Bayside car dealer allowed to expand

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After a prolonged public hearing on the variance application from Helms Bros. at 207-22 Northern Blvd., in which civic leaders Mandingo Tshaka and Joyce Shepard spoke out against the application and said Haber bought his car there, CB 11 member Steven Newman protested the accusations against Haber. Newman said the board should "send a message" against "wild accusations" with its vote.

At the Monday night meeting at MS 158 in Bayside, Haber freely admitted - as he has before - that he purchased his car at the Volkswagen showroom, which he said is the only Volkswagen dealership in the district. Although Haber did not announce an exact tally of the vote, CB 11's roll call of its members revealed the board heavily favored Helms Bros.

Community Board 11 includes Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, Hollis Hills, Oakland Gardens and Auburndale. The Helms Bros. variance - which sought permission to store parts on a second story that would be used mainly as office space - was originally passed by CB 11's zoning committee by a vote of 6-4.

While Shepard, a candidate for City Councilman Mike Abel's (R-Bayside) seat, admitted she did not live in the area and was unfamiliar with Helms Bros.' zoning history, she said "when I am told that the chairman of the board buys his car there, that seems like a conflict of interest."

Tshaka, a former CB 11 member who sits on the group's zoning committee, said Haber rarely turns out to zoning committee meetings but attended one earlier in the week on the Helms Bros. variance and "urged a yes vote."

The general manager of Helms Bros. said she did not know Haber had bought his car at her showroom until after the purchase was made or that he had voted against the business on other variance applications. She told Haber "I've never had a conversation with you outside of this arena."

Haber described the accusations as "pretty despicable" and "absolutely absurd." During the discussion he said Helms Bros. would be able to build the second floor even if the city Board of Standards and Appeals denied its application but would be prohibited from storing parts there.

Tshaka said he had copies of about 20 objections to the Helms Bros. variance filed with the Board of Standards and Appeals. CB 11 Zoning Committee Chairman Jim Coritsidis said the only information his group had at the time of its vote was a petition by residents living directly behind the dealership who supported the variance.

Cortisidis said the zoning committee decided in favor of the variance because they "didn't feel that a second floor would exacerbate problems there now," such as heavy traffic and car fumes.

CB 11 member Shelly McKeever said "it just seems that Helms Bros. is becoming bigger and bigger. If we approve this variance, is there anything else? Is this the end of the line?"

As the issue was about to be voted on by the community board, member Stephen Newman protested the accusations against Haber.

"It is despicable on the part of numerous people trying to attack the veracity of one of the most dedicated persons not only in this district," he said "but in this community and the borough."

Newman said the board should vote in favor of Helms Bros. "to send a message" so that "in the future when people want to discuss the merits of an issue" they would not "make wild assertions."

During the vote CB 11 Vice Chairman Mohan Jethwani agreed with Newman and said he would vote in favor of the variance to protest the accusations against Haber.

On a different variance to approve changes at a gas station at 184-17 Horace Harding Expressway, one man expressed reluctance to voice his complaints, citing the discussion on the Helms Bros. application.

Calling the dialogue at the meeting "an embarrassment to hear," Auburndale resident Louis Arce berated the board for taking what he called "a magnanimous vote" during a controversy.

"It's embarrassing to bring up anything here," he said. "I'm surprised at what goes on here. Why does a business get everything it wants and anything it wants at any time?

"I'm not opposed to business - what I find objectionable is that you would vote something in when there was a controversy here," he said.

Updated 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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