By Tom Momberg
A lawyer representing British Petroleum appeared before Borough President Melinda Katz at a hearing week regarding a variance amendment application for a gas station on Northern Boulevard. The variance was unanimously voted against by Community Board 11.
The application has not yet been approved, but Katz said she would at least consider the community board’s recommendation not to approve the proposal to alter curb cuts, replace underground gas storage tanks and gas pumps and install a 17-foot canopy above the station, because of observed negligence on the property by the current operator.
“He operates under a lease agreement with the owner of the property, and British Petroleum is now trying to terminate that lease agreement,” Attorney Eric Palatnik said.
Several residents from the neighborhood surrounding the BP station at 204-12 Northern Blvd. have complained that the operator of the station stores junked cars on the property and parks some of them on adjacent streets.
Within the current zoning variance, no more than eight cars are supposed to be parked on site at any time while waiting for service in the mechanic’s garage. There is no permit allowing cars to be parked overnight.
Palatnik said the operator, who is breaking both the zoning rules and his lease agreement (which was sustained when BP took the station over from Getty when it went bankrupt in 2011), would be taken to State Supreme Court if he does not vacate the property.
The amendment BP is asking for is to make brand improvements to the station, and the current variance would still expire in 2021. Palatnik said BP needs to at least alter the curb cuts with Boards of Standards and Appeals approval before it can apply for a new Certificate of Occupancy through the city Department of Buildings, and that the behavior of the current operator should have no bearing on the approval of those business needs.
Leaders of the Auburndale Community Association Henry Euler and Christina Scherer, also members of the community board, gave testimony at the hearing as did longtime activist and community advocate Mandingo Tshaka, asking Katz not to approve the variance amendment because the operator has apparently made no attempt to clean up his act.
Noting that under the ownership of Getty, the operator had not renewed the certificate of occupancy for the gas station. Tshaka said the zoning variance renewals should never have been granted.
“They violated the law, but the (BSA) approved it anyway, and took for granted the building must be shallow and irregular (under current zoning requirements),” Tshaka said.
In addition, Euler and Scherer pointed out the operator had kept two storage pods on site for some time and used them as an office and tool and parts storage for the on-site auto service center—violating the zoning variance and certificate of occupancy. The storage pods were taken off the property after BP met with the CB 11 land use committee.
“After all, businesses should be a good neighbor to their communities and should be obeying all of the conditions in their variance and the certificate of occupancy,” Euler said. “The main point here is that we are opposing the amendment until things are straightened out.”
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb