Civic tries hand at enforcing law on Qns car shops
By Joe Anuta

A city agency rarely disciplines Queens businesses that renege on promises made to the community in exchange for obtaining a zoning variance, according to civic leaders.

When a business wants to operate outside city zoning laws, the owners must apply for what is known as a variance, and often those variances come with legal conditions set by the community.

In Auburndale, for example, a car company wanted to use a lot for employee parking, so the neighborhood requested no commerce be conducted. Similar requests by Auburndale businesses were put into law by the city Board of Standards and Appeals, but a civic association has been trying to get property owners to stick to their word with mixed results.

“It’s not good for the neighborhood,” said Henry Euler, first vice president of the Auburndale Improvement Association. “It’s not what they should be doing. They need to be following the regulations.”

Euler and his civic wrote a July 23 letter to Meenakshi Srinivasan, chairman of the BSA, identifying four property owners who have not lived up to agreements with the community that were conditional on receiving their variance. Some of the agreements were designed to prevent cars from blocking sidewalks, others to ensure deliveries of goods were not made in the middle of the night.

Bayside Imports, at 202-01 Northern Blvd., received a variance from the BSA in January 2006 allowing them to park cars on a lot not zoned for that activity.

The BSA granted the variance on the condition that the owners park no more than 30 cars on the lot, but on Monday there were 46 cars in the lot, and according to Euler the condition is routinely violated.

Star Toyota, at 205-11 Northern Blvd., received a similar variance, but was prohibited from using a similar lot for commercial activity, a requirement, Euler said, they constantly flaunt.

Technically, the BSA has internal rules in place to deal with businesses who do not conform to the conditions of their variance.

“The board may, at its discretion, and upon due notice of the hearing, revoke or modify variances … when it finds that the terms or conditions of such grants have been violated,” the board’s own regulations state.

Yet this practice rarely happens. Civic leaders in the area cannot recall the board ever revoking a variance.

Instead, the burden of enforcing the conditions of the variances falls on the city Department of Buildings and local community organizations, according to Gene Kelty, chairman of Community Board 7, which he said constantly deals with problems relating to variances through limited tools.

Often the board invites the businesses into meetings and attempts to get Buildings to issue violations, which usually corrects the problem, according to Kelty. But he would like to see Buildings step up the pressure and issue paper notices to property owners in violation of the conditions of their variances.

After Auburndale Improvement Association’s letter to Srinivasan, the civic succeeded in cowing two other businesses to comply with the conditions of their variances.

But the two auto dealers have not responded, according to Euler, even after Bayside Imports was issued a $200 violation by Buildings in August.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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