Restaurant Plans Go Forward
Plans for expansion of Ponticello Restaurant at 46-11 Broadway are expected to proceed after a hearing before the City Planning Commission last week at which it was noted that the proposal had received nearly unanimous approval of Community Board 1 and conditional approval from Borough President Claire Shulman.
The restaurant's owner, Joseph Honovic and the architect for the expansion Philip P. Agusta, proposed to map a C1-4 commercial overlay for the restaurant, which is a legal nonconforming use of the property, in an R5 residential district on Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets. The overlay would be mapped to a depth of 100 feet from Broadway between 46th Street to a point 100 feet east from 46th Street, and to a depth of 200 feet between a point 100 feet west of 47th Street and 47th Street. The conditions imposed by Community Board 1 and recommended by Shulman would reduce the depth of the overlay from Broadway from 200 feet to 175 feet. "An overlay mapped to a depth of 175 feet would allow the applicant's intended expansion and use of the property while protecting the adjacent residential area," Shulman's recommendation reads. The proposed overlay encompasses most of Lot 28 and portions of adjoining Lots 127 and 26. Lot 26 and adjoining Lots 127, 24 and 26 are presently developed with occupied housing, and it was felt that the mapping of an overlay to 200 feet would allow commercial use of the residential property and possibly lead to the demolition or renovation of the residential property for commercial or retail uses.
Such were never the intentions of the restaurant's owner, Agusta told the commission at the Aug. 9th hearings. "Under the worst condition postulated for the site plans, we could expand into the parking lot, which is a conforming accessory," he said. Honovic agreed. 'The cutback won't affect us," he said.
Shulman as well as the community board, had recommended approval of the application of the overlay, which is expected to be forthcoming in two or three weeks, Honovic said. The expansion plans were first considered some 10 years ago, he added. Honovic acquired the restaurant in 1982; another restaurant had occupied the building at the time. "We'll expand the tables to seat about 50 more people and make our other dining room more spacious," he explained. The kitchen will be expanded as well to accommodate food preparation for the additional diners.
In other business, Frederick Becker, representing Flushing Christian Day School, testified that the school wishes to expand its facilities at 158-15 Oak Ave., Flushing, in order to consolidate its student body and leave its satellite facility on Murray Street, to which approximately half the student body is bused every school day. The original proposal would have expanded the school building by 10,000 square feet; the revised proposal, developed after extensive discussion with Community Board 7, would expand the building by 5,000 square feet.
According to Becker, no complaints about bus or automobile traffic had been received by the community board or the local police precinct. However, several area residents, some of whom live across from or adjacent to the school, testified that accidents are common and that their driveways are frequently blocked by cars when parents are picking up or dropping off their children at the school. "Yesterday, cars were parked on either side of the street, area resident John Ryan testified. "There was barely enough room for me to get through. Imagine what the street would look like if buses were parked there as well. There were more than 200 accidents in the area." Ryan called for a traffic light or stop sign to be installed on Oak Avenue. "The street seems to be a thoroughfare," he said. However, Joseph Pizzi, a resident of the area for 35 years, said that the street does not meet city Department of Transportation criteria for a traffic control device.
Other area residents testified that they feared that the school would double its present enrollment if the expansion were allowed, with a concomitant infringement on the quality of life of the community. The neighborhood consists of one-family houses, most two to two and a half stories high, which were built in the 1920s. "These are stately houses. Will the school blend in?" Commissioner Albert Abney asked. Becker replied that the school is a brick structure that has been designed to be compatible with the neighborhood and that expansion would put classrooms in the cellar rather than expand upward. "We scaled the design back from a two-story structure with a pitched roof to a lower degree of pitch," he added.
To Ryan's contention that the community board vote of 31 in favor and nine opposed did not accurately represent community opinion and that 170 people had opposed the expansion of the school, Joseph Amoroso, vice president of the Kissena Park Civic Association replied that it would be in the best interest of the community if the school were to remain in its present location. "It could be 59 percent larger," he pointed out. "It will always be a community facility, and we'd like for it to be Flushing Christian Day School. There are problems with all schools, but the increase in noise and traffic shouldn't be excessive."
Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of Community Board 7, added that she wished to reinforce the community board position on the matter. She added that Queens is facing a 30,000-seat shortfall for its public school students. "Most schools in the borough are in R2 zones," she said. The possibility exists that the public school overcrowding situation could be addressed with a public elementary or junior high school at the location if Flushing Christian Day School is forced to take its kindergarten through grade eight students elsewhere.
The commission called for more information before they made a decision. "When the community board and the borough president vote for an item I don't look at it that closely," Commissioner Amanda Burden said. "It'd like to see a vehicle count. It sounds like there haven't been enough studies. The commission needs more information before we can make a decision."
Bitterman also testified in the matter of the search for new headquarters by Community Board 7. The board proposes to rent office space at 142-04 Bayside Ave. "We've been in a basement at 45-35 Kissena Blvd. since August 1994," she said. "We're across from an incinerator and a boiler. The site lacks ventilation, there are rodents and the staff is subjected to excessive heat and dampness. The new site is close to downtown Flushing, is handicapped accessible and within the district. We hold board meetings at Union Plaza Nursing Home two blocks away. It's ideal."
While Commissioner William Grinker briefly questioned locating board headquarters in a medical office building surrounded by a residential area, Bitterman asked that the commission act with all possible dispatch. "We lost a site on 137th Avenue because the lease expired," she said. "Often, property owners can't wait for the city to complete negotiations." Jesse Levine, Department of Citywide Administrative Services Real Estate Division first assistant commissioner, added: "We've examined more than 290 sites and lost two because the rents rose while we were negotiating. Landlords rented two others. There's nothing else to be had. This is an appropriate site."