Luxe condos clogging city — what to do?

More than 4,000 newly-built luxury condos sit empty in six neighborhoods where developers had hoped to catch the gentrification wave, a coalition of community groups tracking them found.

In a report released May 10th, Right to the City-NYC also identifies 138 empty residential buildings that owe $3.8 million in delinquent taxes. The group’s unlikely solution is to have the city hand over the luxury stainless steel kitchens to low-income or homeless. They want the city to acquire these properties through tax foreclosure just as it had done with distressed and abandoned properties in the 1980s.

“It’s a luxury ghost town,” Right to the City coordinator David Dodge said. “If they’re not paying taxes, the city has a right to acquire these buildings.”

This “crazy idea” would discourage new development, said Real Estate Board of New York president Steven Spinola, who asked if it was April Fools’ Day when told of the group’s plan.

“If an owner wants to charge a certain amount and believes he can get it, he has a right to hold onto it,” he said. “These people clearly don’t believe in the idea of private property

BY THE NUMBERS

450
Number of apartment buildings identified by Right to the City in various stages of vacancy/development in Downtown Brooklyn, Bushwick, the Lower East Side, Harlem, the South Bronx and the West Side/Chelsea.

__________________________

4,091
Estimated number of vacant units in completed buildings.

__________________________

408
Average number of days the condo units have been on the market

Mysterious High Line Building is Losing Its Head

A property butting up against the High Line should be a gold mine, and while certain sites near the park in the sky are yielding pricey nuggets, others have proven to be a wad of woe.

Count the shell of a building at 508 West 20th Street among the latter. From atop the stairway where Phase I of the High Line now ends, High Liners come face-to-face with four floors of steel beams and open-ended concrete, but not for long. The DOB has issued a demolition permit to remove the top two floors and seal the remaining structure, and work might just begin today.

The deconstruction will remove the eyesore from the High Line’s cluttered western view that includes archigeek favorites likeAnnabelle SelldorfShigeru Ban and Jean Nouvel (not to mention the slightly older IAC building from the Gehry gang). As for the future of this problematic plot, it’s a bit uncertain.

The mystery shell has a convoluted history, including a batch ofviolations and stop work orders covering non-conforming and unsafe construction, but the economic downturn more than anything brought things to a halt.

Then the 3,834-square-foot site was listed for sale in an online flyer(warning: PDF) that showed a rendering of all four floors covered in glass, and proclaiming that “existing air rights may be transferred anywhere within the Special West Chelsea zoning District.” The site has its many pluses, including front row seats to the High Line Renegade Cabaret across the way, but in these troubled times it’s anybody’s guess how this one will turn out.

NYC Public Schools Will Be Closed Wednesday

New York City has closed public schools on Wednesday and is readying plows and salt spreaders ahead of a predicted snowstorm.

Forecasts call for about 8 to 13 inches of snow across the New York metropolitan region.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said city agencies will be open and workers should report to work.

There are about 1.1 million students in the public school system. Snow days are rare. The last two were on March 2, 2009, and Jan. 28, 2004.

Bloomberg said the city made the decision early so parents could have time to make alternative plans.

He said officials also want to avoid exposing students to the possible blizzard-like conditions forecast for the afternoon. He said it’s easier on families to close school for the day rather than let children leave early.

Queens Man Pleads Not Guilty To Charges Of Receiving Al-Qaida Training

One of two Queens men arrested in connection with an alleged terror plot against the city pleaded not guilty in Brooklyn Saturday to charges that he received military training from al-Qaida in Pakistan.

Adis Medunjanin,  a 25-year-old Bosnian-born building superintendent, was arrested Friday and arraigned on charges of receiving military training from a foreign terrorist organization and conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country.

Prosecutors say Medunjanin received the training from al-Qaida between August to October 2008.

Medunjanin pleaded not guilty to all charges Saturday.

Another suspect, 24-year-old Zarein Ahmedzay, right, was arrested Friday morning while driving his taxi in Manhattan. The Afghan-born cab driver pleaded not guilty Friday to charges he lied to the FBI about visiting Pakistan and Afghanistan between late 2008 and early 2009.

Ahmedzay is being held without bail, and his bail hearing has been set for Tuesday.

Investigators say both men were under surveillance for months, and both their homes were raided as part of the investigation into Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-born Colorado shuttle bus driver accused of plotting to blow up the subway system with homemade bombs.
Zazi, also visited Pakistan between August 2008 and early 2009 and is charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

Authorities say all three suspects went to Flushing High School in Queens together.

Medunjanin’s lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, warned reporters Saturday not to jump to conclusions about his client.

“The government has a very special responsibility to make sure that every aspect and requirement of our Constitution is abided by government officials,” said Gottlieb. “So before this individual can be declared guilty as opposed to presumed innocent under our law, we have got to make sure that all the evidence comes out, all the facts come out, and that justice is done.”

Medunjanin’s lawyer said his client cooperated without hesitation with investigators when his home was raided last summer, and his client’s passport was willingly handed over Thursday.

Cops: NYC Crime Rates at Record Low

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Monday that crime records decreased by record amounts in 2009, making it the nineteenth straight year in which major felony crime has declined.

New figures released Monday show crime in the Big Apple is down 11 percent from last year and 35 percent since 2001. Murders are down 11 percent.

“The numbers are staggering: since 2001, we’ve driven murder down by 29 percent, rape down by 38 percent, robbery down by 34 percent – the list goes on,” said Mayor Bloomberg at a press conference. “Commissioner Kelly and the extraordinary men and women of the NYPD deserve the credit and our thanks.”

The previous record low was in 2007. Prior to 2002, the City hadn’t recorded fewer than 600 murders in a year since the early 1960s.

“Persistence and professionalism were the watch words of the NYPD in 2009, and they paid off with record crime reduction,” said Commissioner Kelly.

Despite the decreased number of illegal activity, police say felony assault is up by two perfect.

FBI crime figures for the first half of 2009 reportedly show crime falling across the county. Murder and manslaughter fell 10 percent for the first half of the year.

NYC Speeds Up Blood Testing For DWI Suspects

New York City is taking steps to speed up blood tests for DWI suspects who refuse a breath test at the scene of an accident.

The city’s five district attorneys announced the changes Sunday. The moves are designed to get the most accurate blood alcohol reading soon after a wreck, because a suspect’s blood alcohol level can decline during delays.

Under the old system, police officers took suspects first to the nearest police station, and then to one of six special blood testing sites around the city. Now, suspects will be taken directly to the testing site.

Police commissioner Ray Kelly says the changes will help make sure drunk drivers don’t “escape justice through delay.”

Several other changes are also in the works.

Woman Pepper-Sprays LI Cabbie, Skips Fare

Amina Williams of Redwood City, Calif., pepper-sprayed her driver to skip out on the fare, cops said(WPIX)

Amina Williams of Redwood City, Calif., pepper-sprayed her driver to skip out on the fare, cops said(WPIX)

MELVILLE, N.Y. (WPIX) – A California woman who took a cab from Manhattan to Long Island pepper-sprayed her driver to skip out on the fare.

Amina Williams of Redwood City, Calif., asked cabbie, Alexandre Oseimensuo of New Jersey to drive her from Manhattan to Melville, Long Island. Suffolk County Police say the two agreed on a $150 fare. But, when Oseimensuo pulled up to their destination — a Marriott Hotel — Williams offered only $80. That’s when, investigators say, Oseimensuo demanded full payment and she allegedly pepper-sprayed him in the eyes. A hotel employee who witnessed the attack immediately called police. They arrested Williams a short time later while she was booking a room.

Oseimensuo was taken to North Shore University Hospital in Plainview, where he was treated and released.

Williams has been charged with assault and unlawful possession of noxious material. She’s expected to be arraigned in First District Court, Central Islip, on Jan. 8.