Building worries Kew Gardens residents

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The developer of a three-story apartment building next to the PS 99 Annex in Kew Gardens cannot drive piles while children are in classes and must continually check the stability of a support wall shared with the school, the Queens commissioner of Buildings told with community leaders last week.

Magdi Mossad, the commissioner, also ordered the builders to address the concerns of structural engineers working on behalf of two community organizations and said he may consider requiring an independent site safety coordinator be present during the pile driving, said Department of Buildings Spokeswoman Ilyse Fink.

While pleased that measures were taken to safeguard the students, the community leaders continued to insist at the meeting last Thursday that the builder needs a permit for new construction and not merely alteration. The permit granted for alteration was described as an “act of God” by Kew Gardens Civic Association Executive Chairman Murray Berger.

“We think the kids will be safe, but it’s a very callous attitude on the department’s part because there is no consideration of our issue,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Berger contends the builders were granted permits to alter an existing location, when in reality they are constructing a new building. His group has been joined by the Kew Gardens Improvement Association in its fight to halt the construction.

“We were pleased that Commissioner Mossad was as cooperative and understanding as he appeared to be,” Berger said. “But we could never get a rationale for how they arrived at their decision. It was an act of God.”

The meeting came little more than a week after the owner of the PS 99 Annex, located on Kew Gardens Road at Lefferts Boulevard on the site of a converted parking garage, obtained an injunction in State Supreme Court in Queens to temporarily stop construction of a three-story, 10-apartment complex within 8 feet, 3 inches of the elementary school building he leases to the Board of Education.

As of press time, that injunction remained in place. A source close to the developer, Main Street Construction Corp., said it had yet to receive word of the borough commissioner’s rulings last Thursday. When told by the Timesledger of Masaad’s instructions, the source said they would not affect the project.

“There’s nothing new that hasn’t been mentioned in the past,” he said. “It looks like just a little discussion went on.”

The source did say the ruling, which might shift construction to the weekends, could bring up another issue. “Now on a Saturday or Sunday when they want peace and quiet, they won’t get it,” he said.

He said the PS 99 landlord and community groups have raised opposition to the apartment building, to be located on the former site of the National Council of Jewish Women center, because they are against development in their backyard. He said the existing foundation is being used for the construction, making the project a legitimate alteration.

The owner of the property, K&K Realty of Queens, will be notified in writing of Thursday’s decisions, Fink said. The stipulations are binding if construction of the apartment complex is to continue, she said.

The PS 99 Annex landlord, Charles Belanich, of Great Neck, said he would respect Masaad’s ruling.

“As long as they meet the safety requirements of the school, I cannot keep them from whatever rights they have under zoning,” he said. “As long as the applicant meets all zoning codes, I have no problem.”

Belanich also owns the building at 41-02 Bell Blvd. in Bayside that houses the Timesledger’s offices.

The Board of Education previously had said its only problem with the construction had to do with noise interrupting classroom instruction and the blocking of an exit.

With the issue of student safety apparently resolved, Berger and other community leaders plan to take their case of the questionable alteration permit to city Commissioner of Buildings Patricia Lancaster.

“The erosion of the building code and the detriment done to housing all over Queens, particularly in Kew Gardens, has to stop,” Berger said. “If one building gets by with small technical violations it will downgrade our community considerably.”

Reach Reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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