Rezoning Slowdown Angers Civic Leaders

Charging the city with purposely slowing down efforts to rezone areas of Queens, a large number of civic leaders rallied Friday in front of Borough Hall.

Organized by Councilman Tony Avella of Bayside—who has led the fight for downzoning throughout Queens—civic leaders from the Rockaways to Forest Hills joined him for the rally. “For the last six months, City Planning’s timetable has slowed,” he said. “Developers and the Queens branch of the architects organization seem to be getting their (City Planning’s) ear.”

Civic leaders, some carrying signs that read “Stop the destruction of our neighborhoods” and “Stop McMansions,” said they were angry and frustrated at the perceived slowdown.

Kim Ohanian, president of the Queensboro Hill Neighborhood Association, said she doesn’t understand the city’s actions. “They are trying to ram things down our throats. It’s unacceptable. Our plan should have been certified months ago.”

Over the last year, several Queens neighborhoods have been downzoned to prevent the building of oversized houses and to keep developers from erecting two houses on a large lot where a single home is now. But action in such areas as Little Neck Douglaston, Queensboro Hill, Laurelton and Waldheim Holly (in Flushing) has been held up.

Paul Graziano, who helped conduct many of the zoning surveys for the civic groups, said some of the neighborhoods should have been certified last July or August. “City Planning needs to do this in an expeditious manner,” he added.

Some of the groups represented at Friday’s rally included Briarwood, Kew Gardens Hills, Broadway Flushing, Station Road (Flushing), Douglaston, Holly and Waldheim, Kissena Park and Kissena Heights, Little Neck Pines, North Flushing, Hillcrest, Far Rockaway, Royal Ranch (Glen Oaks) and the Four Boroughs Preservation Alliance.

Michael Perlman, of the preservation alliance, is outraged by the “McMansionizing” of the Cord Meyer section of Forest Hills. “This degrades the Tudor and Colonial architectural splendor and the unique aesthetic qualities which once made Forest Hills what it is, a charming neighborhood,” he said.

Representing Community Board 7 was Chuck Apelian, chairman of its Zoning Committee. He called for the mayor to “expeditiously complete the campaign promise he made right here on these steps to contextually rezone our precious Queens residential neighborhoods.”

Avella said that the city’s excuse for delays was that the Planning Department is currently understaffed. “It’s up to the mayor if the department needs more staff,” he added.

Apelian responded that the civics’ requests were simple: “We do not want any more delays and we do not need unwanted zoning districts dictated to us.”

Pat Dolan, president of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic and vice president of the Queens Civic Congress, believes that the city needs to institute a new zoning designation that has also taken a back seat at City Planning. It would protect single family row houses, which are currently being converted to multiple dwellings. “We are losing our housing stock in New York City for young families,” she said. “An R2B would prevent those conversions.”

Avella said that Planning is receptive to it, but that nothing has been done on the new designation. He believes that real estate interests are spreading misinformation on rezoning and he has put pressure on the Mayor’s Office to keep them the same.

Rachaele Raynof, spokeswoman for City Planning, said on Monday that under the mayor’s direction, her agency has completed more than 20 rezonings in Queens encompassing over 2,300 blocks.

She added that City Planning “is committed to continuing the same successful strategy, which relies heavily on community consensus building to protect the character of Queens neighborhoods.”

Raynof noted that there are over 15 neighborhood studies under way in the borough, including Douglaston Little Neck, “which we are expediting into the public review process on July 10 at the request of Council Member Avella.”

Other area rezoning plans, including Queensboro Hill, Laurelton and Waldheim Holly are being “fine tuned,” she added.

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