Thursday, April 2, 2009

Residents Upset Over Maspeth Building Rental

Variance was Based on Company's Need for Space

By Conor Greene

Some local civic and community board members are unhappy that a local business is advertising office space for rent, after gaining a variance on the basis the additional room was needed to accommodate its growing business.

In 2004, Aldona Fire Protection was granted a variance by the city Board of Standards and Appeals to build an additional three floors on top of what was a two-story building at 74th Street in Maspeth. Despite the objections of Community Board 5, which voted against the variance, permission for the expansion was granted after Aldona argued it needed the space to consolidate its operations under one roof.

Because of the impact the expansion had on the neighborhood, including the parking situation, Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden was not happy to see that Aldona had hung a large For Rent sign across the building. At a press conference last Friday in front of the building, Holden and Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said the problem starts with the BSA.

“Towering over neighboring structures, this building is clearly out of context with the character of the neighborhood,” said Avella, who has long called for either reform or outright abolishment of the BSA. “It is blatantly obvious that BSA incorrectly granted a hardship variance to the owner of this property because they claimed they wanted to expand their fire protection business, yet now they are renting out office space. While shocking, this unfortunately occurs far too frequently throughout the city because BSA fails to take the concerns of the community into account.”

Holden noted that the building is now three stories taller than what is generally allowed under the property’s zoning. He pointed out that the company testified to CB 5, the borough president and the BSA that the space was needed for the business expansion. “Instead, we see that they are renting the building out as office space. What’s wrong with this picture?” said Holden, who is also a CB 5 member.

According to the resolution approving the variance, Aldona is required to gain BSA approval for “any change to the approved plans.” In addition, the company is required to provide for additional off-street parking if the parking conditions in the area worsen as a result of changes in the immediate area. The property, at 54-14 74th Street, is down the block from the former Restaurant Depot site, where the city wants to build a 1,100-seat high school.

“The problem is that developers claim hardships at the BSA in order to build what they want,” said Manny Caruana, a member of CB 5 and the JPCA executive committee. “Afterward, when it becomes obvious that the hardship never existed, the community is left to suffer and the BSA doesn’t do anything because they don’t care.”

A message left with Aldona was not returned by press time. However, the owner was quoted in a published report as saying that the company is considering renting out part of the building because it hasn’t yet been paid for several large contracts. The original plan had called for filing the building with the company’s 20 employees, but the third floor is now being offered for rent to account for the shortfall due to the unpaid contracts.

Avella, who is running for mayor, has been a constant critic of the BSA since taking office in 2002. Since one of the board’s five variance criteria involves the review of alleged financial hardship, Avella introduced a bill last year that would have required one of the BSA members to be a financial analyst with professional qualifications. “It only makes sense to have a member of the board who has the financial background to determine the legitimacy of any such claim by a developer,” said Avella. “Unfortunately, the bill has languished in the City Council.”

JPCA members Robert Holden, Anthony Nunziato and Manny Caruana join Councilman Tony Avella at a press conference in Maspeth last week. The Forum Newsgroup/photo courtesy of CHRISTINA WILKINSON

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