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Board votes against variance for lot in Laurelton

The decision appeared to reflect a stand by the community, skeptical of developers and wary of the potential for basements and attics to be illegally converted into rented apartments in their neighborhoods.

"We have to send a message to other people: Don't come to Board 13 and ask for a variance," said member J. Clifford Gadsden at the meeting, held at Queens Reformed Church in Queens Village. "I'm sick of this."

CB 13 covers Laurelton, Springfield Gardens, Rosedale, Queens Village, Cambria Heights and Glen Oaks.

The construction site is irregularly shaped, much longer than it is wide, and the developer has asked that it not be required to have a yard on one side so the two-family home it wants to construct can be wider. Without the change, the developer has said, it cannot build a viable house on the property at 224-20 Prospect Court. The developer was identified by the architect for the site as Mr. Thomasatti, but Thomasatti could not be reached for comment.

But board member Seymour Finkelstein said the developer, who was represented at the meeting by a lawyer, Eric Palatnik, should have realized that building on the site was not feasible before buying the property.

"They should have known what's legal there and not asked for a hardship the next day," he said.

Other board members asked the lawyer about the basement's height and separate entrance, suspicious that the space could be turned into an apartment for a third family.

Palatnik tried to assure the board that the space would just be used for storage and said "there's no intention to do anything wrong here."

But board member Bess DeBetham asked him how he could guarantee the way the space would be used and said "we know that's going to become a three-family house."

The site already has a partially built structure, and a number of the site's neighbors said at the meeting that the crews working for the developer had damaged fences and other items on their properties.

On other local issues, Board Chairman Richard Hellenbrecht said the community continues to oppose the opening of a live poultry store on 98-04 Springfield Blvd. in Queens Village. He said state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) will hold a rally Sunday at 1:45 p.m. at the nearby Bethlehem Missionary Church.

Also, Barbara Ellmann, the Manhattan artist whose work will be featured in the new Cambria Heights Library, was introduced to the board.

On another front Ellmann, who teaches art at PS 12 in Woodside, among other schools, said she is an abstract artist who uses patterns and colors she observes in neighborhoods such as the plastic flags at Arby's in her work.

But when she unveiled her plan for an abstract mosaic of tiles for a wall in the library, not everyone in the audience thought the design was appropriate and wondered why a more traditional approach with inspirational quotes and historical figures was not used.

"Your art is sophisticated," said Mandy Raines, an art teacher from Cambria Heights. "It speaks to the minds of artists and art majors. For children and lay people it's kind of over the top."

But a representative of the city Department of Cultural Affairs said she did not want the design to be "dumbed down" and insulting.

Said board member Paul Rubenfeld: "Something that's going to last for decades, it's more appropriate for it to be abstract."

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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