Tag Archives: Board of Standards and Appeals

Board votes against Kew Gardens Hills synagogue expansion


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre


A Kew Gardens Hills temple with numerous building violations that wants to expand may need to turn to a higher power after Community Board 8 voted unanimously to deny its variance application, following strong opposition from neighbors.

The Sephardic Congregation, which operates in 141-41 72nd Ave., is seeking a variance from the Boards of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to build a third floor on its temple in a residentially-zoned area to ease the growth of its popular shul.

But because of 15 open Department of Buildings violations, including not having a Certificate of Occupancy, no fire alarms and a broken elevator, community board members blasted the congregation’s leadership in a meeting on Thursday and voted not to support the BSA variance application.

The ruling was cheered on by residents, who opposed to expansion because it could possibly reduce parking spots and property value while increasing garbage and noise.

“I am satisfied with [the board’s] decision,” said Denise Shore, a resident who lives next to the temple. “The system worked. It restored my faith.”

The congregation was established more than two decades ago after converting a residential house. A school, Yeshiva Ohel Simcha, was added soon after and currently enrolls 70 students of elementary school age every weekday. Currently, there are two floors and a cellar in the building. The third floor was necessary to accommodate new students, which they have had to turn away due to classroom-size limitations, congregation leaders said.

They hoped to add six additional classrooms, so they can house 185 students, doubling student enrollment and adding new teachers.

The congregation’s variance application for the third floor included asking for a pass to work in the building despite lacking the required Certificate of Occupancy and other violations. This was necessary, according to congregation lawyer Jay Goldstein, because without it they can’t legally work on the building, since it currently doesn’t meet requirements. They pledged to amend the violations if approved for the application.

However, frustrated board members split the application into two parts and denied both, the first being a variance to work in the building despite violations and the second was the variance for the third floor.

The BSA will have the final say on the application for a third floor and before that it’s expected to hit a borough president meeting. But losing the recommendation of the community board was a serious blow.

Representatives of the synagogue were visually displeased following the decision.

“I have no comment, the board did their duties as a civic association,” Goldstein said.

 

 

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Kew Gardens Hills residents fight against synagogue expansion


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre


A fight between residents and a local synagogue may need a lot of prayer and reflection before it is resolved.

Kew Gardens Hills neighbors are hoping to stop the proposed expansion of the temple’s school, which they say will further diminish their quality of life by increasing noise and garbage, while decreasing available parking spots and their property values.

The synagogue, the Sephardic Congregation located on 72nd Avenue between Main and 141st streets, plans to add another floor, which leaders say is necessary to cope with the school’s population increase.

Currently, the building has two floors and a basement level and towers over the houses on the block. Since the community is zoned for family homes, the temple requires Community Board 8’s approval for a variance to the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA).

“I’m worrying about one thing. I worry about the kids in the community,” said Rabbi Asaf Haimoff, who is also the principal of the school. “As an educator, I am responsible to make sure my kids get what they need. Neighbors have a different agenda … but the school is not closing down. It’s growing. It’s been growing and growing.”

The religious organization moved into the neighborhood about 20 years ago after converting a residential home, and soon after added a school, Yeshiva Ohel Simcha. The synagogue added the second floor in the late 1990s, Department of Buildings records show.

The school now enrolls about 70 preschool and elementary-aged students. But synagogue leaders say since the temple started in the neighborhood two decades ago, the congregation has expanded to about 200 people and they have had to halt school enrollment and turn prospective students away due to classroom size limitations.

Temple officials said they plan to add six classrooms on the new floor, so the building can accommodate up to 185 persons, including additional teachers.

But more than 50 residents within a two-block radius of temple have already signed a petition to deny the variance, which they plan to deliver to Councilman Rory Lancman’s office. Longtime residents say the community has been traumatized by noise from the synagogue during school hours for years.

“It’s been 20 years so we learned to adapt,” said Trinidad Lum, who has lived across the street for 51 years. “But before this building was put there this was a very quiet street.”

During school weekday drop-off and pick-up hours (8 a.m. and 5 p.m.) residents say parents block driveways and parking spots and they expect the problem to expand with more students.

“It’s going to be unbelievable traffic here,” said Dennis Shore, who lives next to the temple. “I already can’t park in front of my house when we go shopping. Where are these teachers going to park?”

Residents said they are also worried about the safety of the children. Since the school doesn’t have a playground, residents are afraid they will run into streets or the driveway behind the building in path of cars when they go out to play. But leaders say they plan to build a playground on the roof of the building.

The organization already has approval from the Community Board 8 Zoning Committee. They are seeking approval from the full board in a vote on Wednesday night.

 

 

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Board approves variances for 12-story hotel, 14-story office building in Flushing


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo rendering courtesy of Richard Lobel

A luxury hotel, under parent company InterContinental Hotels Group, may be coming to downtown Flushing.

Community Board 7 gave developer CA Plaza its advisory approval Monday to build a 12-story Hotel Indigo on Prince Street and a 14-story general office building on Main Street.

The board granted two variances to change the use of the office space from medical to general and to reduce the number of required parking spaces from 377 spots to 305.

Developers bought the 36-18 Main St. site in 2006, according to attorney Richard Lobel. They already had two special permits, approved by the board last November, to include a spa in the hotel and to build the office to 189 feet and the hotel to 154 feet.

The project now goes to the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) for the final green light, though the hearing has not yet been calendared.

Community board officials said the project is heavily dependent on whether the city decides to install a traffic light on 36th Avenue and Prince Street to ease traffic the development is expected to bring.

Construction is slated for 2015.

 

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Scobee Diner site plans move forward


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

The city’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) has approved a variance that would pave the way for a new building at the former Scobee Diner site in Little Neck. 

The variance gives new owner Lion Bee Equities permission to move the vacant restaurant’s parking lot to the back of the property, converting some spaces in a residential zone to commercial spots.

Lion Bee Equities officials say the move, adopted Dec. 10 by the BSA , will improve safety and decrease traffic near the 252-29 Northern Blvd. site. It was given the green light last summer by Community Board 11 and then-Queens Borough President Helen Marshall.

Larger plans for the Great Neck-based company include demolishing the diner and transforming the site into a two-story mixed commercial and community facility with a CitiBank on the first floor and a dentist’s office on the second.

The CitiBank would include a drive-thru ATM with a Little Neck Parkway entrance. There will be 17 parking spaces in the new lot, including one handicapped space.

Scobee closed in 2010, when restaurant owners failed to reach agreement on purchasing the property from the landowners.

The plans will now go to the city’s Department of Buildings for review.

The department recently approved permits for E. Gluck Corp., a Long Island City-based watch manufacturer, to move into the long vacant site of the former Leviton building along Little Neck Parkway, according to Community Board 11.

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Medical center developers plan to take Astoria homeowners to court


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Developers of a nearly complete medical center in Astoria plan to take adjacent homeowners to court to gain key access to their backyards, residents said.

Pali Realty needs permission to enter the backyards of about five adjacent homes in order to wrap up an eight-story ambulatory care center project at 23-25 31st Street.

But dozens of residents, who say they have suffered foundation cracks and water damage since the project broke ground in late 2009, plan to adamantly deny them entrance.

“We don’t want them in our yards,” said homeowner Robert Draghi. “They have done severe damage to numerous houses and they refuse to even discuss settling damages. They never made a single offer to any of the homeowners.”

The company is prepared to gain access through a court order, according to a letter it sent the homeowners early last month.

Pali Realty wants no more than 60 days to waterproof and apply a cement stucco finish to the back wall of the medical center, the letter says.

The developer would need access to a four to six foot wide strip of land behind the building to erect scaffolding and remove piles of shoring steel.

It said it would obtain “additional insurance” to cover any potential damage to properties.
But Draghi, who has lived in his home for 13 years, said that promise has been made before.

“We have a letter from two years ago saying if any damages happen during construction, they would fix them,” he said. “They didn’t do that.”

Draghi said the homeowners would only grant Pali Realty access if developers formally agree to repair damages made since construction began.

The conflict between the two parties was exacerbated in late 2012 when developers said they accidentally extended a portion of the property an extra 10 feet without permits due to a “design error by the project architect.”

According to a Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) application, about 80 percent of the building was already completed when developers discovered the gaffe.

Pali Realty ultimately received a special permit in May from Community Board 1 and the BSA to lift a partial stop work order and continue construction.

An attorney representing Pali Realty declined to comment.

 

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Astoria residents say developer damaged their homes


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A towering medical center being built in Astoria has received a key permit from the city — despite complaints by neighbors who say the construction has caused their homes’ foundations to crumble.

“There are cracks everywhere, in every room, from the ceilings to walls,” said Robert Draghi, who lives behind the site of a future ambulatory care center on 31st Street. “The bricks are just breaking open.”

Developer Pali Realty received a special permit from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) last week to continue building an eight-story medical facility at 23-25 31st Street.

The project was stalled in late 2012, when developers say they accidentally extended the property an extra 10 feet without permits due to a “design error by the project architect.” According to a BSA application, about 80 percent of the building had been completed when developers discovered the mistake.

After that, Pali Realty had to get consent from Community Board 1 and the BSA to lift a partial stop work order issued by the Department of Buildings. It received approval from both bodies by May 21.

Dozens of residents who live in five homes behind the colossal building said they have been dealing with foundation cracks and water damage since the project broke ground in late 2009. They have received little to no help from the developer, the residents added.

“The laws don’t really stand up for homeowners like us,” said Draghi, 47. “All the laws in the books support corporations.”

Resident John Sesumi said his homeowner’s insurance will not pay for damages. He added that his family has been trying to reach a settlement with the developer for years.

“We’re all for helping the community,” said Sesumi, 30. “We understand the need for a medical building. We just want our property to be back the way it was.”

According to Draghi, who has lived in his home for 13 years, Pali Realty and the construction company have been dodging liabilities, with both declining to make a settlement offer.

“This was our ‘grow old’ house. We never wanted to leave,” he said. “They ruined it.”

Under advisory stipulations by the community board, the developer is required to fix damages to the adjacent lands and agree to pay for any repairs.

An attorney representing Pali Realty did not return calls for comment as of press time.

“We just want them to take responsibility, expedite the claim with their insurance and start working this problem out,” said Lisa Draghi, Robert Draghi’s wife.

State Senator Tony Avella lambasted the city agencies during a press conference he set up with the homeowners in Astoria.

“The fact that this developer is being allowed to egregiously encroach onto and damage neighboring properties is a disgrace,” he said.

The senator was criticized in turn for stepping outside of his northeast district and into the territory of his borough president rival, Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr.

“It’s no surprise that while Councilmember Vallone was at City Hall representing his district, Senator Avella and his Senate staff were continuing his never-ending campaign for higher office,” said Andrew Moesel, a spokesperson for the Vallone campaign.

“Councilmember Vallone has attempted to help resolve the situation without holding needless press conferences only meant to draw more attention to a political candidacy,” Moesel said.

 

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Flushing fighting colossal church


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Dozens of local leaders and incensed neighbors are striking down one Flushing church’s plan of building up to the heavens.

Senator Tony Avella led a protest on March 8, rallying against the building of a proposed “enormous and out-of-scale” religious facility at 145-15 33rd Avenue.

“You’d have a giant in the land of ordinary people,” said Tyler Cassell, president of the North Flushing Civic Association and member of Community Board 7.

Officials said there is currently an application before the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) that could potentially allow developer — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — to combine three vacant lots, building a site twice as large as is allowed by law. The proposed facility would be 23,097 square feet when only about 12,200 is allowed, officials said.

“This application is absurd and should not even be considered by the BSA,” Avella said.

The proposal was overwhelmingly opposed by Community Board 7, as well as Borough President Helen Marshall.

Still, if the application variance is granted by the BSA, a 50-foot tall chapel with a 94-foot steeple would be built in the low-density neighborhood predominantly comprised of single-family homes. Officials said the church would be 15 times the size of a single house on the street.

“The church is trying to build a monstrous facility in an area where it will be completely out of context with the rest of the neighborhood,” said Avella, adding that the church could appropriately build a facility of the proposed magnitude in Downtown Flushing — where zoning laws would not restrict it — or expand at its current location on Sanford Avenue.

“For a church to be this inconsiderate is beyond me. They’re not being a good neighbor by building here,” said Avella, who was chair of the zoning subcommittee when he said he fought to rezone the area to eliminate over-building.

The BSA has not yet scheduled a public hearing on the issue, although the proposal is slated to go before the board in April.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not return calls for comment.

“If this building receives its variances and is allowed to proceed, it will make a mockery of the community facility reforms that took place city wide in 2004 and will set a terrible precedent,” said lifelong area resident Paul Graziano, who also co-designed the North Flushing Rezoning. “Should this be passed by the BSA, suburban-like neighborhoods can expect outrageously large and out-of-context religious community facilities in the near future.”

Spa architect carries on, despite BP’s rejection


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Some College Point locals are closer to relaxing, as plans for a spa in their neighborhood have been rejected by the borough president.

After weeks of contemplation, BP Helen Marshall threw out the proposal to construct a luxury spa at the corner of 31st Avenue and the Whitestone Expressway.

According to Marshall’s office, the Beep opposed the idea because of a probable increase in “vehicular trips” to and from the site. Parking is also an issue – street parking is prohibited in the building’s vicinity, and the potential lot is not large enough to hold the expected number of automobiles. Officials also allege that the current parking lot blueprints could create situations where vehicles must wait to enter and exit the premises.

Architect and engineer H. Irving Sigman, who submitted the request for the spa’s building permit, is hopeful that the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) will rule in favor of the spa. Since the borough president announced her decision, Sigman hired a parking consultant to amend and restructure the lot’s layout.

Anticipated to create two-and-a-half times more tax revenue than currently generated in College Point, the spa was to be installed in a previously-existing structure. It would potentially have various amenities, including a rooftop pool, a yoga studio, a beauty salon and food store.

In October, Community Board 7 voted overwhelmingly against the project, with 25 members against and only five in favor, leaving Marshall to review the situation. The Board cited several reasons for disapproval, including construction of the rooftop pool, the structure’s need for an enhanced foundation and the builder’s lack of experience.

Regardless of Marshall’s ruling, the BSA is responsible for making the final decision.

Bayside Hills home granted variance, community outaged


| bdoda@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of The Queens Courier

Despite months of rallying by local residents, politicians and Community Board 11 against a land variance request in Bayside Hills, the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) unanimously voted recently in favor of what many believe to be a precedent setting matter.

Michael Feiner, Bayside Hills Civic Association president, has been uniting the opposition against land owner Rockchapel Realty, LLC who has planned on developing the lot next to 50-20 216th Street into a two-bedroom rental home since January. According to the BSA decision, disapproval was recommended by Community Board 11, Borough President Helen Marshall, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilmember Dan Halloran, State Senator Tony Avella and Assemblymember David Weprin.

“In my 25 years of being involved with our Civic Association, no issue has ever come my way that looked this cut and dry; a house just doesn’t belong at that location for zillions of reasons,” said Feiner.

Those cited reasons for opposition included the site being too small to accommodate a second home and being out of context with the surrounding neighborhood. The original lot –which already has a two-story home – was divided into two lots with a vacant triangular corner to be used for the new project. A variance had to be filed since the existing R2A zoning in the area prohibits the construction of a second house due to the small size of the plot on which the house is to be built. Currently, the plot is a garden.

According to Susan Seinfeld, district manager of Community Board 11, Rockchapel Realty took advantage of a technical zoning resolution, which “probably should be changed.”

“In certain residential communities, properties should not be allowed to be divided into tax lots which are smaller,” said Seinfeld.

With the BSA decision resulting in a 5-0 vote, there are limited options for the mass opposition.

“As for an appeal, it would be very difficult but I plan to find out how it could be done,” said Feiner. “I understand in rare cases there were successful appeals, but the cards are really stacked against us in this instance.”

Neighbors on the block had different views on the proposed development, which does not yet have a start date.

“My opinion will depend on what the house will look like once it’s built,” said Wyakeena Tse.

Raymond Porfilio had a different take:

“It’s a disgrace. The BSA basically disregarded the community’s desires and the zoning laws. This is an area where the zoning laws prohibit that kind of structure. BSA granted a waiver to a developer who has no interest in the community and doesn’t have a large enough property to put a house in there. We’re not going to give up fighting.”

Attempts to reach Rockchapel Realty, LLC or the developer’s architect Paul Bonfilio were unsuccessful.