New York Community will be able to provide a full range of health care services for the entire borough, Lyn Hill, spokesperson for Methodist, said when the union was announced. But employees could suffer. Jobs may be lost at both hospitals the panel recommended that Methodist downsize by 60 beds and New York Community eliminate 40 beds. The state is offering assistance to workers who lose their jobs. Grants are available to people in less-skilled positions like service, clerical, maintenance and security jobs but not those in medical fields who officials believe are in demand in the industry and will have no trouble finding work. Those eligible can also receive vocational training, job placement assistance and counseling. The deadline to apply for the grants is February 15. The grants will be awarded to non-profit organizations, which will then allocate the funding. Questions about the program and the application process can be emailed to wrkforce@h
©2007 Community News Group
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