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Rumors of new church irk Bayside

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When the moving trucks came to 39-39 223rd St. in Bayside, Patricia Martin was surprised that her next door neighbors had not mentioned that they would be leaving.

“They never told me,” said Martin, who is currently renovating the property next to 39-39 223rd Street and has not yet moved in.

But when rumors started flying through the neighborhood that the home was bought by developer Tommy Huang — a Douglaston resident who pleaded guilty in 1999 to contaminating the landmarked RKO Keith’s Theater in Flushing — and would be sold and replaced by a church, residents took action.

More than 50 people turned out Tuesday for an East Bayside Homeowners Association meeting to discuss the future of the property.

Huang, according to a spokesman for City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who talked to the developer, has no plans to knock down the home.

“He said that he was going to renovate the house, that he was not going to demolish it and that he was going to live in it,” spokesman Seth Urbinder said.

EBHA President Frank Skala, who called Tuesday’s meeting at All Saints Church in Bayside to address the rumors surrounding 39-39 223rd St., was skeptical of Huang’s reported intentions for the property.

“I would not believe one word he says at any point,” Skala said.

Huang pleaded guilty in February 1999 to the felony charge of endangering the public health, safety or environment by ignoring asbestos contamination in RKO Keith’s and spilling hundreds of gallons of fuel oil in the basement of the city landmark. He also admitted at the time to lying to state environmental officials about cleaning up the theater when he actually had not.

Huang was sentenced to five years’ probation, fined $5,000 and ordered to clean up the legendary RKO Keith’s, which was first opened in 1928 and where Hollywood legends such as Jack Benny and Bob Hope sometimes performed.

After Urbinder confirmed that Huang owned the property, one resident at the meeting quipped: “I hope he doesn’t have any gallons of oil left over.”

Records from the city Buildings Department and the Department of Finance web sites still listed Joan Gugliatta as the previous owner of the property.

Martin said she first heard rumors the property would become a church from another neighbor. The neighbor, Martin said, was offered “a great deal of money in cash” to buy her property from a man who “said he wanted to build a rectory,” Martin said.

Urbinder said the Buildings Department does not have any permits for demolition of 39-39 223rd St. on file, but the agency’s Web site lists a July 29 complaint about impending demolition for the property. The complaint led to an Aug. 5 inspection of the land, in which Buildings inspectors found no construction or demolition in progress.

If the property were to become a church, no one would have to tell the neighbors. The city’s 1961 zoning resolution permits houses of worship and other community facilities such as schools, hospitals, medical offices and others, to build in residential areas without restrictions.

Community facilities are given “as-of-right” status, which allows them to build without notifying the community.

Earlier this year Huang pulled out of a contract to buy and develop Klein Farm in Fresh Meadows in face of strong opposition from residents who wanted the property preserved.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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