For reasons we don't quite understand, Councilman Dan Halloran has been adamantly supporting reputed Gambino crime family captain Joseph Franco's bid to build a giant "wedding factory" catering hall at the former White House restaurant on 154th Street in Whitestone. Mr. Franco was removed in 2009 from his long-term lease of the Caffe On The Green catering hall and restaurant next to the Cleaview Golf Course for not paying at least $120,000 that was owed to the city - and trying to hide it.
The way Mr. Franco wants to rebuild his catering empire is by upzoning 154th Street from R2A to an R3-1 with a C2-2 commercial overlay. I’m no expert, but the way the Department of City Planning describes it in their handbook is that it would go from only allowing small detached single-family houses to allowing big two-family semi-attached houses, and also allow commercial development as-of-right.
The immediate neighbors and the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association, which represents the area, want any owner of this or other presently non-commercially zoned properties to go through a Board of Standards and Appeals variance rather than a rezoning. This way, the current R2A zoning, which protects the area from overdevelopment, can remain while allowing for the owners to build something somewhat larger than the existing building.
White House, DCP
Mr. Halloran’s most recent previous position from late February was to support redevelopment of the White House site but not the rest of the block, leaving the two single-family houses in the R2A zone while leaving the door open for a solution including the possibility of a variance rather than a rezoning. This was codified in a letter to Councilman Weprin, who is the Chair of the Zoning Subcommittee of the City Council (see attached letter).
Halloran White House letter to Mark Weprin
Mr. Halloran has repeatedly broken his promises with the property owners and the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association; at the City Planning Commission hearing last week, he declared war on them.
As has happened time and again with this situation, from consistently defending a known Gambino family member Joe Franco; to constantly changing his story; to making promises that are never kept; Councilman Halloran dropped a bomb at the City Planning Commission hearing last week: he is calling parts of the 2006 Whitestone rezoning "illegal" and a "violation" of the law (see letter). For civic and homeowner groups that fought hard to rezone their neighborhoods to stop overdevelopment, his is a very dangerous statement for him to make. As for the actual city land use process, he is accusing City Planning, the Borough President, the Community Board and even the City Council that he is a part of that they are conducting illegal and unlawful actions every time a rezoning is completed, which is ridiculous and totally untrue.
For civic and homeowner groups that fought hard to rezone their neighborhoods to stop overdevelopment, his is a very dangerous statement for him to make. As for the actual city land use process, he is accusing City Planning, the Borough President, the Community Board and even the City Council that he is a part of that they are conducting illegal and unlawful actions every time a rezoning is completed, which is ridiculous and totally untrue.
The Whitestone rezoning, as well as all of the other ones in the 19th Council District finished over the last five or six years, were done carefully with input from all levels of government, civic associations and homeowners. If this upzoning goes through, every small commercial area that was purposely rezoned to keep the status quo (including an isolated corner deli or a small strip of stores mixed in with residential buildings, like the block that the White House is on) will have a precedent set for upzoning.
Already, another area zoned residential in Whitestone on the Cross Island Parkway is started the city land use process to try to get a commercial upzoning. Several other small strips in residential zones have commercial property owners clamoring for the same thing, including the owners of a building right across the street from the White House.
Councilman Halloran's actions don't make any sense. He's supposed to represent the residents and voters of his district FIRST. Seems to me that he's representing them LAST, and instead helping his campaign contributors, like Mr. Franco, at the community's expense. Is that what we hired him to do? If so, we are all in serious trouble.
- Anonymous Resident
You have to wonder why the community board and borough president are lined up behind this guy considering his past contractual default and his reputation. The NY Post reports that property owners who have spoken out against the rezoning have received threatening letters.
Senator Tony Avella has taken a much different stance than Halloran.
Photos from Daily News.