Gov’t must look into ways city agencies treat Clear Spring residents

An open letter to U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside):

I have lived in the Clear Spring section of Bayside, on and off, my entire 80 years. I have been honored to serve as president of my civic association, the Bayside Clear Spring Council, for many years, and I have served on Community Board 11 as well.

There have been many changes in my community in my lifetime. Unfortunately, many of these changes have not been positive. They are damaging to the lives of the residents of this area. These changes also violate the human and civil rights of the residents in this neighborhood. I am writing this letter to you because I believe this situation warrants a federal investigation.

I live on the south side of Northern Boulevard in an area whose borders include Bell Boulevard, Rocky Hill Road and Francis Lewis Boulevard. Along Northern Boulevard, the commercial area has been allowed to encroach into the residential neighborhood down to 45th Road, negatively affecting my neighbors’ quality of life. These businesses, which should only extend 100 feet into the community, as they do in most commercial zones, extend for the most part 200 feet into the residential zone, down to 45th Road, particularly from the Clearview Expressway to Bell Boulevard.

Do we find this in any other neighborhood along Northern Boulevard? No. Why is it allowed to exist in my community, which is predominantly African American? Because city agencies like the Board of Standards and Appeals and Department of Buildings allow it to happen. It is done deliberately. This would not be tolerated in any other area.

And what kind of businesses do we find in this area? On one block, there are four auto dealerships. Star Nissan is an especially egregious neighbor. It repeatedly stores more cars on its lot than allowed by its variance. It continuously parks vehicles on the sidewalk, blocking my neighbors from passing and requiring them to risk their lives by walking into the service road of the Clearview Expressway, where cars and trucks speed. The police have been notified innumerable times, but the practice continues. Vehicles also block residents’ driveways frequently. When will someone pay attention — when someone is maimed or killed? Blocking cars should be towed away.

Then there are the floodlights at night. They shine so brightly onto adjacent homes on 45th Road that it is like daytime. Would you want to live there? What do you think this does to the value of homes in this area?

Helms Brothers is another problem for the neighborhood. Because of the DOB’s incompetence, a certificate of occupancy for this business eventually permitted it to extend its building all the way to 45th Road into the residential area.

Over the years, the BSA has permitted auto body and repair shops to extend to 45th Road right next to people’s homes. An example is the case of BSA Cal. No. 65-65 BZ, filed on behalf of DonJoe Auto Body. The fumes emanating from this business were noxious and made residents sick. They seeped into people’s homes. At times, residents could not stay in their homes. Today, toxic odor problems persist at this and other locations along 45th Road. The noise and the congestion make living on 45th Road unbearable. There is no regard for health nor concern for community quality.

Abbey Rent-All is another example of DOB damage to my community. DOB issued this business, on 45th Avenue and 204th Street, an industrial certificate of occupancy. This is a residential area. What rationalization can DOB give for issuing such a certificate of occupancy?

CVS at Northern and Bell boulevards expanded its business to 45th Road, where deliveries are made. This is another intrusion into my community. Along with that, why does the commercial overlay along Bell Boulevard from Northern Boulevard to 45th Road extend 200 feet into my community on the west side of Bell Boulevard and 150 feet down to 46th Avenue, but only 100 feet on the east side of this roadway? Once again, my people are treated differently than others.

Just recently, the Getty gas station on the south side of Northern Boulevard and 204th Street came to CB 11’s Zoning Committee seeking a renewal of a variance — a variance that expired 10 years ago. A business that stores commercial vehicles illegally on its premises overnight continuously haunting the law! Community residents attending this hearing voiced complaints and objections to this business. The BSA executive director, Jeff Mulligan, wrote a letter more than a year ago to this business, giving it 60 days to file for a renewal.

It did not. It waited 11 months to do so. Why wasn’t this business padlocked and put out of business? The BSA did not follow up. Why should any business follow BSA regulations? There is no enforcement. No heavy duty late fines to be paid or other punishment to be levied. Why should this business get off scot-free after ignoring the renewal of its variance for 10 years? If a driver’s license is not renewed, the license becomes defunct. The same should hold true for a variance.

In addition, I believe that when a variance comes under consideration, all of the conditions of Section 72-21 to grant a variance should have to be met. My observation is that often these conditions are only given a superficial review when a variance comes up for discussion.

The Getty station also has no current certificate of occupancy. Why hasn’t the DOB taken action to close down this business? Fines are paid as part of doing business — that is, if they are paid at all. Former DOB Commissioner Patricia Lancaster said at a public meeting of the Queens Civic Congress a few years ago that she was fighting to change her agency, which she described as incompetent and corrupt. The commissioner herself described her agency in those shocking terms. Nothing has changed from what I can see.

Over and over again, my community has to put up with the outrageous behavior of many of the businesses along the south side of Northern Boulevard. I believe this treatment is based on racial discrimination and that the rights of the people in my community are being abridged. As you go along Northern Boulevard from Flushing to the city line, the only place you see this type of intrusion into the residential community is in my neighborhood.

It is obvious that we are treated unequally. We deserve and are entitled to equal protection under the law, but we are not getting it. People’s lives are in jeopardy on a daily basis. The BSA and the DOB are directly responsible for this situation. We need your help, Rep. Ackerman, because this issue is a civil rights issue — a federal matter.

On behalf of my community, I demand an investigation of the BSA and the DOB. They make a mockery of our laws. There needs to be corrective action and legislation to protect the people and address their interests and civil rights.

I would appreciate a meeting with you to discuss this serious situation. I also urge you to tour this area to see firsthand our problems and how the businesses on the south side of Northern Boulevard are affecting my community.

Mandingo Tshaka


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