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Queens Chronicle

Astoria board backs medical building

Residents on 32nd St. claim the project has destroyed their homes

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Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:50 am, Thu Dec 27, 2012.

Community Board 1 in Astoria recommended the Board of Standards and Appeals allow developers to continue work on a medical facility, which its neighbors say is causing their homes to crumble.

The eight-story building’s backyard at 23-25 31 St. must be rezoned to allow 30 feet of space from the property line instead of the usual 20, before construction can continue.

The Department of Buildings issued a stop-work order in late summer. The structure being developed by Pali Realty had 13 violations and $16,000 in fines. The building now has one violation, according to CB 1.

The board voted for the change, given four stipulations, with 17 members for the variance, nine against and one abstention, which pleased the majority of the 50 individuals in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Get your lawyers,” board member Frances Luhmann-McDonald said, who voted against the variance.

The homeowners whose backyards abut the large facility had hoped for a different result. Nevertheless, they say it won’t change much for now.

“We had a house and we want a house,” 32nd Street resident Robert Draghi said.

He claimed the building workers would push out the downstairs windows to climb into the Draghis’ yard, without permission, during construction.

But now that the building is further along workers can’t climb out the windows because of the way they are installed. Draghis also plans to keep his gate locked.

“They can’t finish the building. It’s not going to happen,” he said, reiterating that without access to his yard, the construction will be stalled.

According to engineer Neil Schmelkin, who conducted a private assessment of Draghi’s house on July 24, it would be more cost affective to rebuild the 60-year-old brick home from scratch rather than repair all major and minor cracks in the foundation, drywall and brickwork.

“New things were breaking and popping all the time,” Lisa Draghi, Robert’s wife, said of the damages, adding the house seems stable for now.

The couple does not plan on sueing Pali Realty, but instead will wait for its insurance company, Ace Group Insurance, to evaluate their damage. “Something is holding it up,” they added.

The board’s four stipulations are: the brick wall separating the structure from the homes be finished with a desirable stucco finish; a barrier be installed in front of the air conditioning unit to nullify noise; the developers have the duty to mitigate the problems with the adjacent homes using a third party; and the front of the building be lit for security reasons.

Residents on both sides of the issue made their cases, at times yelling back and forth over the board members.

“This is a meeting, not a shouting match,” CB 1 chairman Vinicio Donato said.

“I vote yes because it’s the only facility that is close by,” Astoria resident Helen Skarla said at the meeting.

“Please don’t destroy our homes,” Maria Imbaja, 23, said.

The Queens Borough President board will vote on the variance next. The board does not have to honor CB 1’s stipulations.

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