Gerardo Casarella sat at a large table in his mechanic’s shop waiting room May 31. He twirled the rag in his hand multiple times on the same portion of table, cleaning it beyond perfection. Eventually he stood up and walked over to move a shelf that stood in front of more than two dozen pictures of his family and friends.
He pointed to a photograph of himself and his wife standing in front of his storefront; the year “1982” written on top of the photograph in black marker.
“All my children, they were raised in this shop,” said Casarella — known by his friends and customers as Gerry.
In August 1982, Casarella and his wife opened a Power Test gas station at 25 E. Hartsdale Ave. The station eventually became a Getty, and in 1990 Casarella partnered with his brother Antonio to revamp it into a mechanics shop in the same spot.
“I always worked on cars,” said Casarella, now 57, who moved to the United States in 1979 from Avellino, Italy — a town just outside of Naples — when he was just 16 years old. “I serve the Hartsdale community for all this time.”
But Casarella’s future service to the Hartsdale community may be in jeopardy, as a potential deal looms between Casarella’s landlord and a Bronx-based developer who are conceptualizing a plan to raze Casarella’s shop and a two-family home at 12 Wilson St. to build a 50-unit residential building.
At a May 14 work session, Greenburgh Town Board members met with architect Max Parangi and developer Paul Dedvukaj for an informal presentation about the prospective development. Albusa Realty Corp., a real estate management company retained by Dedvukaj and his father Gjon, currently owns the Wilson Street property — which is directly behind Casarella’s shop.
“We … hope our conceptual project will fit right in with the [Four Corners’] development,” said architect Perengi at the work session.
Most of the Wilson Street lot is zoned M-174 high-rise multifamily residence. A small sliver of land in the back of the lot, making up roughly 10%, is zoned R-7.5 single family residence. The lot where Casarella’s shop lies is zoned entirely as M-174 high-rise multifamily residence.
In a squabble at the May 14 meeting between Councilman Francis Sheehan and architect Parangi over the board’s discretion to allow a zoning change for the Wilson Street lot, Parangi told Sheehan that if the lot could not be rezoned, the town would “be stuck with the gas station forever.” Sheehan took the statement as a threat and said making such statements would not be a way to influence the board.
“No one likes the gas station, no one likes the cars parked out into the walkways so people can’t get around,” Sheehan said at the meeting. “We understand there’s an advantage to having the gas station go — I don’t think anybody disagrees with that.”
Sheehan did not respond to a request for comment.
Stacy Fisher, co-president of the Hartsdale Neighborhood Association, said the organization does not subscribe to the comments made by Sheehan and Parangi about Casarella’s shop at the May 14 meeting. She also said the statements were not helpful in creating an open dialogue about the potential development.
“It’s not appropriate to bash a small business to move your development forward,” said Fisher. “We need to be thoughtful, we need to be strategic … and that doesn’t happen in a silo or a vacuum.”
Fisher wants all the stakeholders to be included in the development conversation.
“Everyone has to have skin in the game and come to the table and collaborate,” said Fisher. “We want to be development friendly in the Town of Greenburgh — we’re interested in small businesses and in having residents attracted to Hartsdale.”
The development proposal is still in the early stages, as Dedvukaj will still need to make a site plan application, perform traffic and water mitigation studies and meet with the planning board. The rezoning of the lot at 12 Wilson St. would be one of several portions in the application for development, according to Community Development and Conservation Commissioner Garrett Duquesne.
Under recommendation from the town board, Parangi met with the Four Corner’s Committee May 20 to present the conceptual rendering of the building.
“We told the town we are not going to be moving forward unless we get the rezoning on 12 Wilson Street,” Dedvukaj told the Inquirer.
Casarella does not own the lot where his shop is located — he rents the space from Jerrold Hacker, the owner of Dorac Petroleum Corp. based in New Rochelle. Casarella said he currently has two years left on his lease of the space.
According to Casarella, Dedvukaj made a $2.5 million offer to buy from Hacker the E. Hartsdale Avenue lot where Casarella’s shop currently stands.
Dedvukaj told the Inquirer he could not disclose the amount offered to Hacker but denied it was $2.5 million. Dedvukaj also confirmed he was the one who initiated the deal with Hacker.
Neither Hacker nor his associate could be reached for comment.
“It’s not concrete yet — we want to get that rezoning before we get into contract [with Hacker],” said Dedvukaj.
Because Hacker’s lot where Casarella’s shop is located is within the M-174 high-rise multifamily residence zoning, architect Parangi said he doesn’t believe the shop belongs there.
“It’s such an eye sore,” Parangi told the Inquirer, and, he added, “it will be an incredible opportunity.”
Casarella grabbed a manila folder and began to empty it out on the table he had just cleaned. Seven pages slipped out, including a rendering of the building that could potentially be sitting where his shop is on 25 E. Hartsdale Ave. The other six pages were petitions — filled with more than 100 signatures from neighbors, clients and supporters who don’t want to see Casarella go. If the deal goes through, Casarella will have to move his shop somewhere else. He said he is unsure about what will happen with his current local customers.
“The only place I know is this corner here. I’ve been here since I was 19 years old,” said Casarella, who also lives around the corner on Wilson Street. “This is a piece of my heart.”