Joan Donoghue remembers when her family medical practice in Jamaica was surrounded by cornfields and horse stables.
In the 50 years she has lived and worked in her home on 191st Street off Hillside Avenue, the doctor has seen many neighborhood transformations, like the high-rise apartment building that sprung up behind her yard.
But the impending rezoning of downtown Jamaica and the surrounding area may be the biggest change yet.
One of the largest rezoning plans in city history passed a critical point last week when the City Council Land Use Committee approved the plan that will reshape 368 blocks to make way for hotels, apartment buildingsand big-name retailers.
Donoghue’s home sits on the edge of the plan’s boundaries and less than half a block from Hillside Avenue, where the proposed zoning will allow buildings to more than double in height to eight stories.
On the evening of the vote, buyers were already knocking on the door of Donoghue’s white-shuttered home, which is surrounded by potted flowers and lush greenery.
Donoghue was with patients in her office when two men appeared at her front door and asked if her home was for sale.
“I told him there is no amount of money that could buy this house,” she said, adding that she was annoyed by the man’s persistence. “But he made me take his card and said to think about it.”
In recent months, negotiations have curbed some of the proposed development by capping buildings on Merrick Boulevard, Jamaica Avenue and Liberty Avenue at four stories, instead of the originally proposed six.
Last minute negotiations before last week’s zoning committee vote reduced portions of Hillside Avenue. The area west of Midland Parkway was originally slated for 12-story buildings, a proposal that was scaled back to eight stories. The area east of Midland was originally scheduled for eight-story buildings, a plan that was changed to seven.
The elected and civic leaders said Sunday that Donoghue’s experience shows that the planned development will still be too big.
At a community rally organized by Hollis Councilman David Weprin on Sunday, civic leaders, residents and elected officials gathered to once again highlight the problems with the plan.
Kevin Forrestal, president of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association, said the Department of Environmental Protection has already acknowledged problems with the city’s sewer system and said it won’t be able to correct them by 2030 –– or by the time a million people have been added to the city.
Leaders noted that the city has no immediate plans for expanding schools or improving subway service, a sign that it is not prepared for massive and rapid growth.
Weprin and Fresh Meadows Councilman James Gennaro said they will vote against the plan.
Bayside Councilman Tony Avella, chairman of the zoning subcommittee, said in a phone interview on Monday that despite the strong community opposition, the plan will most likely be approved without any more changes.
He explained that because City Council Speaker Christine Quinn supports the plan, the council will vote in its favor. He expects himself, Gennaro and Weprin to be the only opponents of the plan when the City Council votes on Sept. 10.
“There’s big money to be made,” he said, adding that he predicts the negative neighborhood impact will be “worse than people think.”
But not everyone is convinced the plan will destroy communities.
St.Albans Councilman Leroy Comrie, who also represents a portion of the area in the plan, said the rezoning will stop rampant, out-of-character development in residential areas, while also allowing businesses along the commercial strips to expand.
He added that the city has agreed to form a task force that will examine sewer, road and transportation problems in the area and emphasized that “if we create the right atmosphere and attitude, it won’t hinder growth, it will enhance it.”