Feb. 4, 2019 By Meghan Sackman
Councilmember Costa Constantinides unveiled his 2019 plans for Astoria and East Elmhurst in his State of the District speech Thursday night delivered at The Alfred Zimberg School.
Constantinides said his major plans include building a solar energy plant and wind farms on Rikers Island once the 400-acre prison site is closed; replacing the 114th Precinct house; and adding more renewable energy sources in schools.
He said that all these goals are very achievable.
“The story of our district has always been about new ideas and bold decisions,” he said. “All the work we are setting out to accomplish in 2019 will make this a cleaner, safer, greener Queens.”
Constantinides also spent a good portion of his speech discussing the progress he has made to improve parks in the district and combat rising real estate costs.
Progress on Parks
The councilmember reported that the first phase of the $34 million Astoria Park upgrade has begun—which includes the installation of a synthetic turf soccer field and a revamped track.
Phase two of the program, which includes the construction of Charybdis playground by the pool and the renovation of a comfort station by the playground, will begin later this year.
Other park improvements announced in the address include the reopening of the renovated Louis C. Moser playground, located in East Elmhurst, in October. This revamp, which cost $1.9 million, included new play equipment, children’s spray showers and an updated drainage system.
Constantinides also noted the 2018 completion of the $7.9 million upgrades to Astoria Heights Playground, which is located between 5th Street and 46th Street along 30th Road. The city installed new play equipment, a spray shower area, and green infrastructure systems.
The councilmember noted that it is becoming harder for long-time Astoria residents to live in the area as rents keep rising.
“We are in a housing crisis,” he said. “We need to do everything we can to ensure New York is a place we can all call home.”
Constantinides announced that part of the solution is to provide affordable housing for seniors.
Last year, he pledged to add 500 affordable units to the district specifically for seniors.
The councilmember said that funding for 250 of those units has been secured, made possible by the allocation of funds by Catholic Charities and Council Speaker Corey Johnson. The proposed senior development planned for 31st Street and Broadway, which will consist of between 100 and 150 units, is now funded.
“We’re making sure that more Queens residents will be able to enter their golden years knowing that they don’t have to fear losing the neighborhoods they’ve called home,” the councilmember said.
Other housing concerns were also addressed. He said rising housing costs stemmed, in part, from landlords hiking the rent via Major Capital Improvements (“MCI”). He said he is working with state legislators, which determine such law, to amend it. He also wants the city to having a greater say in terms of rent regulation—as opposed to the state.
Access to the Waterfront
Constantinides said he wants residents to have greater access to the waterfront, and wants the fossil fuel power plants that are located next to the East River to be gone.
The need for the replacement of these power plants with renewable energy sources is essential in the fight against climate change, he said.
He said renewal sources of energy could be installed nearby instead.
One specific location Constantinides proposed, based on research conducted by the CUNY Center for Urban Environmental Reform, is the 400-acre property that will be available on Rikers Island after the jail is shut down as is being proposed. He said the site would be idea for solar and wind farms.
“We need to begin the transition away from these [fossil burning] plants now,” Constantinides said. “Renewables installed on the island could be used to replace most, if not all, of the plants that have been built in the city over the past two decades.”
“The opportunity we have before us is to reclaim the waterfront that has been off limits for generations,” Constantinides said. He added that water treatment plants could also be built on Rikers Island, which would help stop the flow of sewage into waterways.
Environment and Schools
Constantinides said he plans to provide all schools in his district with hydroponic science labs and to be clad, in part, with solar panels.
He plans to make P.S. 2 in East Elmhurst the first carbon neutral school to exist in New York. The building would use geothermal energy, which uses ground water for heating and cooling, and solar panels will be added.
Astoria Boulevard Improvements and New Precinct
Constantinides is also looking for ways to ease congestion issues along Astoria Boulevard.
He said he has called on DOT to conduct a study that will establish a holistic approach, to account for all modes of transportation, to make the road safer and less cluttered.
One recurring issue is the lack of parking along the roadway, a large portion of which is taken by police vehicles from the 114th precinct.
Constantinides said that he wants to replace the entire precinct with a new structure as well as build a parking garage for the NYPD that will free up street space for residents.
“The current precinct…it’s beginning to show its age,” Constantinides said. “It’s time we explore building a new 114th Precinct that’s going to give the brave men and women of our NYPD the space they need to operate at their best.”