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Bayside gym open for decade without permit

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The board also wrangled over an elementary school, discussed suing the city over the Oakland Ravine, further debated the proposed rezoning of Bayside, and bid farewell to a flamboyantly prominent civic activist and board member who is retiring due to poor health. Lucille Roberts, a regional chain of health clubs with a Bayside location at 41-19 Bell Blvd., opened without a required variance and has continued to operate despite several violations for not having a valid certificate of occupancy and for operating a place of assembly without a permit, the board's zoning committee said Monday as gym representatives presented an application for a variance to finally legalize the health club. "The existing Lucille Roberts has been there for 12 years," said Jeffrey Chester, an attorney for the club. "We believe we have been very good neighbors for that time." Chester said the oversight sprang from a miscommunication when the gym management filed the original application in 1993 for a special Board of Standards and Appeals permit to establish the club. The building is owned by Edythe Kurtzberg, and the gym signed a lease through 2013. But while the permit application was pending, that section of Bell Boulevard was downzoned and confusion ensued over whether the gym needed a variance or special permit to operate and in the end no application was ever filed. "The BSA dismissed the application for lack of jurisdiction, and then nothing happened for a number of years," Chester said. "We dropped the ball." The board's committee members reported they had observed several problems on a Feb. 1 visit to the gym, including blocked fire exits and debris in a handicapped shower stall. Most of these issues were resolved upon a follow-up visit to the gym, committee chairwoman Christine Haider said. The board voted 24-5 to approve the gym's application for a variance. The board also voted to approve Education Committee Chairman Melvyn Meer's resolution calling for the return of PS 130 at 200-01 42nd Ave from District 25 to District 26. The school used to serve District 26 students but was taken over by District 25 when the student population declined in Bayside. Now with overcrowded schools a problem in District 26, board members said PS 130 ought to be returned. "It's baffling," said First Vice Chairman James Rodgers. "The city wants to buy a synagogue in Bayside Hills and turn it into a school because we don't have enough room here. But we have a perfectly good school that is under-utilized by our students." Board member Steven Newman said he favored having another meeting with educational representatives to learn more about the PS 130 situation, but the board passed the resolution 27-0, with one abstaining vote. "We heard a very favorable response" from education officials about PS 130, said Board chairman Jerry Iannece. "We may be able to move in that direction." The board was considering litigation against the city's Department of Environmental Protection for breach of contract over a promised restoration of Oakland Ravine, Iannece said. The ravine's restoration was to be the final stage of a decade-long project to update and improve sewer service to nearby communities. "The rehabilitation of Oakland Ravine was going to be remediation for everything that was going on," he said. But the $10 million project has been taken out of the agency's 10-year budget, effectively shelving the ravine's makeover. Iannece said the board would continue to communicate with city agencies and elected officials in hopes of restoring the project. Oakland Ravine feeds into Oakland Lake just north of Queensborough Community College. In further talks on the controversial Bayside rezoning proposal, board members met with representatives of the local branch of the American Institute of Architects and the Department of City Planning to continue dialogue over the plan's technical details. Though the board approved the city's proposal to downzone 350 blocks of Bayside in January, the approval came with a condition to continue discussing the plan with local architects and engineers. The plan is now waiting for Borough President Helen Marshall's vote, although some board members maintained the community still has not had adequate input into the process. "The borough president cannot really address the issue without most residents' input," said Third Vice Chairwoman Loretta Napier, who called for a town hall meeting. "I don't think she's hearing the total picture." Most poignantly, board member Mandingo Tshaka, who has served on the board for the past two years as part of decades devoted to civic service, announced his retirement Monday night due to poor health. "To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield," Tshaka said, as the board rose in a standing ovation. Board member Frank Skala proposed a resolution, unanimously passed, to thank Tshaka for his service to the community and the board. Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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