CB7 rejects never-ending variance for Auburndale realtor

By Alex Robinson

After a couple hours of yelling, confusion and chaos, Community Board 7 voted Monday night to extend a variance for an Auburndale business on Northern Boulevard, preserving the conditions of a previous agreement.

At issue was an application by Utopia Realty, at 167-04 Northern Blvd., to renew its variance, which has been based on a 10-year term, to last forever and to remove a provision which requires the owner to consult the board if he is considering selling the property.

The board’s Land Use Committee had already unanimously rejected the request and instead voted in support of renewing the existing variance for another 10 years.

Around 20 civic leaders and residents attended the meeting to voice their support of the committee’s recommendation.

“To operate a business in the subject location is a privilege rather than a right,” said Rhea O’Gorman, president of the Station Road Civic Association in her testimony to the board. “The restrictions previously imposed on this property serve to protect both the owner of the property or the proprietor of the business and the surrounding residential community. The clause had no effect on the current owner’s ability to operate his business.”

Opponents of the realtor’s’s request noted the business falls in an area affected by the Rickert-Finlay covenant, a deed restriction that only allows single-family detached houses to be built. Utopia Realty sits in a section of Northern Boulevard where businesses can exist with variances on zoning laws that have to be renewed every 10 years.

Paul Graziano, an urban planner who was heavily involved in the rezoning of Auburndale from 2008 to 2010, said the fact that these variances have to be renewed gives the community some say in what occurs.

“This allows civic organizations to have influence over the outcomes of what happens at these properties instead of having as-of-right situations where developers can come in and do whatever they please,” he said in his testimony.

He said if Utopia Realty was given a variance in perpetuity, it would create the conditions for the owner to apply for a zoning change and invite other developers to come in and do the same.

“Establishing this kind of precedent will set off a domino effect along Northern Boulevard,” he said.

Chuck Apelian, vice chairman of CB 7, was one of the lone dissenting voices to the Land Use Committee’s recommendation, arguing the 10-year variance put an unfair burden on the business.

“There seems to be some kind of hysteria that we’re rezoning all of Queens. We’re not,” he said.

After a heated discussion, the board voted 31-4 in favor of extending the variance with the prior conditions.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobi‌nson@‌cnglo‌cal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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