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Maspeth residents angry over garage construction

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Residents who live near the 69th Street offices of Maspeth Federal Savings Bank denounced the institution this week for starting construction on a new parking garage they believe will destroy the character of their neighborhood.

But the bank’s president promised to work with residents to ease their concerns about the project, which he said should have little impact on the area.

The Zoning and Land Use Committee of Community Board 5 convened a special meeting Monday night to discuss the garage construction, which had drawn vocal protests at the board’s monthly meeting in June. Bank officials were invited but did not attend.

Residents said the project, which broke ground in recent weeks, came as a shock when construction began.

“We need to make a compromise here for this neighborhood,” said Gary Kuchmeister, a former longtime resident who now lives on Long Island but often visits his mother on Perry Avenue.

“This bank has come to try and take over what I know from my childhood and my memories, and I’m not going to stand for it,” he continued, holding up a hand-drawn picture of houses that lined the block in his childhood that were later razed in previous expansions of Maspeth Federal.

Dozens of neighbors attended the meeting at the Maspeth American Legion Post, and many stood to protest the construction, which sits behind a wall of wooden planks along Clinton Avenue and 68th Street.

“Now we have a dust storm every day with construction,” said Susan Carlino, a mother of four who lives on 68th Street. “I don’t want to look out my door and see a brick wall or an open lot with cars idling.”

Since 1946, Maspeth Federal Savings Bank has sat on the corner of 69th Street and Borden Avenue on a block that is also bounded by Clinton Avenue to the north and 68th Street to the west. Although the surrounding neighborhood is residential, part of the bank’s property was rezoned for commercial use in 1990 to allow for the construction of a two-deck parking lot and a building expansion of more than 8,500 square feet — neither of which were ultimately built. But the bank did expand its drive-thru facilities from three to six lanes.

Because the property had already been rezoned 12 years ago to permit commercial development, the bank was able to begin construction on the new parking lot without seeking any community input.

Despite the conflict, a bank official insisted Maspeth Federal plans to work with its neighbors.

“We’ve been good neighbors all these years,” bank president Ken Rudzwick said. “We will endeavor to be good neighbors with everyone on 68th Street.”

The new two-tier parking lot will have one underground floor, Rudzwick said, which means it will look like an ordinary paved lot level with 69th Street. The new lot will have 68 spots — 22 for employees and 46 for customers — while the adjacent lot will continue to hold about 45 vehicles.

Within the past year, the bank also received approval for a zoning change and variance that will allow its loan center on the east side of 69th Street to be expanded onto a second story.

Although residents contended the bank was deceptive when it sought approval for the loan center expansion without mentioning the planned parking lot, Rudzwick said the projects are unrelated.

The 1990 rezoning resolution also lists a series of improvements the bank has to make if it develops the property, like planting a 28-foot landscaped buffer and directing lighting away from houses.

Rudzwick said the bank will abide by all of the regulations it agreed to in 1990.

“We’re going to try to make the parking area as attractive as we can, especially to the people on 68th Street that are directly impacted,” he said.

Walter Sanchez, the chairman of the land use committee, said he plans to meet with bank officials and present them with a series of suggestions based on community input gathered at Monday’s hearing.

“We will review and discuss the suggestions and see if we can comply with as many as possible to alleviate the problem between us and the people on 68th Street,” Rudzwick said.

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

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