Council passes long-awaited ‘illegal conversion’ bill

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By Caroline Spivack

Brooklyn Daily

Council has finally passed a long-awaited bill to curb illegal home conversions where landlords dice up buildings and cram tenants into dangerous living conditions — a practice that plagues Southern Brooklyn.

The legislation slaps violators with hefty fines and is a big win for protecting vulnerable, low-income renters from greedy landlords, said the lead pol behind the bill.

“Substandard housing is not affordable housing,” said Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge), whose district of Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Bay Ridge are hit particularly hard by the trend. “Seeking to maximize profit at the expense of tenant safety will no longer be permissible by the City of New York once this bill is signed into law.”

Illegal conversions pack tenants into unsafe living conditions — 31 tenants were vacated from a two-family Dyker Heights home last August — contribute to school overcrowding, and ruin neighborhood character, charge activists and pols.

The bill imposes a $15,000 fine for landlords who subdivide three or more units above a building’s certificate of occupancy and allows the city to put a lien on properties when landlords fail to pay the penalties. And the city can sell the lien if it remains unpaid for more than a year.

But the bill lacks provisions to protect those displaced by city-issued vacate orders, critics argue, and could have the unintended consequence of pushing residents — many of whom are low-income immigrants — out onto the street.

“That’s our major concern,” said Warren Chen, director of the Asian Community United Society, who initially opposed the bill but backed it after meeting with Gentile. “It’s definitely a positive first step. Unfortunately, he’s not able to put the fines toward helping relocate people. But he said he’s going to work on that, so we hope he sticks to his word.”

The bill initially included a safety net that would have directed fines collected into a fund for displaced families, but lawmakers scrapped the provision because the Council does not have the power to designate such a fund.

Instead, the measure would require a written agreement between Council and the mayor. Council would have to re-sign the agreement with each new mayor. Alternatively, the Department of Buildings could create its own rules diverting fines into a displacement fund, according to Gentile.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

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Sunset Park Recreation Center to get $4-million facelift

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By Caroline Spivack

Brooklyn Daily

The Landmarks Preservation Commission green-lighted a $4-million reboot for the Sunset Park Recreation Center on May 9.

The community hub off of Seventh Avenue in Sunset Park proper will get some much-needed love after nearly 40 years without a major overhaul, and locals are overjoyed at the prospect of a state-of-the-art rec center.

“It’s wonderful that the center is getting a makeover, because that place is really part of the fabric of the community,” said life-long Sunset Parker Silvia Velasquez. “I practically grew up there as a kid, and it’s nice to see that it’s going to be revitalized so that future generations can continue to enjoy it.”

Built back in the 1930s, the city landmarked the rec center in 2007. The building was originally intended for seasonal pool use, but has since become a Mecca for neighborhood activities and is open year-round.

Parks Department records show that the project will update the dilapidated structure’s heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and electrical systems — all of which are in dire need of repairs, according to one local.

“The temperature can go all over the place in there,” said Sunset Parker Lonnie Lawrence. “Being in a new space where we’re not freezing or frying will be a welcome change.”

Aside from bringing the building’s essential systems into the 21st century, the project aims to restore the historic building to its former glory with new finishes, signage, and lighting fixtures. But the jail-like bars on the main entrance will be replaced with a sleek, glass facade, according to Parks Department records.

Sunset Park has a handful of other projects that the city aims to complete first, including a revamp of the Sunset Park play ground, so locals will have to wait a while before shovels hit the ground, according to the district manager of Community Board 7.

The project is currently in the design phase, which the Parks Department aims to complete by September. Construction is expected to begin by the end of next summer and last until early 2019, according to an agency spokeswoman.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

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Time to get rolling! Marine Park bocce courts are open

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By Julianne Cuba

Brooklyn Daily

Bocce’s back, baby!

Avid bocce ball players cheered and applauded as Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver and other community leaders snipped the ribbon to open the long-awaited new bocce courts in Marine Park on May 11.

The Parks Department started construction on the Fillmore Avenue courts in 2015 — after years of city agencies squabbling over funding and the play area’s aesthetics — and the athletes had to be cordoned off to temporary, smaller-than-normal courts in the meantime. But now, they are finally ready to get rolling on the beautiful regulation-size courts, said the president of the Marine Park Bocce Club, which was founded in 1996.

“This is a full-size, it requires a little training. We should get used to it because it’s 108-feet long. The other was 60-feet,” said Marine Parker Angelo Ippolito. “We are very happy.”

The three new courts — equipped with overhead shade structures and lined with benches — were part of the city’s $5.45-million overhaul of Marine Park’s eponymous green space, including new basketball, tennis, and handball courts, and exercise equipment.

The greensward is actually the borough’s largest park, so it attracts kids and families from all over Brooklyn — and even from distant states, said Councilman Alan Maisel (D–Marine Park), who funded the overhaul along with his predecessor then-Councilman Lew Fidler.

“The playground is packed on Saturday and Sunday, the field is covered with cricket players and baseball players and football players,” said Maisel during the ceremony. “Everybody comes here, people come from the north, from the south, east, from the west. I met people from New Jersey once in this park.”

And park-goers are already loving the fitness equipment and new basketball courts, said one Mill Basinite who had to trek to Brooklyn Bridge Park just to shoot hoops before they re-opened.

“They were closed right before the summer last time, so that kind of sucked,” said Kevin Sebili. “It’s really nice.”

Parents won’t be able to pull their kids away from the green space with all of its new amenities — but that’s the way it should be, said Commissioner Silver, before cutting the ribbon.

“As I always say, you may sleep in your home or apartment, but we live in our public spaces, and I can tell that this is one that’s well-used by the community,” he said. “Enjoy this wonderful park.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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Smelly subject: Drawing Gowanus water colors in black and white

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By Lauren Gill

Brooklyn Daily

See the gorgeous Gowanus!

Amateur artists can learn to capture the fantastical, fetid sight of the Gowanus Canal on paper, at a free workshop on the banks of the noxious waterway on May 20. “Abstracting the Gowanus” will help people to see the heavily polluted stretch in a new light, according to the artist leading the class.

“My hope is that something that people might not have not paid attention to, or discounted as an ugly body of water, will start to see the beauty in it and appreciate what’s really there,” said Rachael Wren, who became intrigued by the federal Superfund site last year during a canoe trip, when the Brooklyn artist discovered that its shifting colors provided the ideal subject for abstract creations.

During her two-hour workshop, Wren will teach creators of all skill levels to envision the canal on paper, using pencil, charcoal, and ink. Participants will start by jotting down a series of small drawings that evoke their impressions of the gonorrhea-infested waterway, she said.

“The idea is to capture the feeling of what they’re seeing, not necessarily making it look like what they’re seeing,” said Wren. “When you’re working that quickly you bypass thought and judgment — really unexpected and beautiful things can happen.”

The artists will then choose one of their speedy sketches and create a larger version.

The Lavender Lake is so nick-named for its less-than-natural coloring, but participants will create their masterpieces in black and white — a challenge to make them focus on the unusual contours lurking atop Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory, according to Wren.

“It forces you to look at the shapes and movements of things — that’s the reason why I’m doing it with black and white,” she said. “I think the black and white just lends itself to this exploratory type of drawing.”

The Gowanus Canal has been the muse for photographers and musicians, but most people just hold their nose and hurry past. Wren says that her class will help participants to truly see the wonder in the water in front of them.

“Any time you spend time thinking, which is rare these days, really focusing on something, I think it makes you imagine and see more,” she said.

Abstracting the Gowanus at Whole Foods Esplanade (214 Third St. at Third Avenue in Gowanus, www.gowanuscanalconservancy.org), May 20 at 2 pm. Free. Art supplies provided.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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Zumba dancers raise money to fight cancer

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By Julianne Cuba

Brooklyn Daily

It’s dancing for a cause!

More than 100 Zumba enthusiasts shook it out and got low during a “Zumba For Life” fund-raising event to raise money to fight the silent killer, ovarian cancer, at the Aviator Sports and Events Center on May 6. And all their hard work and sweat paid off — they raised a whopping $2,000 — but the best part of the day was feeling the support from everyone in the room, said one breast cancer survivor.

“You have these events that you meet people who are going through the same thing you’re going through,” said Theresa Butera, who lives in Gravesend. “I think that the purpose of it is it brings awareness to people. Just dancing and knowing that every survivor is doing this for not only yourself, but for people who can’t do it, or have lost their lives.”

Organizer Joe Gillette — known by most as “Zumba Daddy” — was thrilled to see everyone breaking a sweat, and was pretty satisfied with his own effort, he said.

“We had a lot of fun, had a nice turn out. The people love it, they love to come with a lot of enthusiasm,” said Gillette. “I did one very heavily intensive routine, like a champion, and then I did the cool down. I’m feeling pretty good three days later — not too sore.”

Gillette said he’s already getting in shape for next month’s mother of all fund-raising events for the American Cancer Society — the Relay for Life walk at MCU Park in Coney Island on June 10.

Relay for Life at MCU Park (1904 Surf Ave. in Coney Island) June 10 at 6 pm.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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Three cads try to rob Bay Ridge woman at gunpoint

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By Caroline Spivack

Brooklyn Daily

Police are searching for three goons who throttled a woman by the throat, pressed a gun to her gut, and demanded cash on May 8 — all in her own home.

The 24-year-old woman was inside her Seventh Avenue apartment at 72nd Street when the men knocked on her door. When she answered, one of the bruisers lunged for her neck, pointed a handgun at her stomach, and demanded she cough up cash, according to police.

But the woman had a friend over and he sprang into action and attempted to intervene. A tussle ensued and her friend was slashed in the face, head, and neck by the three brutes, authorities said.

The three ruffians booked it empty handed in an unknown direction. Police described the three men in their late 20s to early 30s ranging in height from 5-foot-7–6-foot-3.

Police released photos that they believe depict two of the nogoodniks.

The investigation is ongoing, officials said.

Police are asking anyone with information regarding the incident to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577–8477. The public can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at www.nypdcrimestoppers.com or by texting tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then entering TIP577.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

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Slimeball tries to rape Bensonhurst woman

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By Caroline Spivack

Brooklyn Daily

Police are searching for the monster who tried to rape a woman in Bensonhurst on May 5th.

The creep approached the 39-year-old woman just after 4 am on a Coney Island-bound N train. But after engaging in small talk, the cad grabbed her breasts and the freaked-out woman fled the train at the Bay Parkway station, officials said.

The perv followed her out and on Bay Parkway between 64th and 65th streets, the man came up behind her and grabbed the woman, trying to drag her down. But the woman struggled against him and the pair fell to the ground during the tussle, according to police.

Once on the ground, the ruffian climbed on top of the woman, pinning her arms down as he attempted to force himself on her, but the would-be victim managed to scare off her attacker by screaming for help and the monster fled on Bay Parkway toward 65th Street, authorities said.

Police described the scuzzball as in his 20s, roughly 5-foot-4–5-foot-6, last seen wearing a sweater, white T-shirt, blue jeans, and a backpack.

A police investigation is ongoing.

—with Matthew John

Police are asking anyone with information regarding the incident to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577–8477. The public can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at www.nypdcrimestoppers.com or by texting tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then entering TIP577.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

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Seniors get flexible with free yoga!

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By Julianne Cuba

Brooklyn Daily

These seniors really stretched it out!

About 20 seniors practiced deep breathing and limbering exercises during a yoga class designed specifically for older adults at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park on May 8. The class helps the oldsters relax and improves their flexibility, said veteran yoga teacher Joann Rivezzo, who led the class.

“I basically do a gentle yoga class with them, get up and down on the mats,” said Rivezzo, who lives in Mill Basin. “We do yoga, posture with stretching, breathing, meditation, relaxation. We use props to make them more comfortable.”

The City Parks Foundation hosts the free classes for eights weeks on Mondays and Wednesdays through mid-June at the nature center — most are held outdoors under the sun, but because it was a drizzling and chilly morning, Rivezzo moved the venerable yogis inside to keep their muscles warm for the moves, she said.

And even if seniors have arthritis or poor flexibility, the outdoor class is a great way to start the day, said Rivezzo.

“It’s a very nice class — they like being out in nature,” she said. “It helps them just to feel better over all.”

Seniors can also pick up a racket for free tennis lessons, or enjoy a brisk fitness walk around the park as part of the program, which lasts until June 16.

Senior Yoga at the Salt Marsh Nature Center [3301 Avenue U near E. 33rd Street in Marine Park, www.cityparksfoundation.org] Mondays and Wednesdays, 9 am to 10 am. Free.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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The sun shines on Bay Ridge Nights

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By Caroline Spivack

Brooklyn Daily

The Ridge is going green!

The weather is getting gorgeous, so Bay Ridge Nights is taking in some sunshine and swapping the usual boozy intake for some palate-cleansing greenery.

Kick off your green weekend on Saturday with an opening day visit to the Bay Ridge Green Market (9408 Third Ave. at 95th Street), located in the parking lot of Walgreen’s. You can pick up an array of farm-to-table products, including fresh fish, raw cow milk, and apples straight from the orchard. Peruse organic nosh from upstate vendors, and step up your cooking game with recipe demos from farmers and chefs. Stands include Williams Fruit Farm, Wager’s Cider Mill, and from Goodale Farm, which gets our personal endorsement for its fresh veg. Vendors set up shop today — and every Saturday until Nov. 18 — from 8 am to 3 pm.

Once you’ve gathered your ingredients for dinner, take a stroll to the Narrows Botanical Garden (Shore Road at 70th Street) and get some herbs to spice up your meal. At the horticulturists’ annual spring plant sale, you can pick up some mint for your lamb — or your mojito — along with popular favorites basil and cilantro. The group’s organic tomatoes are always a best seller — be sure to show up early if you want to grab a batch. Conservationists will dole out the greens from 10 am to 3 pm. And if you’ve made good time, you can take the short walk to Owl’s Head Park (67th Street at Colonial Road) and help spiffy up the green space with volunteers from the Owl’s Head Horticulture Group. You can bond with your fellow green-friendly Ridgites while picking up litter from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm.

Finally, reward yourself for all this clean living with one more green stop — at the Greenhouse Cafe (7717 Third Ave. between 77th and 78th streets), where the band Positive N-ergy will get the crowd dancing, starting at 10 pm.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

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Disco fever! Fontbonne students put on “Saturday Night Fever” musical

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By Caroline Spivack

Brooklyn Daily

They were dancing, yeeeah!

Students at Fontbonne Hall Academy performed a funky rendition of the disco-drama that put Bay Ridge on the map, the 1977 film “Saturday Night Fever.”

More than a dozen teens with the drama club of the Shore Road school near 99th Street transported audiences to ’70s Southern Brooklyn with bell bottoms, slicked-back hair, and sets that infused elements of the nabe — including projections of storefronts and a handcrafted hunk of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Performances ran from May 5-7. The proceeds will go toward supporting the arts at the academy.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

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