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Queens Chronicle

Residents allege a conflict of interest

Architects connected with medical facility project sit on voting board

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Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:42 am, Thu Jan 24, 2013.

A group of Astoria residents alleges that their community board had a conflict of interest when it voted to support a zoning variance for an eight-story medical facility last month.

The Board of Standards and Appeals must rezone the backyard of the under-construction building at 23-25 31 St. to allow 20 feet of space from the property line, instead of the usual 30, before construction can continue. The Department of Buildings issued a stop-work order in late summer when plans showed that the work exceeded the 30-foot standard.

On Dec. 26 Community Board 1 members voted for the change, given four stipulations, with 17 members for the variance, nine against and one abstention.

However, homeowners on 32nd Street who say construction of the building is causing their homes to crumble, say the vote was questionable.

The zoning and variance chairman who led the committee that originally reviewed the application is John Carusone. Carusone was one of the architects with Pali Realty on the project in 2009. He said he resigned from the project prior to when the problems occurred.

“Those issues I was not involved in. It was the engineer’s,” Carusone said at a CB 1 meeting on Tuesday night. “My plans were not approved when I resigned.”

“Absolutely not a conflict of interest. He was removed from the project in October 2010,” CB 1 chairman Vinicio Donato said.

Another point of contention for residents on 32nd Street is that one the architects currently working on the project, Gerald Caliendo, sits on the CB 1 board.

Caliendo abstained from the December vote, and Donato asked him not to speak during discussion. “He’s allowed to speak legally, but I asked him not to because it doesn’t look kosher,” Donato said.

“I still feel the conflicts are vast,” said Robert Draghi, a resident of 32nd Street who has spoken out against the project on several occasions. “As I had said, it seems crazy to fight this long for something that should be so easy. They have insurance and all we want is to be back to the state before [construction started].”

Draghi and his family have asked Pali Realty’s insurer, Ace Insurance, to come assess the damage, but so far their requests have not been answered. In the past the family said they did not want to sue; however, Draghi said he spoke to a lawyer on Tuesday.

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

Draghi said the cracking started in 2009 when the construction team started pile driving, but the problems did not subside when that phase was complete.

On Tuesday he said a reading taken earlier in the month showed that the house was still moving.

Resident Norm Sutaria spoke at Tuesday’s CB 1 meeting as well, saying “the exhaust from the building will affect our quiet enjoyment of Astoria.”

The Queens borough president’s board reviewed the variance request last week and approved it. The Board of Standards and Appeals will vote next.

Welcome to the discussion.