Design of the new elevated comfort stations. The ramps and stairs are designed to detach in the case of an extreme weather event. (Source: NYC Parks)
The New York City Parks Department will present revised plans this Thursday for the controversial bathroom and comfort station slated for the Brighton Beach boardwalk in response to outcry from Oceana condominium residents and local leaders.
The Parks Department previewed seven different alternatives for the placement of the New Brighton location – the formal name of the site in front of Oceana near Coney Island Avenue – at City Hall in February. Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz gave favorable, though tepid, reviews of the new plans.
“Some alternatives are clearly better than others, but what came across is that this is a new administration that has expressed a real willingness to listen to what the community has to say,” Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said in a press release. “It is a very hopeful sign that the [draft environmental impact statement] includes the options that were raised by residents at the Parks Department’s public scoping meeting last November. I believe this is an important step in an ongoing dialogue and it shows that the city is trying to be responsive to the community’s needs.”
Design of the new elevated comfort stations. The ramps and stairs are designed to detach in the case of an extreme weather event. (Source: NYC Parks)
A group of long-time Brighton Beach advocates seized the opportunity of Monday night’s hearing about the Oceana comfort stations, telling the Parks Department that they ought to give equal consideration to all of the elevated bathrooms already installed – and not just those near the condominium complex.
The packed hearing, which drew approximately 130 residents to the Shorefront Y (3300 Coney Island Avenue), was called by the Parks Department as a result of a court order, which requires them to produce an environmental impact statement (EIS). The hearing was an opportunity to address the scope of the planned EIS and suggest that Parks consultants evaluate additional aspects of the project.
However, it was ultimately a cathartic expulsion of rage and frustration by residents miffed with government bureaucracy and the perceived threat to their quality of life.
A small crew of residents from around the neighborhood urged the Parks Department to produce similar studies for the already-completed comfort stations further down the boardwalk and citywide, or at least extend its conclusions to those structures.
It has been more than a year since Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of the East Coast, yet Brighton Beach leaders say Con Edison and local landlords have not yet fully recovered – and it could cost residents a small fortune due to ongoing billing issues.
A series of billing and infrastructural snafus, some on behalf of the utility company, and others due to landlords’ sluggishness with repairs, will lead to large future bills for many customers. That has local business and tenant advocates concerned.
Yelena Makhnin, the executive director of the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District, said that Brighton Beach residents are concerned about their Con Edison bills since the storm damaged their electricity meters. Some residents have received bills as low as $20 per month when they’re used to seeing $80; others have received estimated bills or no bills whatsoever.
That means the company has not been billing for actual usage, and plans to make up the shortfall on future bills.
According to Con Edison’s Public Affairs Manager Sidney Alvarez, a future bill will consist of the months that customers haven’t been charged. It will be estimated on a case by case basis and calculated from each resident’s typical use of electricity prior to Superstorm Sandy. Alvarez suggested that residents stay in close contact with Con Edison for questions about bill adjustments, accommodations or payment plans.
Most of the billing problems stem from damaged electrical meter systems in large buildings, which some landlords haven’t remedied. When Con Edison finds that a meter has not been properly repaired, they may suspend billing.
“Building owners are responsible for making repairs, upgrades and modifications,” Alvarez said. “Once work is completed Con Edison will make the necessary inspections to service the area and issue the required orders.”
In large buildings, though, building owners aren’t the ones that need to worry about electrical bills, since those are handled directly by the residents. So there’s little incentive to make repairs, and some landlords are dragging their feet due to the high costs, Makhnin said.
“The landlords have to pay for it. They are not talking about $2,000 or $3,000, but a much greater amount,” Makhnin said. “Take into consideration the amount of money already spent [to repair boilers, etc]; they might see changing meters as an expense they cannot afford.”
Residents, meanwhile, are left at the utility company’s mercy.
Singer (Photo by Erica Sherman)
When Brighton Neighborhood Association founder and local resident Pat Singer started receiving estimated bills from Con Edison shortly after Superstorm Sandy, she thought it was going to be a temporary way to cope with the aftermath of the storm. In April, Singer paid an estimated bill of roughly $17, as opposed to her typical charge of $80 to $150, depending on the season. Singer later received a letter from Con Edison saying that while they would still provide electricity to the complex, they were not going to bill her anymore until the meters in her 96-unit building are replaced.
The meters in her building are due to come soon, according to Singer, but she fears the “estimated” expense of her future bills.
“They’re going to have to pull the figure out of a hat if you don’t have a meter,” Singer said. “Of course they’re going to pull the figure out on their side, not on our side. They should waive some of these fees; it shouldn’t be a blow like this with one big giant bill. They shouldn’t have stopped billing. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
Both Singer and Makhnin agree that this is a serious issue that needs to go beyond a “he said, she said” debate. Both women feel the government needs to intervene and Sandy relief money should be used to help the residents pay for the mounting costs.
“I’m not saying that the city, federal government or FEMA has to pay for changing meters, but there should be a way to give landlords some kind of incentive to help them a little bit,” Makhnin said. “I believe the city has to step in – not by issuing fines but trying to find a solution to help both sides. People should not have to choose, especially elderly on a fixed income, between paying Con Edison bills and buying food.”
Last week we wrote about an elderly Brighton Beach couple whose heating still wasn’t repaired months after the events of Superstorm Sandy. Given a free electric space heater by the city, the Gertsmans of 601 Brightwater Court, saw their electricity bill soar, a cost they were unable to cover themselves. Having heard their plight on 1010 WINS, a listener stepped up and covered the Gertsmans’ electric bill, according to a report by CBS NY.
The radio listener who donated the money to the Gertsmans was New Jersey resident Diane Edwards.
“It feels great to meet him, it really is a pleasure,” Edwards told 1010 WINS reporter Carol D’Auria.
The Gertsmans also expressed gratitude for Edwards’s generous gift.
“Americans are accustomed to do good, and in the future Russians will know about charity as well as Americans,” he told 1010 WINS through an interpreter.
While the Gertsmans found some relief, their neighbors, unfortunately, did not.
According to Yelena Makhnin, executive director of the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District, the local relief center at the Shorefront Y distributed 3,500 electric heaters to Sandy victims. Even more were distributed in Coney Island, Sheepshead Bay, Gerritsen Beach and others. Many residents, desperate to fend off the winter chill while their boilers awaited replacement, turned to the devices despite the high price tag, and that fueled higher bills across the neighborhood.
“It’s a problem for thousands of people,” Makhnin told Sheepshead Bites. “There are many people on fixed incomes, and whose houses and apartments got damaged and they have to pay a lot of money to fix them, and in this situation, each and every penny counts.
Chaim Deutsch, an aide to Councilman Michael Nelson, led the charge to bring attention to the issue using the Gertsmans as a prime illustration. But now that the Gertsmans’ needs have been filled, they hope that others remain aware of the high costs of electric heating.
“It’s a community issue that people used the electric heaters, so it was something to bring out that when you use electric as opposed to gas, the price goes up,” said Deutsch. “It was a game of survival during Hurricane Sandy, and you had to make sure that everyone’s safe and you stay warm.”
Brighton Beach was hit as hard as any other coastal community ravaged by Superstorm Sandy and local residents are still feeling the effects of its destruction in the form of expensive electric bills, according to a report by CBS NY.
Since Sandy came ashore late last October, amazingly, many residents of Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay and elsewhere are still without heat. To stay warm in these harsh winter months, people have substituted working heat with electric space heaters, many of which were given out by Red Cross, FEMA and other disaster support groups.
As a consequence, their electric bills have skyrocketed, punishing the pocket books of people just trying to stay warm.
CBS NY tracked the plight of the residents of 601 Brightwater Court. After Sandy, the heat was knocked out of the building and the city distributed electric space heaters to keep elderly couples like Pavel Gertsman and his wife warm.
While the heaters were welcome, the increased electric bills topping out at an extra $150 a month, were not. Their plight was relayed through Brighton Beach Business Improvement District Executive Director Yelena Makhnin:
“They’re on a fixed income with $1,100 family, and the difference in $150, it makes those people choose between food and Con Edison bills,” Makhnin said.
She said the Gertsmans have health problems and cannot afford the huge bill.
Con Ed spokesman Bob McGee said the utility is forbidden by law from reducing the Gertsman’s bill.
For his part, McGee suggested that people unable to pay their bills as a result of Sandy could try reaching out to non-profit organizations like the Red Cross.
Other options include contacting the city’s Human Resources Administration, which has federally funded home energy assistance programs. You can visit their website by clicking the link above or call them at (800) 692-0557.
Brighton Beach didn’t just flood with water, like Sheepshead Bay. The beach turned to mud, and came chest high on Brighton Beach Avenue.
In our mission to get out as much useful, actionable information out there about Hurricane Sandy and the recovery efforts, we haven’t had much time to check out how our neighbors in Brighton Beach are doing. So we checked in with Brighton Beach Business Improvement District Executive Directory Yelena Makhnin for an update on Tuesday.
DOT and Department of Sanitation had to plow the roads several times after Sandy, as the beach poured onto the main avenues.
Like the rest of us, Brighton Beach is plodding forward with recovery efforts, and, though Brighton Beach Avenue’s businesses were under as much as five feet of mud and water, some are getting back up to speed.
“Each and every store got some portion of damage. A lot of water. I don’t even know of one business without losses,” Makhnin said.
Still, about 40 percent of the businesses have opened up, and others are offering limited service.
Power remains an issue. Huge swaths of Brighton Beach – including chunks of Brighton Beach Avenue – remain without electricity. And though some sections were hardly touched – such as the stretch between Brighton 5th Street and Brighton 6th Street, where storefronts have no basements to worry about – the lack of power has crippled businesses that could otherwise be up and running.
“Half of the block does not have power,” Makhnin said. “The side of the block close to Brighton Beach is functioning very well. The restaurant is open, the cell phone store is open. The other side is dark.”
Vendors in Brighton Beach have brought complaints from area merchants.
A press release issued this morning by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz claims Brighton Beach business owners are demanding an investigation of the executive director of the neighborhood’s business improvement district (BID), but the director said the attacks are because she remains friends with the assemblyman’s opponent in tomorrow’s primary.
According to the release, three area business owners and a real estate broker met with the commissioner of New York City’s Small Business Services, which oversees BIDs across the city, and told him that Brighton BID Executive Director Yelena Makhnin has allowed the organization to become stagnant, and demanded an investigation of her activities. The meeting was organized by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz.
Cymbrowitz’s office said that the businesses say Makhnin repeatedly rejected proposals to improve the district, including rejoining the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, increasing garbage pickups and the number of receptacles, removing illegal vendors from storefronts and producing brochures and other materials about Brighton Beach.
“Store owners on Brighton Beach Avenue look at similar shopping areas in other neighborhoods, see joint efforts being undertaken to attract shoppers and diners, and ask, ‘Why not us? Why can’t we do these things?’” Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said in the release. “The merchants complain the avenue has stagnated with no new district-wide marketing initiatives in more than five years.”
Business leaders at the meeting included Natalia Orlova, owner of St. Petersburg Book Store, Tatiana Varzar, owner of Tatiana Restaurant, real estate broker Felix Filler, and Alex Fraiman, owner of Glavs Travel Agency.
The release also noted, “Merchants believe Makhnin may be working on political campaigns on city time and want [Small Business Services Commissioner Robert] Walsh and the inspector general to investigate.”
However, Makhnin said she’s been doing her job well, and that attacks are politically motivated due to her longtime friendship with Cymbrowitz’s opponent in tomorrow’s Democratic primary, Ben Akselrod.
“It’s only political,” Makhnin told Sheepshead Bites. “He’s using the commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services as the ax against Yelena Makhnin.”
The Be Proud Foundation, working in conjunction with the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District (BID) will hold a “Community Awareness Meeting,” May 24 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Tzar Restaurant, 2007 Emmons Avenue.
New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers from 1 Police Plaza; the 60th, 61st, 62nd and 70th Police Precincts, as well as the NYPD Community Affairs Bureau Immigrant Outreach Unit and NYPD Crime Prevention and Community Affairs program will answer sensitive questions from members of the community and representatives from businesses.
According to Raisa Chernina, president and founder of the Be Proud Foundation, “It is very important that every resident of our area have a close contact and mutual trust with police representatives. I also believe that our first ever Community Meeting will lead to building an effective communication bridge between community and NYPD.”
Light refreshments will be served and space is extremely limited — you must RSVP by to Sam Khalitov by calling (718) 788-7773.
Oceana Hall, a Brighton Beach venue whose late-night events have spurred complaints from neighbors, has been illegally hosting parties without a cabaret license, Sheepshead Bites has learned.
The Department of Consumer Affairs – which issues cabaret licenses – has confirmed that it does not have a license on record for the venue’s listed address at 1029 Brighton Beach Avenue. According the department’s website:
Any room, place, or space in New York City in which patron dancing is permitted in connection with the restaurant business or a business that sells food and/or beverages to the public requires a Cabaret license.
When we called Oceana Hall for comment, the person in charge of booking, who gave her name only as Jamie, at first said they did not need a cabaret license because they have a catering license, which allows them to host private parties.
She did not answer any further phone calls from Sheepshead Bites.
Videos like this show packed parties with drinking and dancing at Oceana Hall.
The city, however, has a different take on what constitutes a public party versus a private party.
Though the parties may have been booked as private, the promoters were selling tickets to the general public – which makes it public. And there are plenty of recent videos online that show concerts and parties at Oceana Hall with drinking and dancing involved.
According to a Department of Consumer Affairs press officer, the department’s legal team believes this qualifies Oceana Hall as a venue in need of a cabaret license.
“If the event is open to the public, regardless of whether a third party promoter is involved, a cabaret license is required,” the press officer told Sheepshead Bites.
Licenses are a matter of both safety and community concern. To get one, the city inspects the facility to ensure it meets fire and electrical codes, and the establishment must also be reviewed by the local Community Board, in theory to ensure it isn’t a nuisance to neighbors. (*CORRECTED)
But a nuisance is an apt description for Oceana Hall, according to neighbors. Last weekend, attendees turned to violence as they poured into the street at closing time, with a gunman opening fire and striking two women.
It’s an extreme example, but residents and community leaders said they knew it was a matter of time before things got out of hand.
Yelena Makhnin, executive director of the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District, said that things have been getting worse at the club over the past year, with more complaints to her office from neighboring residents and businesses. They say the parties break up late at night, and attendees hit the streets making noise and raising a ruckus.
“I understand it’s a business and people need to make money, but the people who live on Brighton 11th and Brighton 12th cannot be victims of people making money,” Makhnin said. “I strongly believe if they want to have parties, fine, but they have to obey the laws.”
Councilman Michael Nelson’s office and Community Board 13 has also been fielding complaints about the venue.
“I get phone calls from the Oceana buildings [across the street] about noise, and that they’re having a cabaret at night and have screaming and fighting and disturbing life,” said a staffer at Nelson’s office.
The councilman’s office is helping coordinate with Community Board 13 and the 60th Precinct to meet with the business and ease the problem.
The NYPD is responsible for enforcing cabaret laws, but while the 60th Precinct has spoken to the owners and even issued summonses on other matters, they have not issued any violations for their missing license.
A Community Affairs officer declined to comment on the matter, but Makhnin said that the local precinct has been doing a good job responding to complaints at the venue and is trying to be balanced in their approach.
“It’s a very grey area,” Makhnin said. “When the city is trying to enforce a law, right away they’re blamed for making it difficult for small business owners.”
CORRECTION (4:51 p.m.): The original version of this article stated that the establishment needed approval from the Community Board to obtain a cabaret license. In fact, they only need to be reviewed. The Department of Consumer Affairs can and does issue cabaret licenses to businesses that have been rejected by the Community Board.
A Brighton Beach business leader has had it with legal and illegal vendors competing with brick-and-mortar stores with higher overhead, but attempts to keep them under control is made more difficult by the medley of city agencies tasked with overseeing them.