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Photo by Ryan Kelley
Photo by Ryan Kelley
Nora Martins and Steve Sinacori of Akerman LLP present diagrams of the proposed re-zoning of Oneill's during the Board 5 meeting at Christ the King High School on April 11.

The support for a Maspeth restaurant that has been a long-standing staple in the community was nearly unanimous at the Community Board 5 meeting on April 11 at Christ the King High School.

The board held a public hearing about a proposed re-zoning of O’Neill’s that would allow the 84-year-old restaurant to add a partial second floor to be used as a banquet hall that would seat up to 140 people. The hearing was required as part of the city’s land use review procedure, and Board 5 will now have until June 4 to submit a recommendation the Department of City Planning.

The hearing began with a presentation of the project by Nora Martins and Steve Sinacori, attorneys for Akerman LLP representing O’Neill’s, who showed diagrams of the zoning changes and second-story addition. Martins explained that the full list of proposed zoning changes also applies to other commercial properties adjacent to O’Neill’s. Several of those buildings are currently not zoned properly but were grandfathered into the code, so the zoning changes are intended to legally bring those establishments up to code.

Martins also explained that of the properties that will be re-zoned, O’Neill’s will be the only one that is permitted to build more.

“All of this was thought out very carefully to ensure that there could be no change or additional development in the area,” Martins said.

That proved to be the main point of questioning when Board 5 member and president of the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association, Paul Kerzner, pointed out that the new zoning code for O’Neill’s would technically allow it to build higher than two stories. Kerzner suggested that the project declaration should specifically note that O’Neill’s does not intend to add more than the second-story addition in the future.

A speaker in the public hearing later elaborated on a similar point, suggesting that the proposed zoning changes are typically only used in higher density areas of the city and would put the neighborhood at risk for future development.

The rest of the commentary, however, was overwhelmingly positive. People who live across from the restaurant, own a business next to it or have memories of dining there for decades took to the microphone to support the proposed expansion. Many residents pointed out that O’Neill’s has hosted numerous benefits and functions for the community over the years, including those for the children and widows of fallen FDNY and NYPD members and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and this expansion would allow the restaurant to do even more.

“I cannot say enough good things about this place and this family. It’s been a part of my whole life,” said Lance Lovejoy, a lifelong Maspeth resident. “I’ve watched the Mets win the World Series there, the Rangers win the Stanley Cup there, I’ve had my daughter’s christening there, my wedding rehearsal, I can go on and on.”

Deirdre O’Neill, one of restaurant owner George O’Neill’s daughters, also added her unique perspective to the conversation. She reflected on the devastating fire in 2011 that shut the business down, and said that the family’s passion for the community drove them to rebuild and continue giving back.

“It is all about community for my dad,” O’Neill said. “Even when O’Neill’s burnt down he was outside every day, and the reason for that, he said to me, ‘is because I love this community.'”

 

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