Tag Archives: special permit

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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Board permits Willets Point mall in key vote


| mchan@queenscourier.com

willets4

Plans for a behemoth mall at Willets Point received a key nod from Community Board (CB) 7 after the city and the facility’s developer laid out a list of new commitments.

CB 7 granted a special permit to Sterling Equities and Related with a 22-18 advisory vote. The joint venture wants to move Citi Field parking to Willets Point in order to construct a 1.4 million-square-foot shopping center at Willets West.

The board’s land use committee, including CB 7 Chair Gene Kelty, voted down the permit in a meeting last week.

But a pair of letters detailing a list of new promises by the developer and city swayed them at the last minute.

“I changed my vote tonight because I had papers in front of me that I felt comfortable with,” Kelty said.

“The other time, there was nothing. I was looking at a blank slate in front of me.”

In April, the committee told developers they needed more information about parking, traffic flow and transplanting the plethora of small business owners within the Iron Triangle.

The Queens Development Group and Deputy Mayor Robert Steel returned with pages of new promises, including a pledge to provide ongoing environmental remediation of all 23 acres of Willets Point land the city is acquiring from the current occupants.

The pair of letters also detailed commitments to conduct and fund traffic mitigation measures, build a 1,000-seat K-8 public school and give $1.87 million to the Willets Point Infrastructure and Traffic Mitigation Fund.

Developers also agreed to put $100,000 into the fund for every quarterly meeting with CB 7 that they miss.

“There was just a lot more that was brought into language in both these letters,” said Chuck Apelian, CB 7’s first vice chair and head of the land use committee. “That’s why I’m supporting this, and I think we’ve come a long way.”

The recommendation now goes to Borough President Helen Marshall, the Department of City Planning and then the City Council.

Ethan Goodman, a lawyer representing the developer, said there would not be another chance to clean up the long-neglected property.

“A vote against this plan is a vote against cleaning Willets Point,” he said. “We’re talking about 100 years of contamination. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The Queens Development Group said in a statement the approval brings them “one step closer” to transforming the area into “a vibrant new neighborhood.”

However, dozens of local residents, including current Willets Point landowners, pleaded with the board to vote against the permit.

“We have jobs over there,” said Marco Neira, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee. “I don’t know why you’d want to approve the project and kill all those businesses. We are workers over there.”

Joseph Ardizzone, the only person who lives in Willets Point, said democracy died with the board’s green light.

“Anyone that votes yes to taking my property denies me the right to be an American citizen,” Ardizzone said. “God bless America? I don’t think so anymore.”

Residents protested the delay of affordable housing during Community Board 7’s vote on Monday. (THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan)

 

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