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Joe Franco’s restaurant rezone approved by city

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A restaurateur’s plan to overhaul the White House restaurant in Whitestone is one step closer to becoming reality after securing the approval of the city Planning Commission.

The commission, which did not respond to calls for comment, considered a proposal last month by Joe Franco, owner of the restaurant at 10-24 154th St., to rezone the block containing his property so he can upgrade and expand the space.

The commission voted May 11 on Franco’s proposal, which would rezone the block of 154th Street from 10th to 11th avenues to allow the construction of certain types of two-story residential and commercial buildings, but stripped it of a commercial overlay on two homes that would have allowed them to be sold and converted to businesses in the future, according to state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside).

The proposal now goes before the City Council, which is expected to vote for a version of the proposal because Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) has said he would support it if it was tailored to meet specific criteria.

Halloran said Tuesday he had yet to receive a final version of what exactly the Planning Commission approved, but he added that he would only back it if the commercial overlay on the two residences had indeed been stricken from the plan. In such local land-use votes, a convention called “home rule” suggests that the opinion of the Council member whose district contains the area in question will usually prevail.

“I would support the general notion, but I would still want the concessions from the builder for aesthetic issues that were raised by the homeowners — whether that means getting a deed restriction or otherwise — including what their view of the building would be like and as far as a porch where people could look over their properties,” Halloran said. “I’m not going to let things like that happen.”

But Avella is not happy with the commission’s vote to support Franco’s proposal, even with such amendments. Only one of the 13 commissioners, Anna Hayes Levin — Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s appointee to the body — voted against the plan, according to Avella. The number of commissioners in attendance at the May 11 meeting could not be determined.

“Shame on the City Planning Commission and its members for ignoring the overwhelming concerns of the Whitestone community in opposing this application,” Avella said in a statement. “It is beyond belief that the city would erode the Whitestone rezoning which we fought extremely hard to achieve only several years ago.”

In the months since Franco purchased the aging White House restaurant from its longtime principal owner, Matty Geoghegan, the proposal has become a major point of controversy in the neighborhood.

The zoning change would allow certain types of two-story residential and commercial buildings to be built on the entire east end of the block of 154th Street from 10th to 11th avenues.

In 2009, Franco, the former proprietor of Caffé on the Green in Bayside, lost the license for the city Parks Department concession, which is now operated as Valentino’s on the Green.

A lawyer for Franco has said the project is expected to break ground this fall or in early 2012, and that construction could be completed as early as fall 2012.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 10:49 am, October 12, 2011
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