Franco gets OK for White House catering hall plan

Franco gets OK for White House catering hall plan
By Connor Adams Sheets

The White House, a landmark Whitestone restaurant, is poised to be renovated and transformed into a large catering hall after Community Board 7 voted Monday to support a rezoning proposed by its new owner, who ran Caffé on the Green in Bayside for many years.

The zoning change, which CB 7 voted 29-6 to approve, would allow certain types of two-story residential and commercial buildings to be built on the entire east end of the block of 154th Street from 10th avenue to 11th avenue. The proposal will now go before Borough President Helen Marshall for her approval.

The White House, at 10-24 154th St., is currently a one-story building with a partial second floor. Under the proposal CB 7 voted to support, the building’s footprint would be expanded and the building would include a new, expansive, second-floor party space, according to owner Joe Franco’s attorney, Steve Sinacori, who made the proposal on his behalf at CB 7’s Monday evening hearing.

The building’s capacity would be 250 to 300 people and Franco also plans to close on a property that wraps around the restaurant in order to provide more than 100 parking spaces, Sinacori said.

A number of people spoke in opposition to the project, including neighboring property owners. One worry was that the establishment would bring hundreds of people and vehicles to the area.

But Sinacori said the project will be responsible and that Franco is taking steps to ensure the site is a good neighbor.

“Currently the White House has a permit that allows cabaret, which is an eating and drinking establishment that allows dancers,” he said. “We will be surrendering that as part of our Buildings Department application.”

One of the key complaints about the project was the belief by some that the rezoning should have been targeted to include only the White House property, as upzoning the entire block could pave the way for a larger-scale commercial development such as a strip mall in the future.

“I don’t understand as an urban planner and someone who does urban zoning why this didn’t come in as just a rezoning of this particular parcel,” Paul Graziano, a local independent urban planner and preservationist, said.

Graziano suggested the rezoning be restricted only to the White House property and that the developer be restricted from overstepping in a variety of ways, and he also said he believes the building should be refigured to be further away from a neighboring home to the north.

But Sinacori and others argued the character of the block as it currently is — and as it will be if the White House expansion gets full approval by the city — suggests that commercial development is appropriate.

“The majority of this block has been commercial and is commercial,” Frank Macchio, CB 7’s acting Land Use Committee chairman for the project, said. “So making this block zoned commercial will put it in accordance with what the area already is.”

The White House was sold to Franco by longtime principal owner Matty Geoghegan last month. In 2009 Franco, the former proprietor of Caffé on the Green, lost the license to the city Parks Department concession, which now is operated as Valentino’s on the Green.

Sinacori said the project is expected to break ground this fall or in early 2012, and that construction could be completed as early as fall 2012.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.