Businesses strip signs on Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven

For almost 10 years, a simple yet striking silver-colored sign has welcomed hungry patrons to the Avenue Diner in Woodhaven.

Owner Paul Vasiliadis said he paid for a special illuminated sign permit so the letters could be highlighted in pink.

Now almost a decade after taking over the restaurant, Vasiliadis is battling a violation by the city’s Buildings Department for not having the proper permit for the 25 foot sign.

He is not alone.

A number of store owners along Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven have received violations for their signs in recent months.

Others, hoping to ward off future fines, are pulling down their storefront signs.

The result is a streetscape pockmarked with blank spaces above shop fronts and merchants who said they were struggling before being hit with an unexpected fee.

“I was told there was a complaint about my sign, and I find that hard to believe,” said Vasiliadis, who heard about the violation in August. “I’ve been here nine years. Where would the complaint come from?”

Buildings Department officials confirmed they examined the sign at Avenue Diner after receiving a call about it through the 311 line.

Similarly, city personnel inspected Caridad Restaurant across the street, after the agency received a 311 call about its awning in June. Officials said owner Bruno Taveras’ 14-foot sign was illegal and anchored to the facade without a permit.

“We are here almost 20 years, and I never heard anything about the sign,” said Tavares. “They also said I need insurance. But I already have insurance for the establishment. Nobody in court wants to hear that.”

Andrew Rudansky, a spokesman for the Buildings Department, said signs under six-square-feet do not need a permit.

“There is nothing wrong with an owner wanting to hang a sign outside their business to draw in customers,” Rudansky said in a statement, “but for the safety of pedestrians walking underneath and to ensure the sign complies with zoning laws, owners need to get sign permits and have the work performed by a licensed professional.”

He also pointed out the property owner is legally responsible for the building and would receive the violation.

“This is bureaucracy at its worst,” said City Councilman Robert Holden, whose district includes part of Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven. “This is an area that already needs help. Parking and traffic is ridiculous here.”

Holden said he is working with other council members on legislation that would help reimburse store owners who have been fined for their signs.

Members of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association have also been interviewing store owners up and down the avenue, compiling a list of those who have received violations.

“Business is slow as it is,” said Stephen Forte, president of the community group, who fired off a letter to elected officials asking them to help the neighborhood’s small businesses. “These shops can’t afford this.”

Last week, a ladder was propped outside the entrance to Bichi Tapas Bar, where the venue’s sign had been removed.

Owner Carlos Castro said he wanted to replace the awning with a smaller sign before he received any kind of violation.

“Friends of mine, they have tickets already,” he said. “I’m changing it before they give me a fine too.”