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Housing plan faces opposition

A hotly contested proposal to build homes and condominiums on an empty Middle Village lot came under further scrutiny this week as a land use committee refused to endorse the project.

Community Board 5’s land use committee voted 6-4 against endorsing the proposal Monday night, following a sometimes passionate debate over whether the 70 units of housing, which many claim are too extensive for the size of the lot, would ultimately benefit the community.

The full board was to vote on the proposal at its Wednesday night meeting, which was scheduled after the TimesLedger went to press.

The triangular lot sits at the southeastern end of Admiral Avenue, a narrow dead-end street in Middle Village lined with two-family homes. Bounded on its other two sides by railroad tracks and the parking lot of the Metro Mall, the landlocked property can only be accessed from Admiral Avenue, meaning all of the traffic generated by development of the land would have to pass through the neighborhood.

The property is zoned for manufacturing uses, and the developer, HRF Construction of Maspeth, is applying for a variance to build the residential units.

But committee members were concerned that the 90 parking spaces offered by HRF were not enough for 70 units. HRF owner Harry Fabian had agreed to increase the number of parking spaces to 120 if the board supported the project. But without board approval, he said he would eliminate the extra spaces and proceed with the original plan.

“I think they made a big mistake,” said Fabian. “Our interest is to design a good property, hopefully to build it and to get the community’s support.”

“We’ve got to think about the community,” committee member Robert Holden said after noting that Fabian has “the bottom line to think about,”

Although committee members supported the idea of putting houses on the property – which now sits empty behind a chain-link fence strewn with litter and overgrown with tall grasses – most agreed the proposal simply called for too much construction on too small a property.

But Janice Cahalane, an attorney for HRF, said the project would not be economically feasible if it were any smaller and indicated eliminating units would not be a possibility.

Chairman Walter Sanchez cast the deciding vote for the committee, going against it despite his belief the project would benefit the community. “I’m not going to disagree with the people who live around it,” he said.

Regardless of the board’s decision, the application will move ahead for consideration by the borough president and ultimately the city Board of Standards and Appeals, which considers the community’s recommendation but may grant the variance without community board approval.

Although some committee members encouraged Fabian to apply to have the property rezoned as residential, Cahalane noted that idea may not be in the community’s best interest. She said the developer would actually be allowed to build more units – 77 in all – with far fewer parking spaces with a zoning change. A rezoning would carry less oversight than what would apply under a variance, which can be revoked if any rules are broken.

“Here you’re getting less units and more parking,” she said. “What is the real objection?”

Faced with the possibility of the site being put to commercial use or being rezoned for residential and made available for denser development, the committee members who voted in favor of the plan described it as a favorable compromise.

“I think that this is the best deal that we can do,” said committee member Paul Kerzner.

“You don’t want a dozen tractor trailers running down that dead-end street,” added committee member Peggy O’Kane, who favored the development.

Dozens of neighbors attended a public hearing last month to oppose the project, which they claimed was out-of-scale for the property and would generate too much traffic and too many parking headaches for the neighborhood, where parking is already severely limited.

A handful of those neighbors appeared again at Monday’s land use meeting to reiterate their concerns.

“The people in the area would like to see something done with the lot because it is an eyesore,” said one community member who declined to give his name. “But we’d like it to be smaller.”

The project would bring a total of 16 buildings to the property — six two-family homes, nine three-family homes and one central building with 31 units – for a total of 70 housing units.

The houses will be arranged in the shape of a triangle with the multi-dwelling unit in the center, flanked by the three-story homes with the two-family dwellings along the edge.

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

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