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Queens Chronicle

Douglaston historic debate renewed

Preservationists call for stop to plans to alter home in district

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Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:28 am, Thu Mar 28, 2013.

The suggested landmarking of the remainder of Douglaston, five years after it was originally put on the city’s agenda, has re-emerged as a house on the border of the proposed historic district has been slated for alterations.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) was joined in a press conference on Friday by members of various civic associations demanding the Department of Buildings and Landmarks Preservation Commission prevent the home at 38-60 Douglaston Parkway from being transformed into something completely anathema with the calendared historic district that covers the area. Avella fought for the designation of the Douglaston Historic District Extension during his councilmanic tenure.

It was initially calendared in 2008 and has been sitting at the LPC ever since.

The owner, Xu Jun Zhai, has applied and been approved by the DOB to expand the home both vertically and horizontally, including an alteration in the number of stories, according to filings available on the agency’s website.

Regulations require the planned alterations be forwarded to the LPC for review. The commission has 40 days to either initiate the designation of the full proposed area, or just the single home, to stop the planned construction. Or, it can allow the alterations to go ahead.

“This is a perfect example of why the landmarks preservation commissioner must move forward with the Douglaston Historic District Extension,” Avella said. “A property owner in a calendared historic district has been granted approval to significantly alter a home that has real history behind it, potentially destroying its unique character. This is simply unacceptable as homes with such historical importance must be preserved for generations to come.”

The lawmaker likened the alterations’ approval to “a domino effect — one house goes and another and another.”

Paul Graziano, an urban planning consultant, and candidate for the 19th Council District hoping to unseat incumbent Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) in November, helped map out the historic district.

“This house was already moved 150 feet years ago, so that it would not be demolished,” Graziano said. “And now it is under threat of being changed.”

Should the LPC go ahead with landmarking either the single home or entire district, the area’s City Council member would have final say in the decision through home rule, which allows the presiding legislator the leeway to guide the council’s decisions on a particular district.

The proposed work puts Halloran in an ideological bind.

“Here’s my dilemma: I’m a big property rights person,” Halloran said in an interview, later adding, “There’s something to be said of homes that were colonial style or Tudor style and the maintenance of the theme of the neighborhood.

“The last thing I want to do is put ourselves in a box to have something going up that’s completely out of context.”

The proposed historic district runs contrary to the wishes of some of the homeowners within its bounds, and has been opposed by vocal members of the community. Halloran said he wants to abide by the wishes of the majority of homeowners, within reason.

To that end, he’s calling for a meeting of minds with all parties involved: the LPC, preservationists and those opposed to the historic district.

“Maybe we can build a consensus,” he said.

As the Avella press conference wrapped up, a silver Toyota pickup truck sat on a neighboring corner, pulling into the driveway as the crowd dispersed. Followed by police officers, the owner and family members emerged, distraught to come to their home and find a crowd of protesters standing in her driveway.

She declined to comment and could not be reached again as of writing.

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