BY LIZ GOFF
Dutch Kills residents want high density living. Unlike their northeastern Queens counterparts, they want houses . . . lots of houses. But instead, the city keeps stifling the residential development in this neighborhood of homes nestled away in the shadow of the Queensborough Bridge.
RED LIGHT DISTRICT?
Goldfingers, Scandals, Dunbarton II, Cityscapes – and the all-nude “Gentleman’s Club,” Runway 69 are some of the newest additions to the Dutch Kills landscape.
Residents are in an uproar over the relocation of the sex clubs in the area – many of which were chased out of prior locations by the city’s crackdown on the XXX-rated clubs.
“Why here?, why Dutch Kills?
“How much does the city plan to dump on us?”
“Where the hell is Mayor Giuliani?,” asked Jerry Walsh, vice president of the Dutch Kills Civic Association. “He did such a good job of chasing these people out of Times Square and neighborhoods like Forest Hills and Rego Park. When is he going to come here, to help us the same way he helped residents along Queens Boulevard,” Walsh said. “Or don’t we count as residents of the city?”
City Councilman Walter McCaffrey initiated zoning legislation to assist neighborhoods in “evicting” the sex clubs, by requiring that the clubs locate no closer than 500 feet of a home, church, school, or other adult clubs. But after they were forced to pack up and move from their original sites, the club owners went to court and won significant changes in the law – changes that plopped them firmly on the ground in Dutch Kills.
A stipulation in the law that was designed to prevent red-light districts from evolving does little to help the situation at Queens Plaza, local officials said. The stipulation requires that the clubs cannot locate within 500 feet of each other – a moot point due to the logistics of the Queens Plaza area, said George Delis, district manager of Community Board 1.
Because of the box-like configuration of the area that is zoned primarily for industry, adult businesses can proliferate there legally, Delis said. The clubs are located at least 500 feet apart, Delis said, but they appear to create a “red-light district” because the Plaza is “boxed” into an eight-block area.
“This is about to explode into another Times Square,” Delis stated. “There should be some legal limit to the number of these bars that can open in the Queens Plaza area.”
Gone is the hulking blue-and-white Temporary Headquarters Vehicle that kept a watchful eye on conditions in Long Island City from its post at Bridge Plaza North. Gone, too, are the teams of narcotics and vice cops from Operation Condor and the Queens Vice Squad who patrolled the area for the past two months.
The reason they’re gone is because the conditions they were sent there to address are “vastly improved,” police officials told the Tribune.
Those same officials are calling the recent zero-tolerance crackdown on drugs and prostitution in Long Island City a great success. Conditions at Queens Plaza and in surrounding neighborhoods are so improved, in fact, that police brass at One Police Plaza pulled the Operation Condor and Queens Vice cops out of the area as of Friday night, April 7. The specialized units have been reassigned to a re-established Roosevelt Avenue Task Force, where they will concentrate their efforts on drug and prostitution conditions along the commercial strip, officials said.
Local residents are concerned that the units are gone from the Long Island City area, and fearful that the prostitutes will be back “in a heartbeat,” causing traffic jams and littering residential streets where they “service” their customers, Walsh said.
“This is ridiculous,” said Bob Wilson, president of the Dutch Kills Civic Association. “Maybe the streets are clear for the time being. But that’s only because the cops are keeping them clear.
“As soon as the cops are gone, the prostitutes will be back,” Wilson said.
Not so, say police officials at local precincts and at the Queens North Borough Command, who said the enforcement will continue by police assigned to street narcotics modules and prostitution details at the precinct level.
Under new procedures established by “Team Bratton” (former Police Commissioner William Bratton), neighborhoods are no longer left in a lurch when specialized units are pulled from a location to take on conditions elsewhere, officials said.
Under the new enforcement procedures, neighborhoods remain in a zero-tolerance “mode,” said a spokesperson for NYPD Chief of Department Joseph Dunne, under the watchful eye of precinct SNEU (Street Narcotics Enforcement Units) and Prostitution Details.
“Enforcement is continued – and intensified as needed, by local police who are in-sync with the needs of the community,” Dunne said.
That sentiment was echoed by Queens Vice Captain Kevin Grasing, who said teams of Vice cops will continue to police the Dutch Kills area at unspecified intervals, to keep the hookers off the streets.
Grasing said the Vice cops put great effort into the recent crackdown – too much effort to allow the conditions to return.
“We won’t abandon the neighborhood,” Grasing said. “We’ll be there to support the ongoing enforcement activities of the 114th Precinct to make sure the conditions do not return.”
The zero-tolerance crackdown in Long Island City set a precedent in policing in New York State when, on Feb. 8, attorneys at the NYPD Legal Bureau filed for an injunction barring 20 known members of the Bloods street gang from even stepping-foot in a 20-square-block area – Jackson Avenue to 21st Street and 40th to 43rd Avenues – between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. The city also requested a permanent, 24-hour ban on six men and 15 women who they allege are gang members or known prostitutes. Violators would be subject to arrest on charges of criminal contempt which, if proven, could land them in jail for at least one year.
The request for the injunction was one method utilized by Queens police officials to prevent a takeover of street prostitution near the Queensborough Bridge by members of the Bloods, police said. Concern of a takeover stemmed from a condition that existed in East New York’s 75th Precinct, where the Bloods moved in on street prostitution pimps “overnight,” police sources said – creating an extremely violent climate.
The 75th Precinct abuts Queens and is “too close for comfort,” officials said. Those same officials were determined to stop the gangs form trying to elbow-in for a similar takeover in western Queens precincts, sources said.
The request for court intervention was backed by the enforcement effort, dubbed “CR2K” (Crime Reduction 2000), the crackdown that was scrubbed on April 7.
The gangs, who had made their presence known, never moved to settle in the Long Island City area once the NYPD attorneys asked for the injunction, said one high-ranking police source. News of the requested court intervention seemed enough to make the gang members reconsider the move, the source said.
News that the specialized police units had been transferred out of Long Island City was met with a mix of anger and frustration by local residents – and with a determination on their part to keep the streets clear of hookers and their customers. It’s a battle that residents in Dutch Kills have been fighting for decades.
“The police arrest the prostitutes,” Wilson said. “But the courts set them free at their arraignment, sending them back onto the streets within hours.”
The Dutch Kills residents see enforcement as a key solution to the problem, but they view residential development of the area, currently zoned for manufacturing, as an equally effective tool for use to remove the prostitutes.
“It all goes back to zoning,” said former Dutch Kills Civic Association President George L. Stamatiades. “Manufacturing and commercial zones tend to attract that type of activity after-hours because there are fewer people on the streets of industrial areas at night.”
Wilson said residents believe that residential development in Dutch Kills would serve as another deterrent to street prostitution.
“With an increased residential population, services like police and sanitation would increase,” Wilson said. “If houses filled now-vacant lots, many dimly-lit blocks would be filled with people – and a new light.
“If there was less vacant space in the area, the prostitutes may consider taking their business elsewhere,” Wilson said. “It all goes back to the city’s decision to kill Dutch Kills with its rezoning of the area.”
In 1960, city planners had an idea. They saw “unbounding potential” for industry and commerce in the community just north of the Queensborough Bridge. The city rezoned Dutch Kills as an M1-3 area – the city’s most restrictive manufacturing zone. Unfamiliar with the intricacies of city government and the workings of city planners, residents of Dutch Kills didn’t wake up to the reality of the restrictive zoning until it was too late – and they found themselves living in their own homes illegally.
The zoning sounded a death knell for the residential sections of Dutch Kills. No new residences could be constructed; no additions made to existing homes. And if a home was destroyed by fire or some other disaster, the home could not be rebuilt. Only commercial, industrial and manufacturing structures could be built in those sites.
The reason for the city’s decision to rezone the area was clear to residents – to allow the unrestricted growth of manufacturing interests in the area. And to create a “mini-Manhattan” on the Queens side of the Queensborough Bridge, Wilson said.
The civics fought the city and its planners for more than 10 years to change zoning in the area. The result was the city’s creation of an “M1-D” zone, a generic district that slightly eased the restrictions on residential properties.
“We have so far not seen any new residential construction in the Dutch Kills area,” Stamatiades said. “But we have seen a great deal of renovation – and lots of houses that might have been forced to become commercial have stayed residential,” he added.
Further angering Dutch Kills residents was a recent announcement by Salvation Army officials that the agency plans to toss yet another bit of spice into the already volatile mix created by conditions in the community.
According to Alfred Peck, director of Homeless Services for the Salvation Army, told participants at a March meeting of the Community Board 1 District Cabinet that the Salvation Army plans to open a walk-in homeless shelter at the site of the former Long Island Savings Bank building at 29-11 41st Ave.
A furious Wilson lashed-out at city and local officials when Peck made the announcement.
“Why here?,” Wilson asked. “Why Dutch Kills?
“We are already burdened with two abortion clinics, two methadone clinics, substance abuse rehab residences, the sex clubs, prostitution and the threat of gang intervention,” Wilson said. “How much does the city plan to dump on us?”
We are obviously disappointed that the police department has decided to pull the big guns out of this area, but we are grateful that they recognize the continuing problem and that they aren’t going to abandon us completely,” he added.