Bay Ridge bares local issues for mayor

Bay Ridge was trending on Twitter this week thanks to a special visit from Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Local issues from education and transportation to illegal spas, illegal home conversions, hookah hotspots and substance abuse were at the forefront of a town hall held in the Fort Hamilton High School gym on Tuesday, February 16. There, de Blasio and colleagues fielded questions from local residents and business owners.

Among the first – and perhaps most applauded – announcements made by the mayor was that plans to site a Universal Pre-K program at the busy corner of 86th Street and Gatling place would not move forward due to community opposition.

“There has been a specific concern raised about a potential Pre-K site at 621 86th street,” said de Blasio of the proposed 108-seat site, adding later in the evening that there are approximately 5,000 seats coming down the pipeline for the overcrowded District 20 once the School Construction Authority finds proper homes for them. “I am here today to announce that we will not use that site.”

The space, which was once occupied by Community Board 10, sits at an oft-congested corner at the end of Bay Ridge’s 86th Street shopping strip, home to both a busy Gowanus Expressway service road and four lanes of traffic. It was opposed by locals at numerous community board and community education council meetings since the site was first mentioned in early January.
Additional talking points included the implementation of both the Five Borough Ferry System (coming to the Ridge’s 69th Street Pier next spring) and the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) – two transportation alternatives, de Blasio said, that will greatly benefit South Brooklyn residents of all ages.

Despite an introduction sprinkled with good news, town hall attendees were not short of questions for the mayor.

Democratic District Leader Joanne Seminara raised concerns about “so-called spas” that have run rampant in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst.

“What we’re seeing in this neighborhood and undoubtedly across New York City are more and more of these so-called spas that are really sex shops,” said Seminara. “There have been a number of actions taken but, as soon as we shut down 10, 12, 19 of them – which we’ve done here – they pop back up again.”

“I think [we need to] get to the root of the problem and see what we can do to try and stop the owners from doing this over and over again,” said de Blasio before allowing 68th Precinct Captain Raymond Festino to speak on the subject.

According to Festino, a lot more is being done behind the scenes than people think.

“It might seem like it’s a futile effort but we do [make progress on] this,” he said, stressing that, while these questionable massage parlors are certainly an ongoing issue, there are units that are solely dedicated to shutting them down.

Another hot button topic for Ridgeites was raised by Community Board 10 member Doris Cruz.

“We have an issue here, and that is the Prince Hotel,” said Cruz, mentioning that, in February, 2015, Community Board 10 hosted an inter-agency meeting on the controversial space, an alleged hotbed of drugs, prostitution and violence. “[At that meeting,] the mayor’s office said that they would take the lead [on this issue], and here we are, two weeks short of a year later, and nothing has come of it.”

The mayor responded bluntly.

“Let me be plain about this. I find this situation with the Prince Hotel absolutely unacceptable,” said de Blasio, promising aggressive enforcement which “should have happened already.”

All in all, de Blasio was thankful for the community’s input – especially that of younger constituents like sixth grader Preston Ferraiuolo, who attended the town hall to ask why his school – I.S. 187, the Christa McAuliffe School – doesn’t have its own student government, but others in the district do.

“I admire your poise and your intelligence,” said de Blasio, who later tweeted a photo of Ferraiuolo and proclaimed that the future of Bay Ridge is a bright one. “Student government is very important, and we will follow up with your school and see how we can fix that.”

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