Jamaica Estates Fights Hillside Ave. Rezoning

Over 250 angry Jamaica Estates residentsturned out for a meeting Monday night to voice their opposition tothe mayor’s proposal to add large scalehousing on the fringes oftheir neighborhood.

The Jamaica Plan, the largest rezoning effort in the city’s history, will rezone approximately 368 blocks in Downtown Jamaica, portions of the adjacent neighborhoods of South Jamaica, Hollis and St. Albans, and the southern edges of Briarwood, Jamaica Hill and Jamaica Estates–covering both sides of Hillside Avenue from the Van Wyck Expressway to 191st Street to allow buildings as tall as 12 stories.

Also in attendance at the meeting with City Planning held at the Hillcrest Jewish Center were Council members James Gennaro and David Weprin, whose districts are within the proposed areas of rezoning, and representatives of Community Boards 12 and 8. While the plan was formulated over six years ago, this is the first time many residents had heard the proposal.

Questions reflected the audience’s concerns about the environmental impact this plan would have on the communities that line Hillside Avenue. They believe the proposed zoning would add to existing problems in the area including lack of parking on residential streets (the new buildings would only have to provide parking for 50 percent of the units), overcrowded schools (P.S. 131’s playground has already been lost to portable classroom trailers), poor drainage on Hillside Avenue, increased ridership on an overwhelmed transit system and traffic congestion.

Audience members also questioned the absence of community facilities in the plans such as hospitals, sewer treatment plants and parks.

Ed Morrill, a member of the Jamaica Estates Association’s Board of Directors, voiced another major concern—a disregard for the already congested Hillside Avenue corridor. “Ninety percent of the presentation was not relevant to why the majority of us are here today,” he said.

“The association is very concerned about the ‘wall’ of nine 12 story buildings that are proposed for both the north and south sides of Hillside Avenue and the effect that will have on an already exacerbated infrastructure,” said Mark Lefkof, area chairman for Community Board 8.

Michael Bookbinder, president of the Jamaica Estates Association, who hosted the meeting, opened by relating how important it was to inform the community about this massive plan. “It will create a very negative impact, not only for our community, but the communities that border Hillside Avenue on the south side as well,” he said.

John Young, director of the Queens Office of City Planning, offered a PowerPoint presentation that was filled with technical terminology about zoning codes and floor area ratio that attempted to justify 12 story buildings and inclusionary zoning incentives for real estate companies. He also showed what residents called unrealistic illustrations of a tree lined, tranquil Hillside Avenue that failed to convince the frustrated crowd that this plan would “preserve the character of the residential communities.”

Young assured them that there would be a full analysis of the environmental impact and in a few weeks it would be available for discussion. “We are developing strategies with the Department of Education, the Department of Environmental Protection, and Department of Parks that will address all the longterm needs that will come out of this plan,” he said.

Young reiterated that the goal of City Planning was to work with Community Boards 8 and 12, residents of the areas and local officials to develop a comprehensive planning and rezoning strategy to strengthen economic opportunities in the downtown area, curb overdevelopment in low density neighborhoods and foster more orderly, well planned growth.

At the end of the meeting, Gennaro, a resident of Jamaica Estates, reminded the crowd that he and Weprin are committed to all the civics and their efforts. “This is not a done deal, but once the plan is certified (scheduled for Jan. 22), it is better to have an educated, involved populace that already knows about what’s going on, that’s already been to meetings, that has already heard their neighbors’ concerns and is willing and able to participate in a very profound way,” he said.

To evaluate the process, Gennaro has hired a planning consultant, Paul Graziano, who said the community’s major concern is how do you increase the density of a community without destroying a neighborhood’s quality of life?

To see the full proposal go to: www.nyc.gov/planning.

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