A family business with a 57-year presence in Roslyn Heights is struggling to answer accusations and allay neighbors’ concerns over its operations.
Principals of Powerhouse Masonry, operating at 85-87 Powerhouse Rd. in the community, which is under the jurisdiction of the Town of North Hempstead, appeared at the town’s Board of Zoning and Appeals (BZA) May 17 meeting to seek extension of a nonconforming use at one of two lots occupied by the masonry supply yard.
The meeting also gave John and Vincent Iannello, represented by lawyer Bruce Migatz, the chance to respond to a rally held two days previously at 77A Powerhouse Rd., home of Dr. Shah Giashuddin. He was joined by the Roslyn Heights Community Alliance to protest what they claimed was hazardous dust coming from the establishment. According to a statement by Elliot Hurley of the alliance, his group is demanding that the town “shut down the yard for routinely operating heavy, loud machinery and filling the air with potentially life-threatening hazardous dust.”
The business operates in assessment lots 202 and 203—respectively 87 and 85 Powerhouse Rd.—under mixed zoning, in both Business-A and Residential-C districts. The lots are between Coolidge Street and Jefferson Avenue and front what is, on that stretch, the north service road of the Long Island Expressway.
The Public Comments
During public comment at the May 17 meeting, Giashuddin claimed the “dust from cutting stone is injurious and really harmful to health.” He mentioned 9/11, and noted that the first responders breathed in crystalline silica dust that can become trapped in the lungs and cause silicosis, leading to respiratory problems and even cancer. The same situation, he affirmed, applied to the masonry yard.
“I don’t have any problems with the business,” Giashuddin said. “But it’s supposed to be in a designated [zoned] place, not in a residential area.”
The Iannellos’ neighbor said he “moved from Queens not to have my kids breathe this harmful air 24/7.”
Giashuddin submitted photographs of the masonry yard taken from his bedroom window, asking the board, “Would you pay $20,000 a year in property taxes to see this from your bedroom and living room?”
Also commenting was Steve Osman, president and CEO of Metropolitan Pacific Properties. Four years ago his company, which he noted operates in more than 30 countries and has vast experience with property usage, bought 79 Powerhouse Rd., a one-story office building that is currently empty. Osman has been seeking permits to build what he called “a nice looking office building visible from the LIE.”
Osman also complained about the stone cutting operations, and added that delivery trucks constantly impede the flow of traffic, and further, “they constantly park these massive tractor-trailers within two inches of my building and park them overnight.”
“This is industrial usage by any means,” Osman charged, adding that, “if you look at the LIE from the Queens border to Suffolk County, you will not see a property like this. It looks like a shantytown…like Sanford & Son.”
James Yari of Coolidge Street said delivery trucks traveled down his block, often at speed, and feared for the safety of his son, 5.
“I’m against this business development,” Yari said. “This is a residential area and we’re paying [high] taxes to be in a safe area.”
John Zurawski of Jefferson Avenue said he was a lifelong resident and had issues with the delivery trucks blocking a lane of traffic as well as the view of people turning into Powerhouse Road from his street.
“[Migatz likened] the business to a Home Depot or Lowe’s, but they take deliveries on their property,” Zurawski said.
He recalled the business in the early days, calling it “benign” and contrasting it to current operations. He called the younger Iannellos, who took over the family firm in 2005, “enterprising young men. This business is not what it was in 1961. It has grown tremendously.”
Building Department Deputy Commissioner Glenn Norjen was familiar with the situation, noting, “This is how I go to work each day.”
Among the issues he hoped the board would deal with was the parking of trucks on the street and loading/unloading of trucks on the street.
Norjen showed photos from Google satellite imaging from 2004 to the present, and noted that activity had definitely increased at the business.
Board member David Levine asked Norjen, “Has the building department done any investigation regarding 81 and 83 Powerhouse Rd.?”
“Yes we have,” Norjen answered. “Notice that in 2016 (referring to photo) these properties have been substantially cleaned up.”
The Attorney Responds
In addressing the news media reports, the Iannellos’ attorney quoted from an article: “Stones are cut night and day.”
“Absolutely false,” Migatz stated. “On rare occasions, they do cut stones for a customer who needs a stone [modified]. They’d rather not do that, but they feel compelled to do that as an accommodation to their customers. They tell me that it happens once a month at most.”
In his summation and rebuttal after public comment, Migatz said he wanted to avoid the “he said/she said” nature of if, in fact, continuous stone cutting is undertaken by his clients.
“Put a condition—no stone cutting,” he told board members. “[Then] they won’t cut stone.”
As for the photos exhibited by Giashuddin, Migatz claimed they were taken at a time when the Iannellos made use of both 83 and 81 Powerhouse Rd., respectively rented from their neighbor and owned by their uncle Anthony, a founder of the business. Migatz admitted that his clients had once expanded their storage to neighboring lots, but had been issued violations and had removed their materials from both properties.
Giashuddin had also introduced for the record a photograph of stone being cut at 81 Powerhouse Rd., part of his accusation of such activity by the firm. Migatz countered that it was an outside contractor cutting bluestone for a project for that particular house, separate from the business.
The attorney further claimed that Giashuddin, who bought the lot at 77A in 2010 and built his house there in 2012, “knew that the [Iannellos’] operation was there. He also cut down the trees on his property that served as a buffer…for some reason he cut them down, so he looks onto the [masonry yard] and the LIE. That’s his right. That’s what he chose to do. I don’t think he should complain about these properties.”
Migatz made the same argument regarding Osman, stating, “Again, he knew the commercial operation was here. He made a comment, ‘They plan to use all four lots.’ Not true. We don’t even own 83 [Powerhouse Rd.], and we have no plans of expanding to 81.”
Migatz admitted that there should be no loading or unloading of commercial trucks on the service road, and his clients will enforce that—“or give them violations,” he suggested.
“To their credit, John and Vincent Iannello have been very successful and have no intention of leaving their business and client base of 57 years,” Migatz summed up. “They will work with the board, with the Building Department and with the community. Let’s work together. We can find solutions to some of these concerns.”
Vincent Iannello, in an interview with the Roslyn News, did admit to problems with the delivery trucks, but said they would work to make sure that henceforth, no loading/unloading would happen on the street.
He also adamantly rejected the accusation that his firm regularly cuts stones.
“It’s so rare, it’s sickening that we’re accused of doing that day and night,” he said. “We don’t even have 220 [volt] electric, which you need for such machinery. You can’t go around making accusations against a family business. We don’t want to do harm to the community. We’re part of the community.”
He added, “We’re not perfect, we’re human, but we’re not malicious people. People know us. We live and work here and have a relationship with the community.”
The Fine Print
The BZA reserved decision on the Iannellos’ application to seek to maintain outdoor storage at 87 Powerhouse Rd. In 1961, the BZA gave approval for such to 85 Powerhouse Rd., but a search of the firm’s records and BZA files has not turned up a similar permit for 87.
Anthony Iannello took an oath and testified at the meeting that he had retained a lawyer in 1963—when he and his brothers bought 87 to expand their business—to seek such a permit.
Migatz read a statement from neighbor Robert Larsen, who has lived on Jefferson Avenue since 1963.
“He has seen the back of 85-87 filled with sand, gravel and stone since then,” Migatz related.
The attorney submitted an aerial photo taken in 1969, admittingly from a great height, but he claimed it corroborated his client’s testimony that 87 was being used for storage.
Migatz cited cases in settled law, and paraphrased a quote from a court decision. The actual quote reads: “It is the law of this state that nonconforming uses or structures, in existence when a zoning ordinance is enacted, are, as a general rule, constitutionally protected and will be permitted to continue, notwithstanding the contrary provisions of the ordinance.” (People v Miller)
Added Migatz: “A use which is lawfully maintained may be continued as a nonconforming use, [even if] the user failed to procure or renew a license, certificate, or other permit required by law.”
He also had affirmed, “Code enforcement has not issued violations against intensified use at 87 Powerhouse Rd.”