Following public commentary and a lengthy discussion among board members at their monthly meeting on Nov. 13, Community Board 8 voted 17-14 to approve a change in zoning that would allow a developer to build a four-story residential building on Union Turnpike near Parsons Boulevard.
The affirmative vote appeared to reflect concern by board members that without the rezoning, a 10-story pyramid-shaped structure for medical offices could be built at the site.
Had the proposal been rejected, the developer, Sam Zirkiev, president of Zirk Enterprises LLC, would have been permitted to erect the taller structure as of right, according to Richard Lobel, Zirkiev’s attorney.
Board member Kevin Forrestal, who also serves as president of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association, called the possibility “something of a scare tactic,” indicating that the area already has “lots of commercial space available” and claimed any new structure would likely prove to be “a building with sub-optimal occupancy.”
Zoning Committee Chairman Steven Konigsberg told the board that the site is an “unproductive lot” and the “area all around has similar zoning to what they’re proposing. We’re looking for more businesses to come into our community.”
The lot, located at 158-15 Union Turnpike, was previously part of the St. Joseph’s Hospital property and housed trailers used for equipment and office space. The hospital closed in 2004 and is now used by Cornerstone Medical Arts as a detoxification center.
Many area residents voiced their concerns. Anthony Lee said, “A 10-story property right up the block would almost shadow our house. I’m here to question the sense of something that large in a residential area.”
Patricia Rosa said she opposed the 10-story structure but supported the idea of a four-story residential building at the site.
Most seemed in favor of the rezoning proposal, which would change from R3-2, allowing for low-rise attached houses and small residences, to R5D, which features moderate density and multifamily housing.
A representative for outgoing City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) said he’s for the rezoning.
Kenneth Cohen, president of the Flushing Suburban Civic Association, told the board, “Our major concern is the rezoning of the property.”
In a letter to the board, Cohen indicated that on Nov. 11 members of the FSCA met with the applicant and concluded that the “request for zoning change is too extensive. For the applicant to develop the property, there is only need to rezone that lot.”
The FSCA requested that only 158-15 Union Turnpike be granted a zoning change, but not the additional area along Parsons Boulevard and easterly from Union Turnpike to 79th Avenue.
The letter further states that “we do not understand the applicant’s need to rezone the former St. Joseph’s Hospital properties.”
The association also opposes the possibility of building any community facility at the site, saying the area is already oversaturated with them. “We want residential,” Cohen noted.
Following the vote, he said he was “pleased that enough issues were raised,” but remains concerned that “if Cornerstone should go under, it would open up more development, big enough to build a small mall.”
Several members of the board expressed concern that, once the rezoning is allowed, developers could build whatever they want at the site.
Cohen shared the fear, saying, “They’re into this for the money.”
Still, the idea of a four-story rather than a 10-story structure seemed to be the lesser of two evils for several board members. A resigned Martha Taylor said, “That lot needs development. I think this is the best deal we can get.”
Following the meeting, Zirkiev, who did not speak at the session, told the Queens Chronicle that plans call for some retail on the first floor of the proposed building and residential above. “With the new zoning, we’d be limited to 40 feet ...so there is “no way we can do more than four stories,” he said.
In other business, the board’s District Manager Marie Adam-Ovide in her monthly report indicated that “there is a new tracking system that is being used citywide for Department of Transportation requests. The agency is no longer using Queens Borough commissioner numbers.” She also reported that the DOT is “in the process of replacing street signs to make them more readable,” adding, “Only locations where all the street signs are unreadable will be replaced.”
Her report indicated that the number of summonses continues to rise within CB 8, the most common related to expired meters and alternate side parking regulations. The total number of summonses issued for October was 11,366, according to the report.
A forum on learning how to avoid summonses was scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. at the Hillcrest Jewish Center Auditorium, 183-02 Union Turnpike.
The Department of Sanitation was going to the night plowing schedule starting Nov. 18 in preparation for the winter season, Adam-Ovide said. It was recommended that garbage be placed outside the night before for collection, as some areas may= get pickup as early as midnight.
Adam-Ovide reported that according to the 107th Precinct, all major crimes were down during the past month.
City Councilman-Elect Rory Lancman, who is replacing Gennaro, was introduced at the meeting.
The next CB 8 meeting is scheduled for Dec. 11.