By Rebecca Henely
The Dutch Kills Civic Association, a decades-old citizen’s group dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Astoria/Long Island City community, will be losing its two main leaders at the end of the year.
Jerry Walsh, president of the association, said he is giving up his post and in his place Dominic Steller has been elected. Since the president of the association appoints the executive director, George Stamatiades will no longer hold that position, although he plans to stay with the organization.
“I’ve stepped down,” Walsh said. “Actually, I’ve been there 10 years and I was there 10 years before as vice president.”
Stamatiades said he is eager to help the new leadership with whatever it needs.
“Obviously the neighborhood and the community is very important to me,” he said.
The Dutch Kills Civic Association seeks to improve the neighborhood, whose borders include Queens Plaza North, 21st Street, Northern Boulevard and around 34th or 35th avenue.
Stamatiades has been one of the principal association members since its beginning. Vincent Nenna founded the organization in 1979, but died a few months after creating it. Stamatiades and others revitalized the organization in the next year.
“The spirit of the thing was to try to make our neighborhood better and not try to look for something better and we believe we’ve done that,” he said.
The association’s first mission was ridding Queens Plaza of prostitution, but it has taken on other causes since then, such as anti-graffiti programs, establishing The Queens Gazette newspaper and rezoning the community from industrial to mixed-use.
The rezoning brought some disappointment to the neighborhood, as many multi-story hotels were grandfathered in under the old zoning and were built next to residential properties, but Stamatiades said that could not have been avoided and their presence has been mostly positive.
Both Walsh and Stamatiades cited the loss of Engine Co. 261, at 37-20 29th St., in 2003 due to city budget cuts as their biggest regret.
“I’m sad that we lost our firehouse, but that happens,” Walsh said. “What are you going do?”
Stamatiades said he expected the association would continue to serve the neighborhood in perpetuity.
“We wish the new president, Dominic Steller, continued success in protecting the community,” he said.
Walsh said he does not plan on running for office and for now is happy to enjoy the neighborhood as it grows.
“I guess everything’s got to end sooner or later, right?” he said. “And I’m going out on good terms. That’s the most important thing.”
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.