Residents group opposes parking lot plan

Dolores Augustine and her husband, Claude LeBrun, of Dolores Augustine and her husband, Claude LeBrun, of Roslyn Heights, oppose the planned demolition of the century-old house behind them to make space for a parking lot. (Dec. 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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A Roslyn Heights group of residents that started out going door to door in the 1990s to save a home from the wrecking ball and helped create a historic district is at it again.

But this time there's a new wrinkle: Residents are battling the owner of a century-old house who also is the developer and plans to replace it with a parking lot. And technically the home is not in the district.

Neighbors fear if the house on Warner Avenue goes, it's only the beginning.

"It would set a very bad precedent," Dolores Augustine said. "It would make us vulnerable to commercial incursion into the neighborhood."

The home belongs to the Porsche dealership next door that wants to expand its presence at Warner and Mineola avenues. Despite the home's age, it is technically not part of the district that was formed in 1999 and afforded protections to 77 other homes.

Residents on the block have opposed the plans, which were presented to the town zoning board in January and are under review, saying an expansion would spoil the character of the neighborhood. They also have hired an attorney.

Augustine, a history professor at St. John's University who for nearly two decades has lived next door, said the proposed demolition represents the start of a sad townwide transformation.

"The commercial interests will push into other parts of Roslyn Heights," she said, "and when that happens, the kind of people we were 18 years ago won't move into the neighborhood: youngish professionals, with the choice of East Hills." She also worries what would happen to her backyard once a parking lot is bordering it.

Michael Sahn, an attorney for the developer, JDN Properties at Mineola and Warner avenues, said the additional parking lot would be "isolated from every other property." Augustine's home, he added, would be fenced, and surrounded by "dense evergreen landscaping," comprising at least a 15-foot buffer.

The home that would be razed, he added, "is not well maintained, is in disrepair, and in bad condition." Plus, "It's not in a historic district."

One hurdle for the developer is overcoming the home's residential zoning status. If the developer requests a use variance, which the town says it may have to, JDN must prove that the plans "will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood."

Two decades ago Kathy D'Amato-Smith and other neighbors embarked on a door-to-door campaign to create the historic district, seeking homeowners to enlist. She said she was inspired to do so after a developer proposed to knock down a home on Elm Street and replace it with two newer ones.

As for Warner Avenue and other blocks, "nobody wanted to join with us," she said, but added, "nobody was excluded."

Now, "I'm upset," D'Amato-Smith said of the latest skirmish. "Most of the people who buy these old homes, it's a certain person who wants to do that."

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