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Douglaston’s Huang says no church for Bayside lot

Flushing developer Tommy Huang, who pleaded guilty three years ago to defiling the landmarked RKO Keith’s theater, insisted this week he has no plans to build a church on a Bayside property he bought for $1.2 million.

But the developer hesitated when asked in a telephone interview this week how many houses he planned to build on the 223rd Street lot.

“I have no idea yet,” Huang said Tuesday when in response to a question about many homes he wanted to construct at 39-39 223rd St.

“I’m just planning. We haven’t made a decision yet. I’ve got to wait ‘til I get Buildings Department approval,” he said.

Huang spent much of the interview describing what kind of one-family home he would like to build on 223rd Street.

He said he is considering building one single-family home with “five bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths, every bathroom with a Jacuzzi. A fireplace. A swimming pool in the backyard — that would be nice.”

Huang added, “I think it’s going to be beautiful after it’s finished.”

But when asked if he would move to Bayside from Douglaston, the developer said “maybe.”

Last week more than 50 people attended an East Bayside Homeowners Association meeting to discuss the future of 39-39 223rd St. At the meeting, a spokesman for City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he had confirmed Huang’s purchase of the lot and that Huang said he wanted to live there.

Rumors about what could be built on the property have been swirling for several weeks, with residents buzzing about the home’s $1 million-plus sales price and wondering if a church or more than one house could be constructed on the lot, which has some trees and slopes down in the rear to the Cross Island Parkway. In an odd footnote, there are still Christmas lights on the outside of the house.

Frank Skala, president of the East Bayside Homeowners Association, said a neighbor of 39-39 223rd St. spoke to surveyors who appeared at the site the day after last week’s EBHA meeting at All Saints Church.

“They said they wanted to build four houses,” Skala said, referring to what the neighbor had learned from the surveyors. Skala called the EBHA meeting to discuss rumors in the neighborhood that the property might become a church.

As of this week the East Bayside Homeowners Association had gotten no response from Huang, Skala said. But Huang said Tuesday he planned to attend the Sept. 10 meeting with his architect.

A new series of rumors surfaced about the property this week after residents said Huang and his colleagues had been telling different neighbors conflicting stories about the developer’s intentions for the 223rd Street property.

Huang denied starting rumors about the property and said he would never build a church on the lot.

“I never hurt anybody,” Huang said about the rumors. “I’m so surprised.”

Huang pleaded guilty in February 1999 to a 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.

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.

At the Aug. 13 EBHA meeting, residents discussed several options a developer might have for the property, including knocking down the existing one-family home and replacing it with several houses or perhaps building a church or some other community facility.

The city’s 1961 zoning resolution allows community facilities like churches, schools and medical offices to build in residential areas with no restrictions.

When asked if he would build four homes at 39-39 223rd St. Huang said “maybe one, maybe two, maybe three — it all depends on the Buildings Department and the size of the house I’m going to build.”

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

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