CB7 approves special permit for Whitestone gym

By Madina Toure

Community Board 7 voted Monday night in favor of a motion to approve a 10-year special permit to operate a gym in Whitestone, but some were opposed to the proposal due to parking concerns.

At its monthly board meeting in Flushing, the board voted 19-9 to back the proposal to operate the gym, Life Health Fitness, which has been open since 2015 in the two-story building, at 10-24 154th Street. PS 193, Alfred J. Kennedy School, is across the street.

To operate a physical cultural establishment, a gym, applicants must get a special permit from the city Board of Standards and Appeals that lasts for 10 years and is renewable.

Joe Franco, the building’s owner, is leasing the property to Sophocles Tsouros. Tsouros also operates another branch of Life Health Fitness at 37-11 35th Ave. in Astoria.

The site, formerly operated by Joe Franco’s White House restaurant, is in an R3-1 zoning district—which allows for semi-detached one- and two-family residents and detached homes—within a C2-2 commercial overlay, a commercial district mapped within a residential district to serve local retail needs.

Joe Sweeney, the land use committee’s chairman, said the committee received an agreement from Tsouros to have 28 parking spots and a contract from the valet parking service. He said he saw the “Valet parking is available” sign posted at the site, where he and the committee met with the valet company owner.

“We felt basically that this would be a good fit for the community,” Sweeney said.

The facility has two exercise rooms, treadmills, bicycles, free weights, bathrooms, showers, men’s and women’s locker rooms, a fitness room and a spin room. The gym has 1,000 members—85 percent of whom live in the area—and 20 employees.

Twenty-six parking spaces are required for the site but Tsouros will provide 28, one of which will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Michael Nacmias, the attorney representing the gym.

Tsouros is also providing valet parking to increase capacity to 40, along with four parking spots for Dunkin Donuts, which is next door at 10-30 154th St. He also agreed to put in the valet parking sign.

“From our experience, the lot hasn’t really generated any parking concerns,” Nacmias said.

Valet parking will be available Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Other agreements include immediate snow removal and a limit of 100 machines in the facility.

Nacmias added that only 70 to 125 people check into the gym per day, whose occupancy is 600.

The gym’s hours of operation are Monday to Friday from 4:30 a.m. to 12 a.m. and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

CB7 Chairman Gene Kelty and Vice Chairman Chuck Apelian voted against the proposal on the grounds that the parking is insufficient.

In 2012, Joe Franco received a zoning change to turn the White House restaurant into a restaurant/catering hall and promised 90 parking spots, Kelty said.

But when his plans fell through, he decided to lease the site to Tsouros for his gym, Kelty said.

“The agreement at the time was the parking wasn’t going to impact the area and because he changed his use, that’s going to create a problem,” he said.

Others said the gym is a good neighbor, arguing that people go to the facility at different times and many not regularly and that past problems are unrelated to Tsouros.

“This is a very good use for the site,” Tyler Cassell, a member of the land use committee, said. “The gym is clean. The machines are all new.”

Whitestone resident Daniel Aronoff, 28, who is a gym member along with his wife, suggested conditions such as restricting the gym’s operating hours and asking the owner to help with garbage cleanup.

“I don’t think the city has really kept up with the growth and usage of this area so maybe we could have the gym as the anchor tenant for that area,” Aronoff said.

Tsouros said members spend at least 45 minutes working out on average.

“We are taking every active step to work with the community to make sure we alleviate any problems with parking,” he said.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.