By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
Longtime Bayside activists and newly installed Community Board 11 members Mandingo Tshaka and Frank Skala stirred up the board’s monthly meeting Monday, using their new positions to speak out on zoning variances and challenge the meeting’s guest speaker, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
Two variance requests, one for the Staples parking lot on Northern Boulevard and one for the vertical enlargement of a house on 39th Avenue, were brought before the board.
Community Board 11 covers Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, Hollis Hills, Oakland Gardens and part of Auburndale.
The board voted to renew a previously granted variance for the Staples’ lot but for only 10 years instead of 20 as the store had requested. The reason given for the shortened variance were outstanding issues such as drainage of standing water and barriers that had failed to block car headlights in the lot from shining into nearby homes.
When it was time to take a vote on the variance, Tshaka voted yes but Skala, who has vowed to oppose all variances, bellowed “No.”
At one point during the night’s discussion, former Community Board 11 Bernard Haber turned around and urged Skala to have “some decorum.”
The board voted down a variance requested by a 39th Avenue homeowner seeking to add space on the second floor, causing it to exceed the permitted floor area on the lot by 14 feet.
“This is the most outrageous thing in my neighborhood that I’ve seen,” said Skala, who voted against the variance along with Tshaka, who repeatedly raised his hand to contend that the previous owner of the lot had created his own hardship by subdividing the lot and leaving little room for the homeowner seeking the variance.
Tshaka also grilled DA Brown, who spoke at the meeting as part of his tour of the borough’s community boards.
Tshaka challenged him on the light sentences given to two white men who beat and robbed a black man, George Saint Louis, outside the Byzantio Bar & Grill on Bell Boulevard in 2001.
The two Whitestone brothers were each given five years’ probation in the case, and the record of one of the brothers was sealed due to his being a youthful offender although he was 18 at the time of the incident.
The DA’s office had initially pursued the case as a hate crime but dropped that element as part of a plea deal.
“George got absolutely nothing,” said Tshaka, who added that the young man’s mother had died of a stroke upon hearing what happened to her son.
“I have great confidence in the people in the anti-bias bureau,” said Brown, who did not know the details of the case but promised that someone from his office would contact Tshaka with an explanation of prosecutors’ handling of it.
Brown also said a man charged with murdering former Jilliann’s Jewelry owner Fausto Rodriguez in 2000 would go on trial within a couple of months.
In his remarks to the audience, the DA said new technology and tougher sentencing laws had helped his office fight crime in an era of shrinking budgets.
He touted the benefits of DNA evidence and digital recordings of 911 calls in helping to secure higher bail and prosecutions of criminals, especially perpetrators of domestic violence.
“That obviously has a significant effect on the court,” said Brown.
The district attorney’s office has taken a 15 percent cut to its budget in the last two years and the number of prosecutors has dwindled from 320 to 280, Brown said.
“The city is mindful of the job we do, but it’s going to be a tight situation,” said Brown, who added that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 had caused his office to shift some resources to investigations at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.
In other discussion during the meeting, Chairman Jerry Iannece said initial work relating to the Alley Pond Drainage Improvement Project had finally begun along Luke Place in Bayside Hills. The first phase of the project is expected to last 18 months and consist of sewer line installation, with the eventual goal of preventing flooding in the area and treating sewage in an environmentally-friendly way.
Some residents were concerned over the removal of trees separating Lakeside Towers from the Cross Island Parkway and the use of a nearby ballfield for the project’s staging area.
Iannece said both the trees and the ballfield would be restored, although he did not know what type and size of tree would be planted.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.