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Monday, December 26, 2011

Whitestone eatery plan breaks Franco’s pledge

After part of a block was rezoned over the summer to accommodate the expansion of the White House restaurant in Whitestone, plans submitted to the city for the new eatery showed the maximum occupancy would be twice as large as the developer had told the community.

Despite receiving new zoning for the restaurant at the local and City Council level, the design plans were rejected by the city Buildings Department and the ambitious undertaking by restaurateur Joe Franco, former proprietor of Caffe on the Green in Bay Terrace, remains in limbo.

After the contentious rezoning was passed in June, which gave Franco the legal right to expand, architect Christopher Papa filed plans for the improved restaurant and catering hall with the city Department of Buildings. The plans were ultimately rejected, but the information supplied by the architect contradicted what Franco’s team said in public hearings.

One of those documents showed the maximum capacity would increase from 562 to 705.

But during a hearing by the Council Committee on Zoning and Franchises, Jessica Loeser, a lawyer representing Franco, said the new certificate of occupancy would not “come anywhere close” to exceeding the 562 in the previous certificate, according to transcripts from the hearing.

In addition, a lawyer for Franco had said the occupancy of the new restaurant would be around 300 people when he presented the plans to Community Board 7, according to minutes from the meeting. Franco’s representatives told the City Planning Department the capacity would remain unchanged at about 300 people, according to a report.

Franco and a lawyer who represented him, Steve Sinacori, both declined to be interviewed. Papa, the architect, did not return repeated requests for comment.

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) said the plan is not a perfect one, but it could help the blighted block. The maximum occupancy in the plans does not necessarily mean that Franco would want to cram 700 people into the restaurant, he said.

According to state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) , who opposed the plan, Franco may or may not use the whole capacity. But nothing would be legally stopping him or anyone else who bought the property from doing so if the plans had been approved, he said.

Other people familiar with the development doubted the structure could physically hold that many people.

The inconsistencies do not represent any illegality, Nevertheless, Brian Garry, who lives next door, said it shows how Franco pulled a fast one on the neighborhood.

In another inconsistency, Garry did not want his home and property to be commercially zoned along with the restaurant.

But in-between the final public hearing and the final vote, the commercial overlay was extended to include a 5-foot strip of Garry’s property along the border of the White House without an explanation.

Garry said it was zoned that way to circumvent a requirement of an 8-foot buffer between a residential property and a commercial property. This was confirmed by a spokesman for Halloran.

Buildings ultimately rejected Franco’s plans in August because they were missing a substantial amount of information.Franco did not show how he would provide adequate parking for the restaurant, according to Buildings.

In the presentations made by Franco and his team, he had said he would create 110 parking spaces using an underground garage in another lot he owned behind the restaurant.

No plans were submitted to Buildings for that parking garage, the department said.

Franco also had said he would give up a cabaret license for the establishment. The city Department of Consumer Affairs could not locate a license for the White House at all. The last cabaret license at that address was for Moana Kai, which predated the White House, and expired in 1990.

Franco now plans to scale back the renovation and not add the expansive second floor that caused the uproar in the first place, according to Halloran.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group

Saturday, December 24, 2011



Thursday, December 15, 2011

Whitestone property brings overdevelopment fears
From Whitestone Times;

Whitestone residents are wary after a prime piece of real estate hit the market last week that offers developers a crack at the largest residentially zoned vacant property in Queens, but a lawmaker set up legal barricades to guard against overdevelopment years ago.

The 15-acre property, at 151-45 6th Road, is approved for 52 single-family homes, according to Stephen Preuss, of Massey Knakal Realty Services.

Pruess’ company is currently accepting offers on the site and has received dozens of bites from both local and national developers, he said, although he would not divulge how much the original mortgage was worth.

The area was formerly a trucking depot that was also used to store industrial materials, according to Preuss, and somewhere along the line the soil was contaminated and the area was declared a brownfield site.

Bayrock Group, a Manhattan-based developer, was the last owner of the site and performed remediation on the toxic soil.

Bayrock still has a rendering on its website from 2005 showing the 52 homes and public park it planned to build before a bank began foreclosure proceedings on the property several years ago, Preuss said.

Bayrock Group’s development plan for the property, which it estimated carried a pricetag of between $100 million to $200 million back in 2008, was approved by Community Board 7, Borough President Helen Marshall and ultimately the City Council Land Use Committee.

But Alfredo Centola, president of the Malba Gardens Civic Association, said now that the property was on the market, he was concerned about increased traffic in the neighborhood and the impact on local schools, which he said are overcrowded as it is.

“As we speak, there is a need for another school or an expansion,” he said. “What’s going to happen with all these new developments going on?”

Centola hopes that any developer that moves in builds responsibly.

Luckily for him, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) also had concerns about the impact of development on the community when plans were first proposed to build on the property several years ago.

Avella was a councilman in 2008 and sat on the Land Use Committee, where he oversaw the successful rezoning of the area for 52 homes when developers wanted to build more.

One plan pitched to him called for 400 units in multi-family dwellings.

Avella called the decision to go with single-family homes, which would complement the neighborhood’s existing character, a move that would set the precedent for the other projects down the line.

“We felt the end result was a landmark decision that would influence future developments,” he said.

Because of what Avella called a hard-fought battle to keep the housing stock less dense, he said any developer that purchases the property with ulterior plans should take heed.

“If they want to change that plan, they will get a huge fight from the community and from the [Department of City Planning],” he said

By: Joe Anuta

Now more than ever,with the probability of 52 new homes in our community.  We need to re acquire the remaining CYO property and build the fields so despeately needed.  For the current children of the community as well as those that will come with the ne homes.  The community needs to be involved and all impact studies must be made accessible to the public.  How are the traffic issues going to be remediated? Stay involved, this is our community.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Burglaries on the rise in Whitestone.

Dear Community Members,

The 109th Precinct has experienced an increase in burglaries. We urge you to read and share the information below with your civic members, community groups, neighbors family and friends.

1)Residential Burglaries

Whitestone and North Flushing Area

These burglaries are occurring during the day time between 11am and 3 pm by forced entry into rear windows and doors. Perpetrator is a male Hispanic, approximately 30 years old, medium build, 6 ft tall and possibly wearing gloves.

Recent Incidents

27Avenue/165 street
154 Street/ 25 Avenue
29 Avenue/ 168 Street
150 street/ Bayside Avenue

2)Commercial Burglaries

Offices/business - Flushing Area
Burglaries are occurring after close of business and over night.
Unknown Perpetrator
Method of Entry- Force/ entry door

Recent Incidents

33 Avenue/ 146 street
147 Street/ Sanford Avenue

3) Contruction sites/Factory/Warehouse Burglaries

Flushing/College Point Area

These burglaries are occurring in the evening and overnight.

Perpetrators- 3 male blacks/ 30-35 years old/ driving a black van in search of copper and metals.

Recent Incidents

120 street/ 31 avenue
28 avenue/ 120 street

How you can help and what you can do to protect your home and property

1) Call 911 for suspicious persons
2) Construction sites must secure their materials and tools in an enclosed area
3) If possible, a security guard should be used for large construction sites
4) Alarms and security cameras should be utilized for all residential homes and commercial places of business
5) Use extra locks and interlocking latch guards on all entry doors to prevent the door from being pried open.
6) Commercial properties should have plenty of lighting around the property.