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It was too little, too late for critics of the proposed re-zoning of O’Neill’s Restaurant in Maspeth on May 16, as Community Board 5 voted in favor of the project during its regular meeting.

O’Neill’s is seeking a zoning amendment that would allow the 84-year-old restaurant to build a second-story banquet hall seating up to 140 people, and when first presented to Board 5 in April the project received overwhelming support from the community.

The board approved the application by a vote of  32 to 8, but not before a group of residents who live close to O’Neill’s made it known that hundreds of people are against the expansion.

Christine Isherwood, a resident who spoke up during the public forum, said that she started a petition against the project that has accumulated more than 200 signatures.

“Nobody was notified about this. I found out about it on Facebook,” Isherwood said. “I decided to go ahead and start asking my neighbors, and they all dropped their jaws.”

Isherwood and other speakers contended that bringing an event space of that size to an already congested area would make the parking situation unmanageable. O’Neill’s has valet parking service but is already limited in where it can park the cars, and Isherwood said the addition simply “does not belong in the neighborhood.”

The conversation became tense when another resident, Tom McBride, used his turn at the microphone to directly respond to the parking concerns and accuse his neighbors of making the problem worse.

“Most of the people in the neighborhood rent their spaces to commercial vehicles,” McBride said, earning applause and shouts from the crowd. “We should look at ourselves. Everybody in that community on both sides of the street are making profits by letting people park in their driveways, and they’re worried about parking.”

Danny Pyle, co-proprietor of O’Neill’s, got a chance to respond to the criticism by explaining that the restaurant does everything it can to give back to the community and be a respectful neighbor.

“I’m for Maspeth, I’ve been here for 25 years with George O’Neill and he’s really instilled in me that the community is all about us,” Pyle said. “I have an open door policy. If there’s any problems with valet or what have you, come speak to me and let’s address it. I’m not perfect, the place isn’t perfect.”

When the proposal came up for a vote, Walter Sanchez, chair of the Zoning and Land Use Committee, explained that the committee was thorough in its review process. It received Isherwood’s petition against the project, another petition in favor of the project with more than 200 signatures and personal letters from two dozen people in favor of the project.

Sanchez said that the committee was concerned during its review about parking as well as the possibility of the property being able to add apartments in the future. The R5D zoning applied for would technically allow more to be built than just the second-story banquet hall.

“The committee felt that we could not support this project unless we had assurances from the applicant that these two challenges were met,” Sanchez said.

To that end, Sanchez further explained that O’Neill’s responded by getting letters from other local businesses who agreed to let the restaurant use their parking lots on a regular basis, and O’Neill’s will sign a declaration on the property that no residential space will ever be built above the commercial use. The committee ultimately recommended that the board approve the application.

Board 5 members who ended up voting against the project, however, expressed concerns over the fact that other buildings around O’Neill’s will also be re-zoned as part of this application, and the future affects it could have on those properties is unclear.

After gaining community board approval, the application will now continue through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and get reviewed by the borough president, the City Planning Commission and the City Council before any work can begin at O’Neill’s.

Board 5 also voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday night’s meeting to recommend approval of an application for a new pet admission center on 69th Street in Middle Village.


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