CB 11 extends variance to Benz dealers

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Community Board 11 voted last week to extend a variance to Bayside’s Helms Bros. on a building they own several doors down from their Northern Boulevard Mercedes-Benz dealership, but some community activists and board members from the neighborhood said they were troubled by the decision.

Helms Bros., which operates its auto dealership at 208-24 Northern Blvd. in Bayside, applied to the board for a 15-year extension of the variance on a property down the block from their main store. The site is used to prep vehicles for sale by polishing and washing them as well as removing any nicks or scratches.

The variance on the building expired in November 2008. CB 11 approved a 10-year extension for the site with a vote of 21-10 at its Nov. 2 meeting, so the variance will now go before the Queens borough president’s office and the city Board of Standards and Appeals, said Susan Seinfeld, the board’s district manager.

But some Bayside activists and board members said they were opposed to extending the variance.

“It’s incompatible with a residential area,” long-time community activist Mandingo Tshaka said. “You won’t find this in front of Bayside High School or in Bayside Hills. The deck is stacked against the community. And with the economy the way it is, they could lease out or sell the property or put another body shop in there.”

Tshaka said 45th Road, a residential street, is plagued by the numerous auto dealerships and body shops along Northern Boulevard, which is one block north, and the entrance to the Clearview Expressway.

But Suzanne Cochrane, general manager for Helms Bros., said the dealership has been a good neighbor and that she previously purchased two body shops along Northern Boulevard and closed them.

“I have an open door policy,” she said. “I don’t have any servicing going on on this block. I want to have the minimum amount of impact on this community. People were concerned about the quality of air, so I closed two body shops on this block. We are a good-standing citizen.”

Cochrane said the dealership’s service centers are in Flushing and Great Neck, L.I.

CB 11 member Frank Skala said he believed the auto dealer should consolidate by bringing their prep site back into their main building.

“If auto dealers are selling less cars and cutting back on employees, they don’t need extra space,” he said, citing the May closure of Cunningham Pontiac Buick GMC on Northern Boulevard. “My concern is that they could choose to abandon the building or change the use of the site.”

Skala said the board should take into account whether the glut of neighborhood auto dealers and body shops are a nuisance to residents living on 45th Road and other streets close to Northern Boulevard.

“If the neighbors don’t want it, then it shouldn’t be there,” he said of the Helms Bros. prep site. “No one in their right mind would build a house around there. It’s like living across from an automobile row.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Updated 6:29 pm, October 10, 2011
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