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Queens Chronicle

Demolition Plans Spark Little Neck Controversy

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Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2007 12:00 am

A couple’s plan to tear down their half of a Little Neck semi-attached house has left their irate neighbors with unanswered questions about the future of their own home.

Less than 5 inches of brick and wood stand between the homes of Sangrok and Helen Lee, and John and Danielle DeVine. After purchasing their property on 249th Street in 2003, the Lees informed the DeVines of their intention to raze their half of the house. Although the DeVines’ attorney maintains that architectural drawings display the Lees’ intentions to construct two separate houses in its place, Helen Lee said they plan to build one two-family home.

The DeVines, who live in Bayside and rent out their Little Neck property, immediately had concerns about what the project would mean to their property’s structural integrity. The properties share a chimney and their basement crawl spaces are adjoining. The siding on the Lees’ vacant home has already been removed and two weeks ago the Lees removed their roof, opening gaps that caused the DeVines’ roof to leak, John DeVine said. The foundation-less porch room that stretches across the front of their homes would likely collapse when only supported on one side, contractors have told John DeVine.

It would cost the DeVines roughly $10,000 to make the house livable after the completion of the Lees’ work, according to one estimate. John DeVine, an insurance agent, speculated that his house would likely be condemned for some period of time, forcing his tenant out and leaving him without the supplemental income he uses to pay the mortgage.

“I wish that I had a crystal ball. If it was going to be okay I would have no problem,” Danielle DeVine said.

John DeVine put the house up for sale two months ago, but said that the Lees’ plans have deterred potential buyers.

Helen Lee acknowledged her neighbors’ concerns but said that she and her husband do not plan to do anything outside of their property-owning rights. She explained that she purchased the home with her husband four years ago with the intention of moving in with their three children and her parents.

But she soon realized that the home would be too small for all of them. Because they own a sizable plot of land adjacent to the house, the Lees decided to expand out but soon realized that the building — almost 100 years old — could not withstand the change.

“That house needs to be knocked down. The structure’s so weak,” said Helen Lee, who currently lives on Long Island. She had expressed an interest in purchasing the DeVines’ home but the two parties never struck a deal.

Kate Lindquist, a Department of Buildings spokeswoman, said that a demolition permit would never be issued if wrecking work would threaten the structural integrity of another residence. However, the demolition permit for the Lees’ home, submitted in October 2006, was held up because of their failure to include a zoning analysis in their application — not because of the threat the work posed to the DeVines’ home. The Lees are still working to secure proper demolition and building permits from the city.

But in a March 5 letter addressed to John DeVine, Robert Hudak, the department’s deputy director of Intergovernmental and Community Affairs, wrote: “It is my understanding that owners may demolish their half of a semi-attached home as-of-right as long as the application meets all requirements set forth in the New York City Building Code, Zoning Resolution and other applicable regulations.”

Although Hudak would not comment further, Woody Tascal, a spokesman for Councilman Erik Martin Dilan, the Housing and Buildings Committee chairman, said no precedent for the project exists to his knowledge.

“It’s kind of unusual,” agreed Kenny Lee, Sangrok and Helen Lee’s architect who works for Flushing’s Kyong Andy Kim Consulting. He added that he has never overseen the separation of a semi-attached house but said that with a proper reinforcement plan, the DeVines’ property wouldn’t be threatened.

But the DeVines still want assurances that they will be compensated if their house is destroyed along with the Lees’. The DeVines say that the Lees have refused to sign an agreement — drawn up by both of their lawyers — that calls for the DeVines to cooperate with the project in exchange for the Lees’ posting of $250,000 bond. But Helen Lee contends that their lawyers are still trying to draft a contract that they both find agreeable.

“It’s stressful. It’s like an extra job,” John DeVine said of trying to settle the dispute.

Welcome to the discussion.