2004-12-31 / Front Page

200 Belle Harbor Residents, Lew Simon Sued For $10 M

This house on the corner of Newport Avenue and Beach 134 Street is at the center of the controversy.This house on the corner of Newport Avenue and Beach 134 Street is at the center of the controversy. An elderly Belle Harbor property owner has filed a $10 million lawsuit against 200 neighbors, a local politician and a list of city officials claiming they violated her civil rights, The Wave has learned.

Attorneys for Estelle Simon say the City of New York, the Department of Buildings, Democratic District Leader Lew M. Simon and 200 as yet unnamed Rockaway residents "engaged in conduct wherein they violated the plaintiff's rights," according to a 14-page suit filed in U.S. District Court in November.

District Leader Simon has dismissed the suit, which was assembled in such haste that "United States" is misspelled, calling it "frivolous." DOB spokesperson Jennifer Givner said Corporation Counsel was reviewing the complaint on behalf of the city.

At the center of the issue is the eld-erly woman's one-family home at 402 Beach 134 Street, which drew the at-tention of community members when signs seeking 40 investors at $10,000 apiece for a condominium or elder-care facility at that location popped up on its front lawn in early 2004.

A group of Belle Harbor residents, who don't want to see a one-family home turned into a multi-unit struc-ture, filed complaints with the DOB and sent petitions to elected officials. They also petitioned Community Board 14, since its members would be in the position of approving or denying any request for a variance.

Fliers calling for vigilance among neighbors - specifically citing the property were circulated. "We appreciate the hard work of our elected officials and demand that NO LICENSES BE ISSUED," they said.

The Wave, which is not named as a defendant in the suit but is mentioned, reported in April that Sidney Levine, an attorney with the Manhattan based Furman Law Firm/Furman Realty Group representing Estelle Simon declared that plan to convert the home was "scrubbed." Further, he said it "was going to stay as a single family residence for the owner."

At that time, Levine described his client as an 85-year-old resident of a care facility.

The lawsuit now claims that the newspaper's local sources for that story "engaged in false claims" and suggested "the plaintiff was involved in the sale of her property for the purposes of blockbusting."

The Wave story did address block-busting - to paraphrase Levine, who said Estelle Simon and Furman were wrongly accused of that illegal practice.

Calls from The Wave to Furman Law Group/Furman Realty were not returned by press time. Furman, which was once known as the Freedom Forum of New York City and registered to an address in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, is now using Estelle Simon's address and a cellular phone as its primary telephone. It was not clear if Furman filed the suit on Estelle Simon's behalf.

Belle Harbor sources said the law-suit is aimed at silencing their oppo-sition to the construction work and any plan to rezone the property - a possible violation of their own First Amendment rights and state anti-SLAPP statutes, which protect those who make challenges during the permit process.

Watchful residents continue to call in complaints: The two which led up to the most recent visit by the DOB alleged the basement is undergoing an illegal conversion while another says "location may be in the process of being turned into a nursing home. May not have permit for job?"

A DOB violation from this week cites, "Failure to comply with Com-missioner's order... work without a permit in cellar."

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