The April meeting of Community Board 1 contained an unexpected twist, with the announcement that District Manager Lucille Hartmann and Chairman Vinicio Donato are retiring from their positions this summer.
Hartmann, who has been involved with the board since November 1978, with a five-year hiatus in between, will leave in July. Donato will step down in August to see that the new district manager gets settled.
“That’s 44 years. I think I’ve had enough time,” said Donato, who was also the chairman of the Elmhurst Hospital and the Queens Museum boards. “I’m 80 years old. I’m tired.”
He recalled the first board meeting, which only consisted of eight people and took place in the back of an auto school.
“I can’t believe that this much time has passed,” Hartmann said. I’ve just been blessed and I thank you all for the opportunity.”
In other business, there were several applications to the Department of City Planning and the city Department of Consumer Affairs regarding establishing or renewing enclosed sidewalk cafes.
One in particular, an application to establish 36 tables and 70 seats at Piatsa Souvlaki Cafe, a Greek eatery located at 36-02 30 Ave. in Astoria, drew criticism from several residents who were present.
As owner George Sorodos and a representative presented his case to the board, he said he has no waiters and no take out service. He added there are 64 seats inside the establishment.
“I will try to have a good business, I think,” Sorodos said.
But several residents said having outdoor seating would diminish the quality of life.
“This is a residential block and it’s encroaching right on the residents of one of the people who live there,” said Helen Maloney, who lives nearby and added that three stories of apartments are above the restaurant. “Thirty-sixth Street has become the garbage dump for all the cafes on 30th Avenue ... These people with businesses on the avenue do not take care of their garbage.”
She added that there is an alleyway by the restaurant that residents don’t want to become filled with trash and that the sidewalk around the restaurant is narrow. Several other speakers and some board members agreed the tight space on the sidewalk is a concern.
One woman, who said she cares for her aunt who lives nearby, said she had to stand in a tree pit earlier that day to let a woman in a wheelchair pass, as the sidewalk is too narrow.
Allyson Spurling, who lives on 36th Street, said it’s exciting to see the area change, but there are too many restaurants.
“Everybody sits outside their houses at night time in the evening,” Spurling said of residents. “The seats outside, the alcohol, add it all together and the quality of life in the neighborhood just starts to change.”
Two others said they didn’t understand the need for Sorodos to expand, as they don’t see many patrons in the store at once.
A man named Aristotelis, who declined to give his last name, said he lives on 30th Avenue and does not witness any garbage; some residents laughed. When he said that he supplies goods such as pita bread to Sorodos, some yelled, “Vendor! He’s a vendor!”
Sorodos said he will withdraw the application and meet with the residents before resubmitting.
Another application met criticism from board members. The two owners of Tacuba, a Mexican eatery at 35-01 36 St., first applied to add 48 outdoor tables with 100 seats, but told the board Tuesday their plans changed; now, they seek to establish 36 tables and 46 seats, with the enclosed sidewalk cafe extending along the restaurant’s 35th Avenue and 36th Street sides.
“I still can’t figure out where you’re going to put all these tables,” Board Member Frances Luhmann-McDonald said, looking at the submitted plans.
Donato said he walked by the establishment and asked a similar question about how the sidewalk space will allow pedestrians to cross.
The owners said the previous tenant, 5 Napkin Burger, had the same configuration, which was approved at one point, that they wish to implement.
The board members pushed the application to next month’s meeting agenda because the owners must re-submit their paperwork.
Aside from the moved item, the withdrawn application and another for which the owners did not show up, the board approved all other cafe applications.