Lost landmark

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What does it take these days to protect and preserve a historic home in Bayside? The combined forces of a city councilman, a state assemblyman and a state senator could not save the former residence of federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis from the wrecking ball.

The city Buildings Department allowed the 19th century house that belonged to the Lawrence family to be dismembered even though the originalpermit called for 50 percent of the original structure to be retained.

Today a mega-mansion - completely out of character with the surrounding neighborhood - stands in its place as residents keep asking how this could happen.

In April 2016 a New Jersey real estate agent identified as Lisa Huang started work on the three-story house at 218th Street and 40th Avenue she had bought for $1.5 million. The classic house, believed to have been built around 1890, was owned by the Lawrence family, who had an estate in Bayside. A Bayside Historical Society study found the estate was eligible for the National and State Register of Historic Places, but these designations offered no legal protection from renovations or a total teardown.

Within days after acquiring the property, the new owner had lopped off the top two stories of the house, leaving only the first floor. In July the Buildings Department issued a stop work order because the demolition had exceeded the original plans in what became the first in a parade of violations that were disregarded by the owner and mysteriously dismissed by the agency.

Soon only the foundation of the Lawrence family’s legacy remained, clearing the way for the owner to build an entirely new structure for her family — free from any historical restraints.

The community was outraged. Bayside Councilman Paul Vallone introduced a bill to tighten the building permit process so that owners no longer have a grace period in which to feverishly continue construction before a permit is officially revoked.

Sen. Tony Avella, who tracked the permitting process on the house, said the DOB does not do a good job of monitoring compliance and depends on the community to raise the issue.

Assemblyman Ed Braunstein, another Bayside lawmaker, complained to the department but to no avail.

The DOB issued its latest violation Nov. 5 which said people have been living in the house without a certificate of occupancy.

Our tax dollars should be spent on enforcing the building code, penalizing violators and protecting the integrity of the city’s neighborhoods. The Buildings Department is not doing the job it was set up to do and it’s time City Hall found out why.

Posted 12:00 am, December 1, 2017
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