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Family sues city over Stevens school site

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The owners of a Queens Boulevard property slated for a new information technology high school filed suit last week to force the city Board of Education and School Construction Authority to give up their claim to the land.

Sipos Realty, a family-run business which owns the property at Queens Boulevard and 50th Street in Woodside, filed the lawsuit May 1 in State Supreme Court in Queens, claiming the defendants “substantially impaired” its rights as the property owner.

“The Board of Ed and School Construction Authority will not let my family make an honest living,” said Howard Taub, a Sipos family member who serves as their spokesman. “We saw no other avenue. We’ve tried everything.”

The Board of Ed has considered the property as a possible school site for nearly a year and a half.

The property was occupied for more than 50 years by Stevens Appliances, owned by Sipos. The business was closed in November 1999 so P.C. Richard & Sons could lease the building for a new store planned for the fall of 2000.

The threat of condemnation has prevented P.C. Richard, which signed a 30-year lease for the property in late 1999, from investing in renovations and opening a store on the site.

The SCA had not prepared a response to the suit at press time, and the Board of Ed did not return the TimesLedger’s phone call.

“We just received it and our attorneys are reviewing it,” said SCA spokeswoman Deborah Wetzel.

According to Howard Weiss, the attorney representing Sipos, the family originally intended to withhold legal action until the SCA initiated condemnation proceedings.

“It came to a point when my client said, ‘I’ve just had enough, I want my day in court,’” Weiss said. “We’re not going to wait for them to vacillate any further on whether or not they’re going to take their property while there’s a cloud that continues to hang over the property.”

The suit asks the court to restrain the Board of Ed from considering the site for a school and demands at least $1 million in damages to compensate the family for money lost in the months the site has sat empty.

But Weiss said he hopes the Board of Ed and SCA “do the right thing and agree to voluntarily move on and look elsewhere.”

The fate of the site has remained uncertain since the SCA first proposed constructing an elementary school there in December 1999, a plan the agency eventually abandoned after Community Board 2 voted overwhelmingly against it last year.

Queens High Schools Superintendent John Lee presented the proposal for the 800-seat information-technology high school to the CB 2 land-use committee meeting in March.

Although the Board of Ed scheduled a required public hearing on the proposal for April 19, it was postponed that morning so the board could gather more information on the site. Board of Ed spokeswoman Margie Feinberg stressed that the board is still committed to the site and the hearing would be rescheduled.

Opponents claim the Queens Boulevard location is unsuitable for a school, citing safety reasons. Seventy-four pedestrians have been killed on the boulevard since 1993, nine of them within 10 blocks of the proposed site.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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