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Judge nixes Forest Hills apartment bldg.

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State Supreme Court Justice Fred Schmidt said in...

By Brendan Browne

Plans to build a six-story apartment building in a Forest Hills neighborhood of one-family homes were nixed in July when a Queens judge ruled that a covenant on the property restricted such construction.

State Supreme Court Justice Fred Schmidt said in his ruling that there are restrictive covenants on the property at 77-16 Kew Forest Lane and on 65 other lots in the neighborhood that only allow the presence of one-family homes.

No large buildings, multi-family homes, or business are permitted in the area between Queens Boulevard, Union Turnpike, Austin Street and 76th Drive, the judge said in his ruling.

Harold Stangler, the attorney representing the owners of the property in dispute, said they would probably appeal the decision.

Stangler said there was no way they could have known about the restrictive covenants in the neighborhood, which were written decades ago when the Kew Forest Corporation was selling off the land to private developers.

The neighborhood’s old zoning regulation in 1998 also permitted the construction of an apartment, Stangler said.

Paul Graziano, a civic activist who advised the Kew Forest Neighborhood Association in the suit, said records of restrictive covenants can be found in the Department of Taxation and Finance but said it is possible that the developers did not know about them.

The developers “should have found that deed. How could they possibly not know” about the covenant, asked Tina Chan, the treasurer of Kew Forest Neighborhood Association, which filed the lawsuit to block the construction of the apartment building on Kew Forest Lane.

Soon after Rita Lieberman and Albert Mushibayev bought the home on the property for $335,000 in 1998, they knocked it down and began construction on an apartment building, Chan said. The Kew Forest Neighborhood Association quickly filed a lawsuit and the construction was temporarily halted until it was permanently stopped last month, she said.

Since then the neighborhood has been rezoned, prohibiting such facilities, thanks in part to the efforts of residents who do not want to see out-of-character buildings put up near their homes.

Stangler said he believe the judge’s decision was influenced by local politics and the community’s desire to keep large buildings out of the neighborhood around Kew Forest Lane.

“Very frankly, it’s a political issue. It’s all politics,” said Stangler. “This is an outrageous kind of situation.”

Chan said it could be difficult to fight an appeal from the developers since the Kew Forest Neighborhood Association has already doled out $100,000 in legal fees and is running short on funds.

Graziano said the suit may influence several other civic organizations that are mounting efforts to have their communities rezoned to keep large buildings out. He said there are probably restrictive covenants in several neighborhoods in Queens, which may be used to fight new construction.

Beatrice Lesser, who represented the Kew Forest Neighborhood Association in the suit, said she thinks the city Buildings Department should require developers to determine if restrictive covenants exist on properties they own.

Reach reporter Brendan Browne by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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