The sign, offering office space for rent, recently appeared on the façade of the Aldona Fire Protection Inc. building on 74th Street on the border between Elmhurst and Maspeth.
Five years ago, Aldona applied for a variance to build three additional stories on top of an existing two-story building, citing a need for more space for the expanding company.
Community Board 5e voted against the application, but the city's Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) granted it anyway.
Today, the for rent sign has CB5 members worried Aldona is set to take unfair advantage of its extra space by renting it to an outside tenant.
"This is a very hard economic situation," said Aldona's vice president of Operations, Dariusz Skarzinski in an interview in which he explained his company's decision to test the rental market. "I'm exploring every angle possible. What can I do to survive in this market?"
Aldona provides fire protection and securities services to a roster of mostly city and state clients that includes the city's Department of Homeless Services, School Construction Authority, and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Skarzinski said Aldona has several contracts with city and state agencies that, facing large budget deficits, have not been paid. To make up for the shortfall, said Skarzinski, Aldona, which does $2 million to $3 million a year in business, is thinking of renting the third floor of his five-story building
"That certainly appears to go against what he [Aldona] had the BSA believe; that he needed to build that high for his own purposes," said CB5 District Manager Gary Giordano.
If the company finds an interested tenant, Skarzinski said Aldona's attorney would then approach BSA to verify the legality of renting the space. Responding to community opposition to the sign, and generally to his building, Skarzinski said he has been treated unjustly ever since he applied for the variance.
"I've been targeted by members of Community Board 5 from the beginning," said Skarzinski. "They are just trying to make my life miserable. For what reason, I have no idea."
In 2004, Aldona proposed building three additional stories on top of the two existing ones at a company building at 54-14 74th Street. At the time, the company had four different sites and said it wanted to consolidate them at the 74th Street facility, but would need more space there to accommodate the growing business.
In March of that year, the company applied for a variance to the existing M1-1 zoning laws regulating building code on the eastern fringe of Maspeth.
CB5 was the first to review the application for the proposed 58-foot building. The community board decided the proposed five-story building would be out-of-character in the neighborhood that lacked enough off-site parking.
On March 10, 2004, CB5 recommended, by a vote of 30-2, to reject the variance application. Nevertheless, four months later, on July 20, BSA granted Aldona permission to build the additional stories. A BSA stipulation in its resolution, however, made clear the city would regulate future use of the space.
"Any use of the subject premises exclusively for office use, or any change to the approved plans," BSA's resolution stated, "requires the prior approval of the board."
Skarzinski, who said he plans to notify BSA if Aldona finds a tenant, admits that won't be easy right now.
"So far I don't have anybody interested," he said. "It's a very hard market,"
Aldona, which employs 20 people, currently occupies the first two floors of the building. The other three, built after 2004, are nearing completion. Skarzinksi said construction is 90 percent done. The original plan had been to move employees into all three floors. Now, to bring in additional revenue Skarzinski said the company needs, he plans to rent the third floor.
The expansion should have meant the realization of a business dream for the Polish-born Skarzinksi, who immigrated to the United States over 20 years ago with, as he put it, "$1,000 and a suitcase." Instead, the building project has turned into a headache, said Skarzinski, as Aldona is running into constant bureaucratic roadblocks.
Skarzinski estimated he has spent more than $500,000 in the process of applying for, and securing the building variance, and untold hours over the years dealing with community opposition to his business.
When asked if, given the chance to do it again, he would have gone ahead with the building expansion, or just relocated his business somewhere outside of Queens, Skarzinski did not hesitate to say he would have done things differently.
"I wouldn't do this job in the community. I would have saved money, time, and just moved away," Skarzinski said. "From every angle I'm being beaten. It's a little too much. Sometimes people should know when to stop with this harassment."