The Juniper Park Civic Association and Councilman Tony Avella held a press conference this past Sunday, December 2nd on Mazeau Street in Maspeth. This marked the one-year anniversary of our last press conference that called for DOB to step in and force the demolition of a building on the street. About 30 concerned residents came out in the cold and snow to protest alongside us.
The 4-story structure violates the R4-1 zoning for this area and encroaches on the lot next door. Earlier this year, the owner instead demolished the original wood frame house, located at 57-37 Mazeau Street. He continues to negotiate with the Department of Buildings, looking for a way to legalize the house.
The owner, Tommy Huang, pled guilty to environmental crimes committed inside the landmarked RKO Keith's Theater in Flushing over a period of years beginning in 1987. The State found that among other infractions, Huang had "knowingly permitted hundreds of gallons of heating oil to spill into the basement of the theater in July 1996," and also allowed the improper removal of asbestos from the theater. After copping a plea, he was fined $5,000, ordered to clean up the mess he caused, and placed on 5 years probation instead of serving jail time. Huang never cleaned up the theater and was released from probation after only serving 14 months.
Jerry Rotondi, Chair of the Committee to Save the RKO Keith's Theater of Flushing, Inc., questioned whether elected officials were in Huang's pocket. "He has friends in high places ‒ that's for sure," Rotondi said. "How else could he get away with this for so long?"
Harbachan Singh, Vice President of the Queens Civic Congress, said, "Mr. Huang's history with the RKO Keith landmark in Flushing says it all. If he gets to circumvent the rules, it is tantamount to a declaration of open season on our residential communities. This cannot be."
Meanwhile, across the street at 57-40 Mazeau Street, owner Stavros Stathakis has converted a garage into a house without permits. According to online DOB records, this house has $2,500 in unresolved building violations and no certificate of occupancy, yet it is currently on the market with a $600,000 asking price. Councilman Avella has written to Derek Lee, Queens Commissioner of Buildings, and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo about the property. "An unsuspecting homebuyer could purchase this home and be responsible for fixing the violations," Avella said in his letters. At the press conference, he summed it up simply, "Enough is enough. When will the city take action?"
The Juniper Park Civic Association and Councilman Avella are calling for greater enforcement of building and zoning codes.
"These 2 homes facing each other on an otherwise quiet block are proof that builders feel they can get away with just about anything in Queens," said JPCA Robert Holden.
Paul Graziano, President of the Historic Districts Council, also mentioned that the American Institute of Architects (AIA) recently submitted zoning text changes that were certified by the Department of City Planning which call for increased bulk and height allowances within residential zones.
"Why is it that a developer or the AIA can meet with City Planning and get whatever they want, but when the people who live in a community try to, they get the door slammed in their faces?" Holden asked.
Avella said he asked the AIA to voluntarily withdraw their zoning amendments, but it was his understanding that the group did not plan to do that.