Update, March 28, 2:18p.m.:
In responding to points made at the protest, a representative of Bonfilio’s office said the fact that opponents of the development “calculatedly trespassed,” was not as important as other moves by the Bayside Hills community.
“So far that the civic [association] has attended are riddled with debasing innuendos, like how Bayside will become another Flushing,” said Joe Farruggio, who works with Bonfilio. “Or how the architect has some type of 'in' with the BSA because he was once a board member during the Giuliani administration (mind you that was 10 years ago and there isn’t one person on the board that’s still there now from the time that he served),” he added.
Farruggio also took issue to assertions by the community that the landowner has intentions to convert the proposed home’s basement into a basement apartment, to be rented illegally. He believes the speculation detracts focus from what is permissible under zoning law to build.
More than 60 Bayside Hills residents gathered on a piece of land at the corner of . on a chilly Sunday morning – vowing to put the freeze on plans to build a house there.
The corner property, owned by developer Rockchapel Realty, LLC, was divided into two tax lots, with the idea of building a home on what is now a “side yard.” The existing home at the location is being rented, and the developer says that the unimproved land is a “hardship.”
Former City Councilmember now State Senator Tony Avella, D-Bayside, publicized the meeting and came early to show his support for the neighbors against the plan. Avella encouraged the dozens of protestors to cross onto the land. A publicity photo was taken to demonstrate the protestors’ point of how unaccommodating the space was in size.
Councilman Dan Halloran, R-Whitestone, who was also there to back the protestors, declined to stand on the lot to participate in the photo. It is not immediately clear if the group had been granted permission from the landowner to cross onto the property.
“Nobody has attempted to build a house here in over 80 years for a reason,” said Avella, adding, “There is simply not enough room.”
The lot is only 18 feet wide where it meets 50th Ave., and is too small under zoning rules to be built upon. Nevertheless, architect Paul Bonfilio has designed a home for the property, even though it would be illegally close to the homes behind and next to it.
However Bonfilio has applied for a “variance” from the zoning code to permit construction. His application of support from Community Board 11 when it was reviewed on March 7 and was rejected by Borough President Helen Marshall at a subsequent hearing.
What’s worrying neighbors is that the Board of Standards and Appeals, a collection of professionals appointed by the Mayor, is not bound by the Board or the Borough President – and if they give Rockchapel the go-ahead, the only recourse is in the courts.
Henry Malone, who has lived directly across the street “for years,” has been supporting the Bayside Hills Civic Association and its president Michael Feiner in opposition.
“The buyer knew that the side yard of the property was too small to build a house on,” he declared, adding, “He tried to buy land from the neighbor… to make the plot big enough.”
Despite universal opposition from neighbors, community groups and elected officials, the fear remains that the plan will be approved.
“Bonfilio is a former member of the Board of Standards and Appeals,” complained Feiner. “He’s going back to his colleagues for a break.”
Halloran, who has been vocal in his opposition to the application, added his voice to the protest. “The zoning power is vested in the City Council, but the Board of Standards and Appeals can overrule the code at will – there’s no accountability,” he complained.
“That is why I am reintroducing a bill submitted by Senator Avella when he was on the Council, to give the council power to review their decisions,” he said.
“Right now, they ignore the law – sometimes they even ignore their previous decisions. It isn’t right,” Halloran said.