Owner of Astoria Sports Complex frustrated by delay in city approval for expansion

Rendering from Steve Poliseno

It has been three years since Community Board 1 approved Steve Poliseno’s proposal to expand his Astoria Sports Complex with a regulation-sized soccer field and hockey rink with viewing stands and outdoor food space and he is still waiting for the city to approve his plan.

Poliseno is seeking a zoning variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) so he can add two more stories to his indoor complex at 34-38 38th St. 

“I am beyond frustration and exasperation at this point,” Poliseno said. “I’m 72 years years old and it’s been a 43-year goal of mine to expand this place to give the people of Astoria a wonderful place to bring their families.”

Poliseno, a lifelong Queens resident from Little Neck, requires the variance to waive a rear-yard requirement at his site, but the BSA refused to hear most testimony at a first hearing last fall, saying they were prepared to turn down his variance on the spot. He temporarily withdrew his variance request to avoid that fast decision and he hopes to get a fuller chance to be heard. Part of the application for the existing health club is still pending.

“This is the second time we went before the BSA,” Poliseno said. “Under the last BSA administration my first case was about to be approved but because of a family lawsuit the application had to be postponed for years, and that application died on the vine. This time they are saying my situation isn’t unique and if they gave me the variance it would change the character of the neighborhood, but the expansion was approved by Community Board 1 and has the support of the Queens borough president’s office, the Queens Chamber of Commerce and even Kaufman Astoria Studios.”

In a letter of support, Kaufman Astoria Studio president and CEO Hal Rosenbluth implored the granting of the variance for the benefit of the community. KAS established the UA Kaufman Astoria theatre, helped found the Museum of Moving Image, was instrumental in making the area home to the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts and bringing in a variety of eating establishments to benefit the neighborhood.

“It is neighbors like Steve Poliseno and his Astoria Sports Complex who had the vision to bring to the community other needed ingredients,” Rosenbluth wrote. “His ingredient is recreational activities that were sorely needed and he adapted his facility to be able to provide what was needed for local school children as well. His vision continues and we support it because communities like ours need our services to grow and thrive and we need to be able to handle the demands of the people that live and want to live in the area. Adding to the community a skating rink and soccer field helps accomplish this by growing the amenities that continue to make this area special.”

Poliseno’s zoning attorney Mitchell Ross explained what went wrong at the BSA hearing.

“The BSA did not see that all the required circumstances were proven that a variance was needed, in particular, that Steve’s property hardship situation was unique, which is the first requirement for a variance under the law,” Ross said. “Steve is determined to continue his effort to provide whatever additional information is necessary for the BSA to have the comfort to grant his variance relief. At a time like we are in now with this COVID-19 virus hurting our City’s economy, Steve has more faith in the BSA than ever that the BSA will want to take another look at the situation, to make sure his effort to enlarge gets zoning relief if needed and justified.”

Poliseno purchased the derelict ice factory at auction in 1976. After three years of trying to run an ice company, Poliseno and his brother decided to turn it into an indoor sports complex with indoor batting cages, a swimming pool and a gymnasium.

“I’m the only one in the neighborhood with a swimming pool where thousands of kids have learned to swim at my building and I’m proud of that,” Poliseno said. “I took this old abandoned building and turned it into something beautiful for the neighborhood and I just want to make it better. An indoor Rockefeller Plaza for the community to love. I’ll even put a Christmas tree on the hockey rink!”

In December, Poliseno handed Mayor Bill de Blasio a letter asking for his help in the matter.

“I gave the mayor all of the information and told him we didn’t get a fair shake at the BSA and he promised he was going to take care of it, but I never heard back from him,” Poliseno said. “I don’t understand, it’s not like I’m trying to open a house of prostitution or a seedy hotel in the community. I’m trying to put in new services that would be good for the neighborhood. We’ve met all the criteria to build it the way I want to build it. I don’t understand why they won’t listen to my testimony. It’s beyond frustrating.”

QNS reached out to the BSA and is awaiting a response.