On Tuesday, March 16, the long drawn-out hearing process at the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA), concerning developer Les Lerner’s application for a variance that would allow him to stab his three-story, 10,000 square foot commercial office building into the very heart of a residential block, will continue.Why this application is even being considered defies all logic and reason.The property in question is situated in an R4-1 zoning district and has no commercial overlay.That is a zoning classification that is supposed to pre-serve the integrity of a residential community of one and two family private residences.Lerner’s proposed project is not, and will never be, a private residence.It is a commercial building, pure and simple, which has no business at that location.
While the address 1464 Astor Avenue is used to designate the location, the project involves two city lots: the 1464 property which fronts on Astor Avenue and a second lot that lies behind 1464.The second lot is an interior lot which has no frontage on any city street.The block bounded by Astor Avenue, Eastchester Road, Pelham Parkway and Fenton Avenue, is rather large as city blocks go.When the land was subdivided, lots were laid out around the perimeter of the block with the fairly standard depth of 100 feet.As a result, a lot was created in the center of the block that was approximately 100 by 100 feet.Homes were built on all of the surrounding lots but the interior lot was never developed.Undeveloped property in this crowded city is at a premium, even in this wounded economy.Medical office space, due to the close proximity of Jacobi and Einstein Hospitals, also seems to be at a premium.Mr. Lerner, never at a loss when a chance is available to make a mound of money, snapped up the two lots and proposes to plop his office building into the back yards of all the surrounding homes on the block.He then has the unmitigated gall to request a “variance” to permit him to shoehorn this monstrosity into the interior lot.What he is asking for, in truth, is not a variance but a complete and utter abandonment of all zoning regulation.
The issue has been allowed to get out of focus.Somehow the BSA examiner has become focused on traffic studies and curb cuts in the vicinity of the ad-joining firehouse, instead of the real is-sue.What is at issue here is that the zoning for this location permits residential use, not commercial use.Instead, we get consideration of factors that will only come into play if the developer is al-lowed to go ahead with his plan.Even more alarming is a quote that the Bronx Times Reporter (March 4, 2010) attributes to a local official: “…when the applicant is forced to be truthful as to the impact this facility will have on the surrounding community, the BSA will see the wisdom in reducing its size.”Reduce its size?Only if it gets reduced to zero!
Reduction in size only plays into Lerner’s hands.Like déjà vu, it is the old negotiating ploy all over again.Ask for the Moon and Stars and then “settle” for the Moon, when your objective all along was only a corner of the Sea of Tranquility.If this variance is granted it will affect the lives and property values of every homeowner on that block and it is beginning to smell like a “done deal.”Sad to say, in a city where money talks and big money screams, it looks like the BSA has no need for a hearing aid.We wish that someone with clout would knock some sense into the BSA’s head so that they will adhere to the zoning standards and deny this variance request.