Avella bill would ban problem developers

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Almost two decades after the historic interior of the RKO Keith's Theater in Flushing was defiled by notorious developer Tommy Huang, members of the City Council are taking steps to prevent such destruction in the future.

At a hearing with the City Council Housing and Building Committee last week, City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and others introduced a bill that would grant the city Department of Buildings permission to refuse permits to developers who have repeatedly broken city building and zoning laws.

"No matter how many times they break the law, if they buy a new piece of property, they can get a permit. It's just ridiculous," Avella said. "We should be able to say, 'That's it, you're done.' "

According to the bill discussed at the May 6 hearing, the Buildings commissioner would have the right to deny a permit to any developer who has violated one or more of the city's building laws time after time. Such violations are common in the borough, Avella said, adding that these violations can come in the form of a developer building a structure larger than what was agreed upon.

Huang is a perfect example of a developer who repeatedly violates building codes, Avella said.

In 1999, Huang pleaded guilty to felony charges for ignoring asbestos contamination and pouring hundreds of gallons of fuel oil in the RKO Keith's Theater's basement. He was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and sentenced to five years' probation.

Huang, a former Douglaston resident, came under fire again in 2002 when he built four houses on a Bayside lot where there was originally one home. The houses, at 39-33 223rd St., remain vacant, according to the properties' neighbor.

Another Huang construction caused unrest among community leaders in Maspeth when he announced plans to build a four-story structure in an area that is typically designed for three-story buildings. In 2003, Huang purchased the 200-year old Klein Farm in Fresh Meadows with the intent to build 18 two-family homes on the property. As of now, the properties have yet to be built.

Avella believes the bill "would send a powerful message" to developers like Huang.

In addition, the Bayside councilman contends that developers and not contractors should be at the focus of the bill because contractors are often unaware that the work they are doing is illegal.

Last week's discussion of the bill will be the first of many, Avella said. But, if community members are in support of the bill, Avella suggests writing a letter to the mayor and sending a copy to him.

Reach reporter Katy Gagnon by e-mail at kgagnon@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext 174.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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