Three neighborhoods in northern Queens, encompassing 418 blocks, are expected to be downzoned under a plan approved the city Planning Commission last week.
Long under consideration, the proposal takes in Auburndale in Flushing, Oakland Gardens in Bayside and Hollis Hills, making it the largest rezoning effort under Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the 40th one in Queens.
According to City Planning, the action comes in response to community concerns about out-of-character development, such as McMansions, that have threatened the one- and two-family neighborhoods.
The measure, which goes to the City Council for action within 50 days, “will ensure that the many quiet blocks … are protected from overly dense and out-of-character buildings and that commercial uses are prevented from intruding onto their residential blocks,” said Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden.
But while many residents applaud the move, others contend that the city came up short in key areas.
As part of the public review process, community boards 7, 8 and 11 approved the measure, earlier this year, but there was heated debate on two of the boards regarding a part of Auburndale and Oakland Gardens. Members of the Station Road Civic Association in Flushing were pushing for a one-block area to be rezoned from manufacturing to residential.
The manufacturing zone was created about 50 years ago as a buffer when a petrochemical factory was located there, across the street from one-family houses. The area was later taken over by Star Nissan.
Chrissy Voskerichian, civic co-president, said Nissan and the other automobile dealership in the area have refused to cooperate with neighbors regarding noise, parking and other issues. But City Planning has said that the businesses would not be affected by any rezoning because as long as they are active, the city never rezones such areas.
Rhea O’Gorman, civic co-president, said the Auburndale rezoning was the best and maybe only hope the Station Road community had for prospective relief from the manufacturing designation.
“City Planning, not able to get community consent to rezone the area to a C-8, froze the community out of the process in the end,” O’Gorman said. “The burden of the failure to effectuate a positive zoning change falls squarely on the shoulders of the city councilmen involved — former Councilman Tony Avella, whose lack of results may be best explained by the Star car he drives — and current Councilman Dan Halloran, whose political philosophy favors business rights over resident rights at every turn.”
Halloran’s spokesman, Steven Stites, said when the councilman took office in January, the Auburndale rezoning had been essentially approved.“Despite this, the council member put as much pressure as he could on the city to modify the proposal to make sure the rezoning would be done in a way that preserved Auburndale’s residential character and improved its residents’ quality of life,” Stites said.“But the Department of Planning’s ears were closed.”
Avella did not comment on the charges.
O’Gorman said that the city will be held accountable for its failure to enforce the Certificate of Occupancies, performance standards of the zoning resolution and other regulations in court.
Halloran (R-Whitestone), said he is very disappointed in the city’s lack of action on Station Road. “City Planning pledged to have a proposal for the M-1 area and didn’t come back with a plan,” he said. “Star Nissan is not a good neighbor and there is no sign the city is going to help the residents. The city has abandoned us.”
Henry Euler, a member of CB 11 and the zoning and housing chairman for the Auburndale Improvement Association, has long favored downzoning, but also is unhappy about keeping the manufacturing zone. “In general, I’m pleased the overall plan is moving forward,” Euler said. “But I’m still concerned about the manufacturing zone in Station Road, although I understand the city is working with Halloran on this.”
In Oakland Gardens, a 15-block area that was originally slated for the R-2A single-family zoning, was changed to allow two-family houses on smaller lots. That is due to “lobbying by real estate developers against the interests of many of the homeowners,” claimed Paul Graziano, an urban planning consultant, who designed much of the Auburndale rezoning that was adopted by the Planning Commission and spent two years on the Oakland Gardens downzoning.
Graziano is angry over the time it has taken for the city to adopt a plan and puts the responsibility squarely in the hands of the mayor. “It took a decade for the Department of City Planning to move on the Auburndale rezoning, and in that time the damage has been done,” he said. “Even the areas that are getting corrective zoning changes have had teardowns, McMansions and inappropriate development during the past 10 years.”
He blames “foot-dragging and lip-service” by the Bloomberg administration, “particularly after Mayor Bloomberg’s second election victory in 2005 when he was focusing on economic development projects like Willets Point and not particularly interested in saving our neighborhoods in Queens from overdevelopment.”
CB 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece agreed that “outside influences” were responsible for the upzoning in Oakland Gardens. “The community board wanted the less dense designation and we’re not happy about the change, but the City Council still has to vote on it,” Iannece said. “Anything can happen.”