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CB 11 denies zoning change to gym on Bell

It was the owners, not the patrons, of the Lucille Roberts gym on Bell Boulevard who felt the burn Monday after Community Board 11 voted against rezoning a five-lot portion of the commercial strip that the establishment said it needed to legalize its business.

Jeffrey Chester, an attorney for Lucille Roberts, noted the business has been a tenant at 41-19 Bell Blvd. for 17 years, but has been operating illegally since then because it was not granted a physical culture establishment permit by the city Board of Standards and Appeals.

When the women’s gym opened, Bell Boulevard was zoned C4-2, which allows for commercial buildings in densely built areas, but was rezoned in 1995 to C1-1, which allows for local shopping and services, which is when it sought the permit the BSA turned down.

CB 11 voted in favor of a variance at the time, but the landlord was unable to prove he could not get a better return on his investment if the property was not a gym, which is a requirement in getting the variance, Chester said.

Without the variance, Chester said, the only way Lucille Roberts can become a legal business and its landlord stop receiving fines from the city is to upzone the area of Bell Boulevard between the Long Island Rail Road station and 41st Avenue.

Chester said the gym has between 1,500 and 2,000 women as members.

“I think it’s of extreme importance to the women in the community that we’re serving. This is the last chance to legalize this business,” he said.

Stanley Matejka, principal of Cromwell Associates, who was representing the landlord of an adjacent lot, said he was against the upzoning, calling it “sheer bedlam.”

“The rezoning might affect us in the long-range terms,” he said, noting that the upzoning would lead to more building uses for the properties, including embalming and taxidermy or a bowling alley, which the community might not want.

The Bayside Business Improvement District was in favor of the zoning, while CB 11’s Land Use Committee was against it by a vote of 1-11.

CB 11 member Frank Skala said the change from C1-1 to C2-2 could mean a bicycle repair shop, gun repair shop, motels or a tire installation shop could move in in the future.

Skala accused the Lucille Roberts gym of being able to get away with operating illegally because “you are filthy rich as a corporation.”

“I think they should be thrown out” of Bell Boulevard, he said.

During the question period of the public hearing, there was a contentious exchange between CB 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece and Skala.

Iannece repeatedly told Skala he was “out of order” because he was not asking a question and walked closer to Skala, raising his voice, until Skala stopped.

CB 11 member Steve Behar, while not in favor of the upzone, said Lucille Roberts should try again for the permit because the BSA may be more sympathetic now due to the nature of the weak economy.

“Bell Boulevard needs establishments that draw foot traffic,” he said, something that the bars and restaurants fail to do. “These are the types of businesses we should be promoting.”

CB 11 voted against the rezoning proposal 11-21 with no abstentions.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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