Thursday, May 3, 2007

Arabic TV on 94th St?

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

What is a television station? The question may seem innocuous, but for residents near one 94th Street home, it is a hot topic of debate.

The philosophical query originated when Gamil Halsik, who works from home, moved into 255 94th St. and naturally wanted to take his home business with him (seems innocent enough, right?).

The only problem was that Halsik’s move involved more than a station wagon or van: it actually meant a bulldozer tearing up the sidewalks to make room for new underground wiring.

Residents first became suspicious that the move was irregular when they noticed street equipment beginning to gather on their quiet tree-lined block. When they asked the workers what was going on, they were told that a new television station was being installed on the street and they needed to dig up some of the sidewalk to install cable.

As you might imagine, this prompted concerned neighbors to do what concerned neighbors always do in Bay Ridge: call the community board.

“When I started getting calls telling us that a television station was being installed on 94th Street, it sounded so ridiculous that I couldn’t believe it was true,” said Josephine Beckmann, who in her capacity as district manager of Community Board 10 is no stranger to calls, to the ridiculous, and to the frequent merger of both.

Beckmann did some digging of her own and found out that the workers had told the truth.

“He had applied for cabling work in connection with his job at Arabic News Channel 6,” said Beckmann as the mystery deepened. “We quickly put a halt to all street work and installation until we can figure out exactly what is going on.”

Beckmann said that zoning regulations are clear: no one can operate a television station from a private home on 94th Street. And some neighbors surmised that an Arab man digging up the sidewalk to open a television station was something to be concerned about in this day in age.

Time-Warner defended the move as just business as usual — the kind of thing that Chinese and Greek stations do all the time. The cable giant also told Beckmann that Halsik’s home is not a “television station,” but merely a facility where he can collect footage for future broadcast on Arab News Channel 6. He needs the underground wiring so he can digitally send the footage from his home to the station.

Halsik had the same operation in his prior residence and was only trying to bring his work with him to his new home, according to Time-Warner. This left the community board in uncharted waters — and scrambling for the dictionary to figure out the definition of what, exactly, is a television station.

“I can tell you it is one question this board has never had to deal with before,” Beckmann said. “We are trying to determine if there will be foot traffic and if he will have employees, or if Halsik is just going to be working on his computer by himself. We have a lot of questions, but the primary one is what constitutes a television station.”

Questions remain unanswered — but my brief encounter with Halsik did leave me convinced that there is no big television station coming to 94th Street, and that Halsik is, as Time-Warner contends, only a self-employed, work-from-home guy.

This became clear when Yellow Hooker rang the television maverick’s doorbell at 10 am in hopes of speaking with the man (and maybe get a peak at our new community station, too).

“I can’t talk right now. I was sleeping and you woke me up,” a visibly irritated Halsik said. “Give me your business card, and I will give you a call later.”

He never called, but I walked away convinced that the bulldozers should get on with their work and that Gamil Halsik should be allowed to carry on. If nothing else, Yellow Hooker understands that Halsik is the living, breathing, embodiment of the American Dream.

Sleeping until 10 am on a Monday morning? American dream, indeed.

The Kitchen Sink
Congrats to our pals, Carmine and Sharon Santa Maria. The president and vice president of the Bensonhurst West End Community Council just welcomed their latest grandkid into the world. Dean Christian Santa Maria — the son of Carl and Lori Santa Maria — was born April 30 at Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill and weighed 8 pounds, 7 ounces. Carl is principal at PS 153 on Avenue T. …

Nellie Bly amusement park is dead — but only in name. A new kiddie center will reopen in the same Bensonhurst location next week under the less-inspired moniker, Adventures Entertainment. It’s along Shore Parkway at the foot of 18th Avenue. …

Griswold’s Pub finally closed for good on Saturday. The great rib shrine will soon become, you guessed it, a bank. …

The building that housed the Loft restaurant at 9101 Third Ave. was sold for $1.8 million and sources tell The Stoop it will be demolished. Does Victoria Hofmo know? …

No one enjoys the golden years more than state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge). Golden is hosting his annual senior fair on May 3 at St. Patrick’s Gymnasium (9511 Fourth Ave.). …

Danzas, at 6205 18th Ave., has a great marinara sauce, but the chicken in our source’s Chicken Parmesan platter was re-heated. How did our source know? He saw it happen. …

Some of the ballfields near Shore Road Park will soon be refurbished and covered over with artificial turf, which some local papers called “Toxic Turf” after Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum put out a press release. A little research reveals such coverage to be a bit alarmist. The truth is that the amount of the supposed cancer-causing agent — polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon — is actually harmless at the level used in the turf.

Fossella’s fried green proposal

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Rep. Vito Fossella (R–Bay Ridge) gets behind the fryer at Yellow Hook bar in Bay Ridge to promote his bill that would encourage the creation of more biodiesel fuel.

Enough freedom fries will turn any pol green.

Just ask Rep. Vito Fossella (R–Bay Ridge), who wants to encourage restaurants to take their used frying oil and turn it into an environmentally safe fuel.

On Monday, Fossella traveled to Yellow Hook, a bar and grill popular with local conservatives, to announce legislation that would double the tax credit — from 50 cents a gallon to $1 — for the makers of the so-called “biodiesel” fuel, whose raw material is the grease in which restaurants fry calamari, French fries and other deep-fat delights.

To highlight his support for the bill, Fossella even got behind the fryers with Yellow Hook Chef Eugene McConnell.

“It is no pie-in-the-sky idea,” Fossella said. “This futuristic technology is here and now.”

Fossella noted that biodiesel is already being used on Staten Island and the rest of the city by the Parks Department to power its 650 diesel-operated vehicles and equipment.

“We are all sensitive to the environment, and this is one way to reduce our reliance on foreign oil,” added Fossella, whose prior commitment to the environment has been questioned by such groups as the League of Conservation Voters, which said Fossella supported the group 11 percent of the time in 2005; and Republicans for Environmental Protection, which gave Fossella a 17-percent rating in the same year.

The goal of Fossella’s bill is to encourage restaurants — which currently pay private companies to dispose of their grease — to partner with fledgling biodiesel manufacturers, who may eventually pay the restaurants for their liquid gold.

The bill is needed, Fossella said, because the cost of biodiesel production is still higher than the cost of producing standard fuel. In 2005, it cost 67 cents to produce a gallon of regular diesel, compared with about $1.41 to produce a gallon of biodiesel from from restaurant grease, Fossella’s office said.

Biodiesel is a cleaner-burning alternative made from any fat or vegetable oil, produced by removing glycerol through a chemical process called transesterification. Cars that run on a pure form of biodiesel belch out 50 percent fewer ozone-depleting hydrocarbons, virtually no sulfates (which contribute to acid rain), and nearly half the carbon monoxide as conventional diesel vehicles.

One of Yellow Hook’s chefs said he was all for the Fossella bill.

“It is pretty simple: we store the grease, and a truck comes to pick it up,” said McConnell. “Before you would even have to pay someone to take it away, and now you can get paid.”

Vito Fossella is certainly no stranger to fried foods. In 2003, the fifth-term Congressman got on the bandwagon to start calling French fries “freedom fries” as part of a symbolic show of unity against France’s opposition to Fossella-backed war in Iraq.

But now he has a more important use for the oil that creates those delicious freedom fries.

“The bill is a win-win situation for both the restaurant operator, who now has another viable option for the disposal of old oil, as well as the general public, who benefit from energy conservation,” Fossella said.

The six-month solution? City: 86th Street renovation to be done faster

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan
Owner Leo Lykourezos stands in front of his beloved restaurant, Casa Calamari, on Third Avenue and 86th Street. Like many storeowners, Lykourezos is worried about an 18-month sewer-repair project that is about to begin.

Merchants along 86th Street who hoped that a proposed two-year water main replacement project would be done in two segements didn’t get everything they asked for — but officials did promise to finish the job six months ahead of schedule.

The project, which will replace water mains from Shore Road to Gatling Place, is now slated for completion by autumn 2008 instead of April 2009.

“These water mains really need to be replaced,” said Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann. “In Bay Ridge, we have a very old infrastructure.”

The expedited timetable pleased many, but some were taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I am still concerned about the overall impact of the project,” said Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) said. “It will be something we keep a close eye on.”

Gentile and other area leaders said the lengthy project should be broken up.

“While this plan represents an improvement over the previous one, residents and small business owners still have legitimate concerns about it,” said Rep. Vito Fossella (R–Bay Ridge). “We all agree that the ideal option is for the project to be divided into two phases.”

The 18-month renovation of 86th Street will begin in the next few weeks as sidewalks will be torn-up for work on an underground water main.

Pols and community leaders met last Thursday with the city departments of Transportation, Environmental Protection, and Design and Construction to remind the bureaucrats that tearing up the sidewalk will hamper local businesses.

That reminder not only led to the expedited repair schedule, but also a promise to put an “overlay” on the sidewalk so that the flow of foot traffic is unimpeded when construction is not actively going on.

News of the compromise didn’t alleviate the concerns of all local merchants, especially those who depend on their outdoor sidewalk cafes.

“Between the costs of lawyers and fees in trying to figure out what to do, this is just killing me,” said Leo Lykourezos, who owns Casa Calamari on 86th Street and Third Avenue, and also supported a two-phase project. “But what choice do we have? I’ll just have to take it day by day.”

No one likes construction, but the work is a necessary evil, according to Patrick Condren, executive director of the Bay Ridge Business Improvement District.

“We are talking about a water main that was built in 1896. It is unquestionable that this work needs to be done,” Condren said. “I have no doubts that 86th Street businesses will continue to thrive despite the disturbance.”

Condren also mentioned that he was impressed that the Design and Construction Department will issue a monthly “reconstruction newsletter” that will keep area merchants updated.

But Ridgites have a good memory. These projects don’t always go according to schedule. A city water- and sewer-line replacement at the corner of 92nd Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway took 18 months — six months longer than promised.

“That was a mess,” said Beckmann. “Let’s hope this time there is no comparison.”

Sister Act 2: Sibling indicted in baby murder

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

The sister of the Bay Ridge woman who allegedly smothered her newborn baby girl and then left her outside to die is now facing charges of her own.

District Attorney Charles Hynes announced last week that a grand jury had indicted Andria Sergio, 27, of disposing of the body of the newborn that her sister allegedly smothered.

She was also charged with hindering a prosecution in the first, second and third degrees. All together, she’s facing seven years in jail.

“Initially, she was only charged with moving the body,” a source at the District Attorney’s office said. “But after looking at all the evidence, the grand jury added the charges of hindering the prosecution.”

Sergio pleaded not guilty at last Wednesday’s arraignment. A date for trial has been set for June 19.

The news comes only two weeks after the sister, Laura Sergio, 25, was indicted for murdering her newborn by allegedly smothering it with a towel shortly after giving birth on April 6.

Sergio’s lawyer Thomas Cascione, who has not responded to requests for comment, insisted at Laura Sergio’s arraignment earlier this month that his client never thought she was pregnant — and didn’t know what was happening, even after she gave birth.

Hynes believes the sisters had no excuse, especially since New York State law protects mothers who want to give up unwanted newborns.

“Pregnant women who do not want to keep their babies need to realize that there is a program, Baby Safe Haven, that allows them to legally leave their unharmed newborns at hospitals, firehouses, and churches throughout Brooklyn,” Hynes said.

That sinking feeling

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

A scary roof collapse during last week’s heavy rain shut down a Fifth Avenue men’s clothing store and also sent an old-timer to the hospital with minor injuries.

The collapse occurred on Thursday morning around 8 am when the entire back roof of Image Men’s Clothing store at 8419 Fifth Ave. crashed down to the first floor. An 81-year-old resident of the building was rushed to the hospital, but was only shaken up, according to Senior Chief Juan Ortiz of the Association of Volunteer Firefighters.

“He got shaken up and scared,” Ortiz said. “He was taken to Maimonides, but now he is doing fine.”

Officials speculated that a clogged drain caused too much water to accumulate on the roof, which then buckled under the strain.

The Department of Buildings later ordered the premises vacated.

The owner of Image Men’s — who gave his name as Robert — was in no mood to talk to the press. “I don’t want to comment right now,” he said. “This has been a real bad day.”

He was also busy gathering all his undamaged stock, putting it in large black plastic bags and storing it at Image Woman’s Clothing store next door, which he also owns.

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