Local civic leaders and elected officials held a press conference at City Hall in lower Manhattan on the afternoon of Saturday, June 30th to protest overdevelopment and the NYC Department of Building's refusal to put an end to abuses by rogue developers. Speakers focused on the nefarious actions of convicted felon, Tommy Huang, in particular. Councilman Tony Avella and representatives of State Senator Serphin Maltese were present and echoed the sentiments of members of the Juniper Park Civic Association, the Committee to Save the RKO Keith's Theater of Flushing, Inc., and the Historic Districts Council.
"Our coalition is calling for Mayor Bloomberg, the Department of City Planning and the Department of Buildings to put an end to building and zoning abuses," said Tony Nunziato, Chair of the JPCA's Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force. "Developers are destroying the feel and livability of our communities by replacing decades-old one-family homes with out-of-character multi-family eyesores. We are for growth, but this is uncontrolled growth in areas that are not equipped to handle it," Nunziato warned.
Attention quickly turned to the actions of notorious developer, Tommy Huang. Councilman Tony Avella used a row of houses being built by Huang in his district in Bayside as an example of the builder's apparent negligence: "Those houses are built too close to the highway and the retaining wall is inadequate. In a few years, they're going to slide down onto the Cross Island Parkway," Avella said.
Mr. Avella also mentioned that a firehouse on Grand Avenue in Elmhurst was undermined by excavation without a permit on an adjacent property owned by Mr. Huang in January 2006. "Those firemen's lives were put in danger because of the excavation of this property. In turn, that put the entire community that they serve in peril because the company had to be relocated while the firehouse was being repaired."
"Tommy Huang built a 4-story building in an R4-1 zone on Mazeau Street in Maspeth," said Robert Holden, President of the Juniper Park Civic Association. "He built 2 stories above what he was allowed to build under that zoning. Yet the Department of Buildings issued him a permit to build a 3-family house. This is unacceptable."
Manny Caruana, a JPCA board member who lives near the Mazeau Street house, had a few words of his own about the situation. "He got a demolition permit for the wooden frame house against which he built the 4-story apartment building," Caruana said. "Demolition was not being done safely, and the site was once again shut down by NYC sheriffs and the Department of Buildings, and another stop work order was issued."
"The man is a convicted criminal and a recidivist," said Jerry Rotondi, Chair of the Committee to Save the RKO Keith's Theater of Flushing, Inc. "He continues to break the law and gets away with it with a slap on the wrist, if he even gets that much," he said. Huang was convicted of spilling gallons of oil into the basement of the landmarked RKO Keith's Theater which he owned in the 1980s and 1990s. In order to escape jail time, he agreed to pay a fine and clean up the theater. "He never cleaned up the theater, and was never held to it," Rotondi said.
Avella called for the city to act swiftly against Huang. "The state has barred Tommy Huang from building condominiums. If the state has the power to do that, then the city should be able to prevent him from continuing to build illegally," Avella said.
The coalition called for the forced demolition of the Mazeau Street house by the city, as well as expedition of the downzoning of parts of Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale and Flushing in order to preserve the character of those areas. JPCA President Robert Holden said, "Volunteer residents of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale went door to door during the summer and fall of 2005 to collect the data that city planning told us they needed in order to complete our rezoning study. We were told at the time that the rezoning of our neighborhoods would be completed in 6 months. It's now 2 years later and the department has not even certified the plan. In the meantime, our neighborhoods are being destroyed."
JPCA Executive Board Member Robert Doocey made the following point, "When you replace the 4 or 5 people living in a one-family home with 20 or so people living in a multifamily building, it puts a strain on services, such as schools and electrical power. This kind of building strangles a community. We cannot continue to build like this and expect to survive as a city."
The newly elected President of the Manhattan-based Historic Districts Council, urban planner and Flushing resident Paul Graziano, had this to say about rezonings in Queens: "We were able to rezone a number of neighborhoods about 3 years ago, and they now receive better protection against overdevelopment. It seems that after the 2005 election, the process slowed down considerably and now downzoning areas is no longer a priority for the Bloomberg administration. All of the development activity is now unfortunately being funneled into neighborhoods such as parts of Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale and Flushing which still await rezoning and is destroying the character of those communities."