Constantinides lays out vision for future in last SOTD
by Benjamin Fang
Jan 20, 2021 | 365 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For his last State of the District address, Councilman Costa Constantinides reviewed his achievements in office while mapping out a more sustainable future for the community.

Delivering his speech virtually due to the pandemic, Constantinides shared what he felt were the biggest accomplishments in his two terms. The Astoria councilman has delivered over $50 million in investments for district parks, including securing $30 million for Astoria Park.

The Anchor Parks initiative has resulted in not only the renovation of the track area and the addition of a full soccer field, but also the remaking of Charybdis Playground and a long-term resiliency project for erosion control.

Constantinides also touted his $20 million investments in the Hallets Cove peninsula, which he said has been subject to “deliberate disinvestment” for decades.

The latest project is a $5 million effort to clear years of accumulated debris, restore the riverbank’s ecology, and take down a decaying pier known locally as the “radio tower.”

The councilman said he hopes to help residents not only reconnect with the waterfront, but also offer them educational and recreational programs.

“The work continues,” Constantinides said. “We have a long way to go.”

At the start of his time in office, Constantinides said he wanted to get rid of every outdoor trailer in his district. PS 70, PS 2, PS 151 and PS 85 all had trailers, all of which are on track to be gone by 2024, the councilman said.

Another goal he set was to expand Mount Sinai Queens, which has received over $10 million in investments over the past several years. The funding has led to not only a bigger footprint, but a new emergency room and upgraded acute stroke building.

“No one should have to cross a bridge to get quality health care,” Constantinides said. “Our community depends on this hospital, and the hospital depends on us.”

On the issue of affordable housing, Constantinides noted five different projects that are on track to deliver 300 units of 100 percent affordable housing in the district. The first is located at 23-11 31st Road, a parking lot that Catholic Charities is redeveloping into 102 units of affordable housing for seniors, as well as a 200-seat senior center.

The councilman said he has also worked with the Ali Forney Center to create 21 units of supportive housing for runaway LGBTQ youth. The site will offer on-site supportive services.

At Marine Terrace, a housing complex in northern Astoria, Constantinides said he helped preserve affordability and pushed a project to construct two new buildings that included 53 units for formerly homeless veterans.

In 2018, Constantinides called for turning the parking lot at 31st Street and Broadway into affordable housing. In his speech last week, he announced that the Department of Housing Development and Preservation (HPD) has selected HANAC to build 135 apartments for low-income seniors at the site.

The structure will also include a new community center and commercial space, the councilman said.

“I can’t think of a better way to jumpstart our economy and our neighborhood as we grapple with the aftershocks of COVID,” he said.

Lastly, the Department of Sanitation garage across the street from Ravenswood Houses will close and move to a new facility in northern Astoria. Once it leaves, HPD has committed to “putting together a proposal” to build deeply affordable housing and community amenities on the city-owned site.

Constantinides also laid out his long-term vision to create a car-free network along Shore Boulevard, one that stretches from Ralph DeMarco Park all the way down the waterfront. He said that will be necessary to build an Astoria Park “for the 21st century.”

“Imagine an interconnected greenway, where traffic is calm and the park’s natural attributes are enhanced all the way to the water,” he said. “Imagine a Shore Boulevard integrated with the park.”

He announced during the speech that the Department of Transportation (DOT) will host community visioning sessions on a redesigned 21st Street, one that enables faster and more reliable bus service and is safer for all road users.

The meetings will begin in March and continue through the year, Constantinides said. DOT will also look at traffic calming for 33rd Road and Astoria Boulevard and 27th Avenue.

“They will have a conversation on how to change the street from a de facto highway to a local neighborhood street that’s safer and more inviting,” he said.

Constantinides also called on the DOT to convert the southern outer roadway on the Queensboro Bridge back to its “original purpose” as an expanded bike and pedestrian road.

Before his time on the City Council comes to a close, Constantinides has several more climate bills he wants to pass. The first legislation would require that the city maps out all methane leaks, which he described as “more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”

He’s also focused on passing the climate budget bill, which would require the city to create a climate budget for every agency. Constantinides has advocated passing the Renewable Rikers Act, which he said will go a long way toward ultimately closing the power plants in his district.

Calling for 2021 to be the “year of resiliency,” the councilman is working on a package of bills called the New York City Rise to Resiliency Act, which would, among other measures, create a five-borough resiliency study and codify resilience guidelines.

Over a century ago, Constantinides said, the Consolidated Gas Company built the first gas plant in western Queens, making the neighborhood the heart of the city’s power industry. But it came at a cost, he said, including a rise in asthma rates.

“For decades, we’ve lived with the visual of polluting stacks pumping white smoke,” he said. “That was a norm in Astoria, creating an asthma alley.”

He hopes to change that with the creation of a “Renewable Row,” one that contains a solarized sanitation garage, a renewable Rikers Island instead of peaker plants, and new wind energy and battery projects that provide union jobs.

“Imagine a northern Astoria without those floating stacks pumping toxins into our lungs for 100 years,” Constantinides said. “This is a future we can fight for and build together.”
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