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Astoria civic eyes local development plans

A developer's plan to build a condominium complex in the blighted carcass of an old Ditmars Boulevard warehouse drew mixed reaction at a civic meeting last Thursday, where some residents resurrected an old fight to secure senior housing on the site.

But three other projects - a proposed co-op being constructed by the same developer on 21st Street, a new supermarket and a housewares store - were favorably received by the more than 200 people who crowded the basement meeting hall of the Augustana Lutheran Church for the general meeting of the United Community Civic Association.

Joseph Pistilli of Pistilli Realty presented plans to convert the old Sterns furniture warehouse, an enormous 300,000-square-foot brick-faced structure on Ditmars Boulevard and 45th Street, into a condominium complex with about 229 apartment units and two retail spaces on the street level.

"It's a huge structure. We're trying to do something special with it," said Gerald Caliendo, the architect for the project. "There's not too many buildings around that are this long."

The preliminary design radically alters the appearance of the dilapidated warehouse with a stucco treatment along the facade, a sloped glass wall and a glass canopy at the front entrance.

"That thing has been a hulking mess there on Ditmars Boulevard for many years," said Rose Marie Poveromo, the civic's president, in a phone interview Tuesday. "It's a huge piece of property that certainly is an eyesore in a community that certainly deserves better. We look forward to someone coming in and upscaling it."

The site sat at the centerpiece of a local battle a few years back when some residents pegged it for senior housing while others wanted to see luxury housing built there.

The previous owner, Nikos Kefalides, had signed a covenant on the property promising to construct a senior citizens' assisted living facility after lengthy lobbying by some neighbors. But when he died in a plane crash in 1998, he brought the senior housing pledge with him.

"The restriction today does not exist," Pistilli said. "It has been removed legally."

Still, those in the community who fought for the restriction showed they were not ready to give up just yet.

"As far as we know, we do have a restriction there," said Rudy Sarchese, the president of the Astoria Ditmars Homeowners Association.

Pistilli stressed that the community would still get what it wanted in the form of more housing.

"We're presenting an opportunity for people who today can buy a piece of the rock if they want to," he said.

Pistilli's other project, a co-op apartment building at the former Eagle Electric site on 21st Street and 24th Avenue, is currently under construction.

"The building continues to be built and hopefully will be built in a short period of time," he said.

Pistilli said he is awaiting approval from the state attorney general's office for the complex to be classified as a cooperative.

At the same meeting, Brad Blumenfeld of Blumenfeld Development Group announced his company's plans to build a Bed Bath & Beyond store on an empty 25th Avenue lot next to the Expo Design Center that opened on the Bulova Corporate Center property nearly a year ago.

Both stores were chosen in reaction to community input, Blumenfeld said.

"You wanted something upscale that would service the community," he said.

The two retailers will complement each other, Blumenfeld said, because Bed Bath & Beyond "sells all the soft goods that go naturally with Expo," which specializes in home renovation.

Blumenfeld's company bought the former Bulova Watch Factory building in 1984 and converted it into a Class-A office complex, boasting such amenities as a health club, community meeting space, permanent art collection and restaurant.

Construction of the new store will require city approval through the Uniform Land Use Review Process and will then take between four to six months for construction, he said.

Andrew Rosenwach of Rosenwach Tank Inc. - which owns the LaGuardia Center on Ditmars Boulevard and 43rd Street - told the community he expects a "first-class grocery food market" to open in the outdoor mall within the next four months, an announcement that drew applause from the crowd.

The supermarket, either a Met or a FoodTown, would be joined by a new Dunkin' Donuts slated to take over the space left by West Coast Video after the chain went under, filling out a retail center that already features a sprawling gymnasium and Genovese drug store.

The entire complex, which the company first started to develop in 1997, should be fully leased within the next six months, Rosenwach said.

But Poveromo stressed that food stores and restaurants must prevent their trash from turning into a neighborhood eyesore, which had been a problem with a previous grocery store tenant.

"You must make sure that they've got to keep the place clean and the dumpsters have to be sanitized," she said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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