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Sedgwick House Burglarized

January 7, 2011

Computers, Christmas Tree Among Items Stolen From Tenants Association Office

By JEANMARIE EVELLY

The tenants association office of a local housing development was burglarized twice over the past two months, with the thief, or thieves, taking off with everything from a flat screen television to the office Christmas tree.

The office, at Sedgwick Houses, a seven-building development on University Avenue and 174th Street that’s run by the New York City Housing Authority, was robbed in mid-November and early December in what residents say looks like an inside job.

“They used the key,” said association member and tenant Lucille White. “They had to, because the locks weren’t tampered [with].”

Luther Greene, the association president, said he entered the office on both occasions to find it ransacked, with money and thousands of dollars in equipment stolen. Greene said he contacted police at the 46th Precinct both times, but hasn’t heard of any leads or developments. After the second robbery, he said officers told him that they could not locate the police report from the first.

Two NYPD spokesmen said they have no information about the burglaries and could not locate reports from either incident, but said it’s possible they were filed under a different address within the housing complex.

“I don’t think they report nothing,” Greene said. “I keep calling there [the precinct]…I’m about to give up.”

The robberies are similar to another that took place this summer at a NYCHA building for seniors that’s also managed by Sedgwick Houses, residents say. Lenora Ward, resident association president at the building at 228 W. Tremont Ave., said she entered her first-floor office in August after having been out sick to find almost everything missing, including a brand new computer and television that had been recently delivered.

“There was nothing there but just the chairs and a table,” she said, adding that there were no obvious signs of a break-in.

At Sedgwick Houses, the office was missing its Christmas tree and presents that were to be given out at the development’s Kwanzaa Celebration, which was subsequently cancelled.

“They took a lot of our things—three computers, three printers, a fax machine,” White said. “They took folding chairs, a microwave, coffee, paper towels. I could just go on and on. We worked hard to get those things, so it’s disappointing,” she continued.

Both Ward and White say robberies and similar crimes in the development projects are rare. “I’ve been here 40 years, and I’ve never heard of a burglary in any of the apartments,” White said.

She said the tenants association plans to write letters to local elected officials, in the hopes of getting funds to buy an alarm system for the office.

Fire Rips Through Grand Concourse Building

January 7, 2011

Photobucket THE FIRE STARTED IN A FIFTH FLOOR APARTMENT (PHOTO: A. WATKINS)

By JAMES FERGUSSON

A raging fire tore through an apartment building in Mount Hope on the afternoon of Dec. 21. Several residents suffered minor injuries, and it took 140 firefighters more than an hour to control the blaze, which occurred at 1882 Grand Concourse.

The cause of the fire was a “defective stove” in a seventh floor apartment, a spokesman for the Fire Department said. Tenants told reporters that a woman had been baking cookies and that her oven exploded when she was out of the kitchen.

Afterwards, about 50 or 60 displaced tenants, including dozens of children, were taken to Mount Hope Housing Company’s community center on 175th Street, a few blocks away.

Mount Hope had been collecting toys for its annual holiday toy drive and each of the youngsters received a gift. And there was free pizza, courtesy of Domino’s. That evening, the Red Cross arrived to help find emergency shelter for those with nowhere to go.

Fritz Jean, Mount Hope’s CEO, said his organization was happy to be of assistance. “That’s what the center is set up for – to help the community,” he said. “It’s there for the community in whatever situation.”

Lights Grace Featherbed Lane for the First Time

January 7, 2011

By JAMES FERGUSSON

Kathryn Speller has lived in Morris Heights since the ’60s. 2010, she says, was the first time holiday lights were put up on Featherbed Lane, one of the neighborhood’s few commercial strips.

“It’s making a lot of residents happy,” said Speller, a BronxWorks employee and Community Board 5 board member. “To me, it’s a symbol that the community is being revitalized… that it’s on the upswing.”

On Dec. 20, a few dozen community residents and leaders – Speller included – gathered in the bitter cold at the intersection of Featherbed Lane and Macombs Road to light the Christmas tree, another first for the street. It’s a real tree, planted about five years ago, that’s never before been decorated.

Because of the last minute planning, the city’s Department of Transportation was unwilling to hook up the tree’s lights to the main line. To get around this, organizers borrowed a generator so they could keep it lit during the ceremony. The problem this time: the generator failed.

The event went ahead anyway. James A. McGraw, pastor at the First Bible Church of the Lord’s Mission in Mount Hope, said a prayer, and children from a nearby shelter for homeless families sang carols.

Organizers included Community Board 5 and Davidson Community Center, which is leading an effort to create a business improvement district (BID) on Burnside Avenue. The streetlights, which extend to parts of Macombs Road and University Avenue, cost between $7,000 and $10,000 to rent. Affinity Health Plan, a non-profit health care provider, came up with the money.

Featherbed Lane is home to about 40 businesses. George Soydan Akkum, owner of My Pizza on University Avenue, said the neighborhood suddenly felt “more upscale.” He said he was “proud” to be a merchant in the area.

Other business owners said they hoped the lights would encourage area residents to shop local.

Year in Review 2010

January 7, 2011

On May 1, a local man saw something and said something. Lance Orton, an Undercliff Avenue resident was selling T-shirts in Times Square when he saw smoke coming from a parked SUV. By alerting a nearby police officer, he helped raise the alarm about an attempted terrorist attack.

For his vigilance, Orton received a call from President Obama, was quoted in newspapers all over the world, and all in all probably received more attention than he wanted. He says the fame has hurt his business; instead of buying T-shirts, people gawk or want his photo.

2010 was also a memorable year for students, parents, and teachers at PS 204, an elementary school which moved into the brand new Morris Heights Educational Complex on University Avenue. Previously the school was housed in a rundown building on West 174th Street.

University Heights Secondary School was also relocated – but this time against the wishes of students and teachers, who held several protests, all to no avail. The school occupied a building on Bronx Community College’s leafy campus, but BCC needed extra classroom space, and the school was moved to the South Bronx.

Another local school won some much deserved praise in 2010. When the city’s Department of Education released its annual progress reports in the fall, TAPCo (Theatre Arts Production Company School) on Webster Avenue, came out on top. Not bad considering there are more than 400 public schools in the city. The results don’t mean that TAPCo is suddenly the best of the best (progress reports are based primarily on progress, not achievement), but it’s certainly up there.

Back in August, Vanessa Santiago, a resident of 2229 Creston Ave., fought back tears as she spoke to reporters and local politicians about the litany of problems inside her basement apartment: the mice, the cockroaches, the dampness, the broken toilet. Rundown apartment buildings and lazy landlords are not a new phenomenon, but the Creston Avenue building was in especially bad shape.

The landlord – Treetop Management – has been named and presumably shamed, but repairs have been slow to come. In an e-mail sent to the Monitor last month, a tenant said the building “now has sporadic to no heat during the morning hours, no heat at night at all and water ranging from hot to freezing cold every other day. Oh yeah…and still no gas!!!”

In 2010, recorded crime fell in the 46th Precinct, whose boundaries are contiguous with the Mount Hope Monitor’s coverage area. As of Dec. 26, murders, rapes, and burglaries were all down slightly from 2009 statistics, although robberies were up 12 percent.

Violence crime remains pervasive in the community. May was an especially bloody month, with four teens murdered in the local area, including Quanisha Wright, 16, and Marvin Wiggins, 15, who were shot dead outside a birthday party on Weeks Avenue.

Also in May, police and DEA agents raided several apartments inside 1571 Undercliff Ave., following an investigation into drug sales in the building. More than $100,000 in cash was seized, along with 14 pounds of cocaine and heroin, a money-counter, and two guns. Fifteen people were arrested and charged with various offenses.

The 46th Precinct has a new commanding officer. Inspector Timothy Bugge took over from Inspector Kevin Harrington in the spring.

It’s often said that the central west Bronx offers little in the way of recreational activities for youth. It was unfortunate, then, that Roberto Clemente State Park’s hugely popular swimming pool was closed for the second straight summer.

In better news, two brand new community centers dedicated to serving local children opened last year. The Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club’s clubhouse on University Avenue and Mount Hope Housing Company’s facility on 175th Street are fantastic additions to the neighborhood.

Fires damaged two local churches in 2010: St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church on University Avenue and Love Gospel Assembly on the Grand Concourse. The Tolentine fire, in March, remains still under investigation. At the time, investigators suspected it was started deliberately. The Love Gospel blaze, the more serious of the two, gutted much of the building. Services are being held on East 169th Street until repairs can be made. Looking at the positive, Bishop Ronald Bailey said the fire had a galvanizing effect on the congregation, bringing everyone closer together.

In politics, Assemblyman Nelson Castro managed to hold on to his seat in the 86th Assembly District; this despite a concerted effort by primary challenger Hector Ramirez, a district leader and local businessman who was widely expected to win.

It was another local politician, though, who grabbed all the headlines: Bronx State Senator Pedro Espada, Jr. In April, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed a civil suit, charging that Espada had used Soundview HealthCare Network, the nonprofit he founded and runs, as a “personal piggy bank.” Among his alleged purchases: $20,000 in takeout sushi. Then, in December, federal prosecutors charged Espada and his son with embezzlement and conspiracy, accusing them of looting more than $500,000 from Soundview. More indictments are expected.

Espada also lost his seat, having been defeated in September’s Democratic primary by Gustavo Rivera, a little know part-time college professor and political operative. Throughout the campaign, Rivera slammed his opponent saying he has “forgotten who he works for.”

Finally, the Bronx — and much of the country — was left reeling in October, when news broke of a horrific attack on several men and teens in Morris Heights. Police say the perpetrators, members of a gang called the “Latin King Goonies,” chose their victims because they were gay or perceived to be gay.

In the wake of the attacks, gay rights advocates – including staff at the Bronx Community Pride Center – begun organizing marches and town hall meetings. Their mission is a worthy one: to promote tolerance, combat hate, and prevent future “hate” crimes from occurring.