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Forest Hills restaurateur cited for flower pots on sidewalk

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Since transforming a party goods store into an Italian restaurant that houses Queens's largest baseball memorabilia collection at 103-22 Metropolitan Ave. almost four years ago, Sollene has decorated its exterior with 15 flower pots Ñ filled with geraniums and evergreen plants Ñ and never received a complaint until now. An anonymous call was placed last week to 311, the city's help line for information and services, citing Sollene's flower pots as sidewalk obstructions, making it difficult for pedestrians to pass. The call prompted the city Sanitation Department to issue Sollene a warning for violating the avenue's zero-sidewalk display policy, said Taryn Duckett, a spokeswoman for the Sanitation Department. The digest of sanitation codes says "sidewalk areas must be kept free from any obstruction that could impede pedestrian traffic." The code goes on to state that "streets designated Ôzero sidewalk display' streets may not have any displays placed on the sidewalks.""If it's zero sidewalk display, there is no way you can have any displays on the sidewalk unless they go through the protocol with the Department of Transportation to fill out the form and get consent. That is the only way (Sollene) will be able to put something on the sidewalk," Duckett said. Sidewalks fall under the jurisdiction of both the Sanitation Department and the DOT. The warning was a surprise to Sollene, a Jackson Heights resident, who hosts monthly Jamaica Rotary lunches at the restaurant, sponsors Little League teams and donated three horses to the New York Police Department's mounted unit. And pictures of Sollene with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani hang on the walls. After receiving the warning, Sollene pushed the flower pots against the restaurant in an attempt to thwart any future complaints from passersby. Now he plans to file a revocable consent permit Ñ which can last up to 10 years Ñ that would allow the flower pots to remain, and also fight the current law."I can't live without the restaurant and what the restaurant represents," Sollene said, adding he would even consider a hunger strike if necessary. Without a revocable consent permit, Sollene would be liable for the pots and other structures on the sidewalk, said Keith Kelb, a DOT spokesman, noting that sanitation workers could technically remove the flower pots. "We don't want people to put anything on the city sidewalk that could become hazardous," he said. The area has undergone significant change, Sollene said, and it is time for the sidewalk obstruction laws to change what he considers an antiquated policy. "Why should there be a zero visibility law on this avenue which affects all of us merchants who are trying to do a livelihood and do business?" he asked. "The intent of the law should be clarified and amended to the current application of the new merchants on this avenue."As a feng shui practitioner, the significance of the flowers extends beyond an aesthetic purpose for Sollene. Feng shui is a Chinese discipline promoting harmony and good energy through the arrangement of one's possessions. In fact, Sarabella's interior paint, flowers and fountains also reflect this philosophy as well, which Sollene said ensure the success and vitality of the restaurant. This warning has served as a wake-up call for other merchants on Metropolitan Avenue who formerly adorned their sidewalks. Outside Tutto Benne, an Italian restaurant down the street from Sarabella's, owner Peter Cusumano keeps two large flower pots. The flowers are there to hearten pedestrians. "My pleasure is to make sure people walking by are happy. But it's important for people to have space," Cusumano said, adding his pots do not extend more than 18 inched from the restaurant. Usually zero sidewalk displays are considered an asset, said Kathleen Histon, district manager of Community Board 6, said. The community board does receive sporadic complaints. "Merchants years ago wanted to have an attractive street," she said in a phone interview. "Like everything else, maybe it's time to rethink. Is this what the merchants of today want?"

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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