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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Franco shrinks White House

The architect who plans to renovate Joe Franco’s White House restaurant in Whitestone released a statement last week describing scaled-down plans to reinvent the ageing eatery.

Earlier this year Franco, who previously ran Caffe on the Green, received a zoning change to renovate the restaurant, at 10-24 154th St., after his team described the plans for the restaurant before various community bodies and eventually the City Council and Department of City Planning.

After he received the zoning, he was free to build anything allowed by the commercial overlay yet had already painted a picture of the new White House to the community.

The statement released last week was in response to a TimesLedger Newspapers article which pointed out discrepancies between what Franco described to the Council and plans for the restaurant filed with the city Department of Buildings.

Those plans were ultimately rejected by Buildings, which the architect, Christopher Papa, said was what he had intended in the first place.

“The plans that were filed were filed only as an upgrade of the existing conditions and solely to gain an analysis of egress requirements and to serve as a preliminary basis to obtain contractor bids for the construction,” Papa said in a statement. “These plans were never intended to be approved nor to reflect the final product.”

Egress requirements stipulate that people inside the building have to be able to get out with a certain degree of ease.

A spokeswoman for the DOB said that egress requirements are available in the city’s building code, a set of laws that govern the construction of new buildings.

Papa paid a fee to have his plans electronically entered into the Buildings database and reviewed by the department, a process that the department’s website depicts as usually resulting in the eventual construction of what was submitted. The plans were rejected due to incomplete information.

But Papa said he and Franco are still hashing out a vision more modest than Franco’s original, which had involved renovating the second floor of the building and turning it into a catering hall.

“Currently, Mr. Franco and I are working together to design a more conservative, cost-economical structure that is more fitting with the current economy,” Papa said.

The plan is now to scrap any renovations of the second floor. Instead, the cellar banquet room will be renovated and its occupancy will drop from 238 to approximately 100, according to Papa.

The first floor will function for catering and restaurant uses. Its occupancy, too, will fall from 324 to 200, according to Papa.

That would bring the occupancy for those two floors to 300 people, the number repeatedly described by Franco’s team as the occupancy for the renovated eatery, although the rejected plans submitted to Buildings pegged it at 705.

The second floor will only be used for storage and office uses, according to Papa.

Papa and Franco had originally described providing 110 parking spaces for the proposed catering hall, but in the scaled-down version they will provide 75 instead.

Franco also dropped plans to expand the footprint of the first floor, which Papa said will ensure the driveway will remain in the same place and not encroach upon a neighboring property.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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