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Halloran threatens to block White House rezoning

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) has vowed to block a rezoning application by the new owner of The White House, a longtime Whitestone restaurant that was sold last year, unless it is amended to better protect the surrounding community.

Joe Franco, the restaurant’s owner, hopes to gain approval for an upzoning that would allow certain types of two-story residential and commercial buildings to be built on the entire east end of the block of 154th Street between 10th and 11th avenues. The stretch includes his restaurant, at 10-24 154th, an adjoining property and two small attached buildings he owns, two families’ homes and a bank.

But Halloran, at the behest of the two homeowners and the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association, vowed last week not to allow the changes to The White House to move forward unless the zoning of the residential homes is left unchanged.

“I sat down and talked to the Taxpayers and the homeowners and promised them that I would not support the zoning change to the two homes,” he said Monday.

Under Franco’s plan, the building’s footprint would be expanded and include a new, second-floor party space. The building’s capacity would be 250 to 300 people with more than 100 parking spaces.

Lance Michaels, an attorney for Franco, presented the plan at Borough President Helen Marshall’s Feb. 24 land-use hearing, and a spat arose when he failed to withdraw the application.

Marlene Cody, a vice president with the Taxpayers, said Halloran staffer Chrissy Voskerichian told her one of Franco’s representatives planned to pull the proposal during the hearing, so she called off a group of opponents who had planned to speak against it. After Michaels failed to make that move, she said the misinformation denied the civic’s members the chance to be heard.

“I was informed today that this application was being withdrawn, so we told many speakers who were coming in to stay home because they told us, ‘It’s OK, just come in yourself and listen for the withdrawal,’” Cody said. “It’s very upsetting that these people are trying to come into our community and saying one thing but doing another.”

Michaels denied the allegation that Franco had committed to withdrawing the application.

“The applicant has had initial conversations with the councilman,” he said. “We did not say we were withdrawing, we said we would continue to meet with him.”

Halloran said he never told Cody that Franco planned to withdraw the upzoning, but that he told them in an after-hours meeting the night before the meeting that he would not allow the application ´╗┐to gain Council approval as proposed. Halloran gained assurances from Council Land Use Committee Chairman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee Chairman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) that the plan would not move forward without his full approval.

“It’s what’s called ‘home rule.’ The Council defers to the person whose Council district it’s in to determine what to do on an application like this,” Halloran said Monday. “Even if every other thing approves this, I can at the end say ‘no.’ The borough president hearing is irrelevant because the Council has final say.”

Marshall had yet to make a recommendation on Franco’s proposal as of Tuesday afternoon.

Halloran is calling on Franco, the former proprietor of Caffé on the Green — who lost the license in 2009 to the city Parks Department concession, which is now operated as Valentino’s on the Green — to withdraw his proposal and apply for a variance or upzoning of only his properties.

But Michaels said those options are not attractive to Franco because he believes they would not be approved by the necessary bodies.

Community Board 7 approved the upzoning last month. A Franco lawyer said last month he expects to break ground by early 2012.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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