Plans to stop the spread of out-of-character housing in Fresh Meadows and other Queens neighborhoods were discussed Monday night in a forum sponsored by the Queens Civic Congress in Flushing.
The meeting, which was held at the Hillcrest Jewish Center, was attended by various civic associations from West Cunningham, Utopia Estates, Bellerose, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Flushing Heights and many concerned residents from diverse sections of Queens.
The panel included John Young, director of the Queens Office of City Planning, Paul Graziano, civic leader and independent urban planner and Patricia Dolan, president of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association and vice president of the Queens Civic Congress.
Dolan, who opened the panel bluntly stated, “They are coming.” She said the developers are coming to “rip up” Fresh Meadows as they did in Bayside, which was recently approved by the City Council to be rezoned down to R2A.
The new zoning restriction puts into practice reforms to establish new floor to area ratios and revised height and setback regulations. The purpose is to downsize new construction and prevent overbuilding.
In the 90-minute forum, Dolan declared that now that Bayside has been rezoned, developers will start looking at other beautiful stable neighborhoods such as Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Kew Gardens and neighborhoods in Central Queens to build out-of-character homes. She urged that civic associations and residents start fighting for rezoning now and not wait until builders come into their neighborhoods to change the architecture.
Since this is an election year, “let’s take advantage of the wonderful opportunity that we have now, and do what we have to do now, to protect our neighborhoods. The decision is up to us, it’s not up to City Hall, it’s not up to Borough Hall, and the decision is ours, so let’s make it,” Dolan added.
Graziano, who was commissioned by Councilman Tony Avella two years ago to carry out a zoning study in sections of Queens, urged that residents take seriously what Dolan said about fighting for rezoning now. “Builders are either trying to get the projects done as soon as possible or they are moving to areas that do not have a zoning restriction.”
Young gave an update on what is going on in the Queens Office. He noted that the mayor and the administration are using all resources to protect the traditional, lower-density qualities of communities in Queens.
Over the years, more people have chosen to live in Queens because of the amount of housing available. As a result, Queens is at a population peak of 2.3-million residents. Young said that the strengths of the borough need to be built upon. “In order to do that, we definitely need to protect and sustain the distinct qualities of the neighborhoods.”
Recently rezoned neighborhoods include Bayside, sections of Springfield Gardens and Kissena Park in Flushing. Areas in the process of being rezoned include Whitestone, College Point, Douglaston, Little Neck and East Flushing.
Young noted that contextual rezoning means looking at the neighborhoods in their totality and determining what is needed to strengthen the communities.
Some residents were concerned about the possibility of illegal housing being erected in their neighborhoods. Young suggested that if anyone suspects that builders are developing properties without a permit, call 311, a City Council member or the Department of Buildings.
Shirl Basehore, a Jamaica Estates resident, is impressed with the hard work being done to stop developers from ruining the original structure of neighborhoods. “I think that the rezoning efforts that are being done by other communities are a wonderful idea in order to keep the communities the way they are. I think it’s really good that people are finally waking up and getting their areas rezoned.”
Young said it will take up to nine months to one year to adopt all the new zoning restrictions in various neighborhoods of Queens.