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Residents object to Ft. Totten catering hall proposal

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Objections to a plan to establish a fine restaurant and catering hall at Bayside’s Fort Totten resounded through a Community Board 11 meeting this week.

Civic leaders from Bay Terrace, the neighborhood closest to Fort Totten’s entrance, came to CB 11’s monthly meeting at MS 158 in Bayside to protest the proposal, which is being spearheaded by Bell Boulevard restaurateur Dominick Bruccoleri and three unnamed partners.

While Bay Terrace residents Phil Konigsberg and Warren Schreiber objected to the increased traffic such a facility would bring to an area already choked by cars, members of CB 11 pointed out that there are two similar catering facilities — Caffe on the Green and the Bay Terrace Jewish Center — operating within blocks of Totten.

Throughout the meeting, Bruccoleri, owner of Bayside’s Papazzio restaurant and a member of CB 11 since April 2001, stayed silent and no one directly asked the businessman about the plan for Building No. 604.

Totten, a Civil War-era fort that was decommissioned by the U.S. Army in 1995, is slated to be split between the city Parks and Fire departments and is technically under the jurisdiction of Flushing’s CB 7, though the fort is traditionally referred to as being in Bayside. Konigsberg, Schreiber and some CB 11 members pointed out that any increase in traffic going to or coming from Totten would aggravate congestion in CB 11’s streets.

Joshua Laird, chief of planning for the Parks Department, said last week that his department was within its rights to hold a public hearing on the future uses of its side of Fort Totten even though it has not officially taken control of the property from the U.S. Army.

“There’s no reason we can’t go through this process first and have the concession waiting in the bullpen,” he said. “It was always a question of when.”

Laird said a restaurant at Totten was necessary because it would function as a concessionaire and bring in much-needed revenue for the Parks Department. The Parks planner dismissed concerns about traffic congestion, saying the nature of a catering hall was to operate later in the night when park traffic would be less.

Community Board 11 voted 32-1 to ask the Parks Department for more time to examine the catering hall proposal. The board decided to ask for a three-month delay and request a postponement of a public hearing on the subject Monday in Manhattan.

Konigsberg, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said “before we have a facility that can handle several large weddings you are going to need parking. We have some major concerns.”

Schreiber, a co-op president and member of the alliance, went one step further.

“We don’t want a catering hall at Fort Totten,” he said. “We will not permit the valets from this catering hall to bring the cars onto 212th Street and Bell Boulevard. We will do everything legally possible to prevent it.”

Bayside civic leader Frank Skala, who said the plan took the community by surprise, suggested the city take no action until the public was better informed about the proposal.

“We don’t need another nice guy, rich person, highly expensive, exclusive restaurant in a public park,” he said.

CB 11 includes the communities of Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, Oakland Gardens, Auburndale and Hollis Hills, and though its western most boundary is 26th Avenue — less than a mile from Fort Totten — board member Melvyn Meer said his group should have been informed of the catering hall proposal and the hearing.

“The Parks Department has always recognized that we have an interest in Fort Totten,” said Meer, who said he was told the proposal was not ready to be viewed by the public even though the city has said copies would be available until Jan. 10.

Meer also questioned why the CB 11 parks committee and full board were never made aware of the proposal, which was given to CB 11 twice in 2001 by the city.

CB 11 District Manager Anne Marie Boranian said the board did not see the city’s Request for Proposal, or RFP, on the catering hall plan because “we were deferring to the fact that Totten was in CB 7’s jurisdiction. Our office made the mistake.”

An underlying tension between CB 7 and CB 11 over communication between the two boards has increased over the past 18 months or so, as Community Board 11 has dealt with several issues that affect both boards but are within Board 7’s boundaries, such as the renovation and expansion of the Bay Terrace Shopping Center.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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