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Queens Chronicle

Housing project rankles neighbors

18 attached houses unoccupied after a year; problems abound

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Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:39 am, Thu Aug 8, 2013.

A housing and hotel complex project off the Long Island Expressway in Fresh Meadows has neighbors fuming over lack of maintenance, shoddy workmanship and fear of future flooding.

The project’s address is 183-15 Horace Harding Expressway, but the 18 two-family houses that were completed over a year ago are located on adjacent 183rd Street and Booth Memorial Drive, residential streets with well-maintained homes.

Neighbors complain that there is no maintenance of the site, which features a large hole in the middle where the hotels are to be constructed. It was dug so that the project could be grandfathered in prior to a downzoning of the area.

Nearby residents say the hole attracts raccoons and other animals, while nearby barrels are filled with rainwater that they fear are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The construction fences on the Horace Harding and Booth Memorial sides are flimsy and the one in the rear can be easily moved. Vandals have already stolen decorative metal balls atop railings on the houses.

Christine Haider, first vice chairwoman of Community Board 11 and president of the nearby Harding Heights Civic Association, says she’s “extremely concerned” about how the development is being built. “There are so many problems, it’s very frustrating,” Haider said. “The developer can amend plans until construction is finished.”

The most troublesome issue to neighbors is the driveways, which were designed too steep for the underground garages. The Department of Buildings did not approve it so the owners, Century Construction Group Corp., headed by brothers Chris and George Xu, raised the grade of the driveways, which eliminated the garages.

“They repitched it, eliminating the garage, so there’s no room for two cars as planned,” Haider said. “We fear that they will try to put a third family in the basement since they added a window where the garage door was to go.”

Living directly across the street from one row of houses on 183rd Street are Joe and Diane Diblasi, and their neighbors, Catherine Boscarino and John Butera. On a visit to the site Tuesday, the neighbors noted that the driveways are still very steep and some are so bad that the contractor installed ladders for utility workers to use in order to read meters. Those areas have been gated and locked because teens were gathering there.

Because there is not adequate parking for the future homeowners, the developer has paved two areas near the corner of 183rd Street and Booth Memorial Drive, which were intended to be used as green spaces. They are too small to accommodate all the anticipated cars so residents will have to compete for space on the streets.

Diane Diblasi said that aside from the aesthetics, the cemented areas create a potential flooding problem, combined with the pitch of the street. Her neighbors have already seen the results.

“With cement there’s no absorption of rainwater,” Butera said. “Water is already accumulating at the end of the street after it rains, which never happened before.”

Boscarino said she’s written several letters to the DOB and also contacted the Department of Health, but has seen no results. Neighbors have also complained to CB 11.

Susan Seinfeld, CB 11 district manager, said that the owners are responsive to complaints but she does not see improvements.

Seinfeld added that city agencies have issued violations. The DOB’s website indicated there are still three open cases, including an unsafe building.

CB 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece called the project “horrendous,” and that it was “bad news to begin with.”

“We told the DOB that the project is wrong and will be meeting with them in August,” Iannece added. “The neighbors are rightfully upset.”

Seinfeld noted that George Xu has agreed to a “walk around” with her and Haider. “He doesn’t shy away, but nothing gets done.”

The houses do not have certificates of occupancy and Xu has said he won’t start building the hotels until the houses are completed. Neighbors are also concerned about the impact of those two six-story structures when they’re built.

John Diblasi said the hotels will add congestion to Booth Memorial Drive because that will be the only access to them.

Xu has said that the hotels would be part of the Marriott chain, with one a Courtyard and the other a Fairfield Inn.

They will have to be built close together in the center of the property because of space limitations and call for underground parking. Haider noted that the permits to build the hotels have expired.

The 1.6-acre site formerly housed a strip mall, including a Cineplex, that was demolished in 2005 under the state’s voluntary Brownfield cleanup program due to chemical solvents in the ground from a dry cleaning establishment that was located there. The cleanup took longer than expected and was costly to the developer.

Some believe the added expenses and having to redo the driveways have left the brothers without enough funding to proceed at this time. Calls to George Xu, spokesman for the project, were not returned.

Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of Community Board 7 in Flushing, noted that in 2010 the Xus had three large projects set for the downtown area. None have materialized.

For Diane Diblasi, the future of her quality of life does not look bright. “If the houses are sold, it will add to overcrowding at the local schools (Francis Lewis High School, one of the most overcrowded schools in the city, is a block away) and congestion on the streets,” she said. “I’ve lived here almost 50 years; I grew up in this house and now we face all these problems.

“I’m annoyed and disgusted,” she added. “They have not been a good neighbor.”

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