Proposed Zoning District Gets Mixed Reactions In Hillcrest

A proposed new zoning district—R5D—announced last week by the city has already hit snags in one area it was created for: Hillcrest.

“We requested a contextual rezoning, not an upzoning,” said Jackie Forrestal, corresponding secretary of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association.

The plan, also announced for Jamaica Hills and an area in the Bronx, allows the construction of four-story buildings in the zone, which must have enough parking for 66 percent of their residential units.

According to a City Planning Department study, the change will allow for modest growth along 11 blocks fronting Union Turnpike, Parsons Boulevard and 164th Street. Union Turnpike is currently zoned R2.

“It is anticipated that this mid-density contextual zoning will respond to demand for appropriate new housing in the area consistent with auto ownership patterns in the neighborhood,” the study noted.

Jennifer Torres, City Planning spokeswoman, said that its rezoning study was initiated by the Department of City Planning in response to concerns from civic associations and Community Board 8 over out-of-character development. The plan was announced on Feb. 21.

However, as of Friday, the community board’s District Manager Diane Cohen, had not received a copy of the city’s proposal and deferred comment until her board reviews it. The land-use review procedure is expected to begin with a community board hearing tentatively scheduled for March 28.

Forrestal said that putting four-story buildings in a one-family zone would negatively impact the neighborhood. Her group has the support of state Sen. Frank Padavan, who sent a letter against the proposal to Amanda Burden, chairwoman of the Department of City Planning.

“I believe it is inappropriate,” he said. “Some parts are all right where it lowers density, but others are very destructive.”

In his letter to Burden, Padavan noted that under the proposal, homes zoned as R2 will be entirely surrounded by a substantially denser zone. “This would undoubtedly alter the existing character of that section of the community,” he wrote.

Padavan believes the density allowed under the new R5D zone is too great and is incompatible with the neighboring homes. In addition, Padavan noted that the changes will further strain on-street parking and increase noise, traffic and garbage.

“The intention of this rezoning proposal was to create contextual zoning for a relatively small community. While not perfect, the present establishments and residences along Union Turnpike blend with the needs and character of the community,” Padavan wrote.

He added that last April, Mayor Michael Bloomberg heard the concerns of the neighborhood and gave his support for their efforts to do contextual rezoning. “The Department of City Planning’s proposal to place R5D next to and surrounding R2 is not contextual and will place an undue burden on the residents of this community,” the senator wrote.

Contextual rezoning regulates new construction to blend with the existing buildings in an area. It regulates the height, placement and scale of new structures so they fit into the character of the neighborhood.

Kevin Forrestal, president of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association and a member of the community board, believes that R5D is a good idea for the Bronx, where the existing buildings are already high, but does not fit in the Queens location.

“This is a community that has suffered from overdevelopment from some major community facilities. The density has been increased well beyond the saturation point,” he said.

Padavan agrees. He said the density has been greatly increased. “This is without the opening of the new ambulatory care pavilion at the (Queens) hospital, the proposed high school or the development of the remaining two acres of open land,” he noted in his letter to Burden.

While he knows there is a critical housing shortage in Queens, Forrestal added: “I do not wish to trade off the contextual zoning within this area at the expense of destroying the entrances to the same area.”

The other Queens neighborhood that may get the R5D zoning, however, is satisfied with the plan. Debbie Ayala is president of the Jamaica Hills Civic Association, which covers Parsons Boulevard to the Grand Central Parkway service road to Homelawn Street to Hillside Avenue.

It is a much smaller area than Hillcrest and considered more dense with small apartment buildings.

“Our area is fine with the rezoning,” she said. “It is good upzoning and City Planning did a good job of meeting the needs.”

She added, however, that “it is a different story at Union Turnpike.” Ayala also believes that if the city downzones some areas, it should upzone some to plan for future growth.

Zoning experts in Queens agree that the two neighborhoods don’t have a lot in common, but that the city is now rezoning in large geographical areas using a single plan.

This can lead to some disagreements, but overall is a compromise that works for the betterment of the communities, they say.

“The R5D seems to be a fair compromise for creating new development potential for Union Turnpike frontage without overwhelming the surrounding low-density communities that are receiving new contextual zoning that will protect them,” said Paul Graziano, a zoning expert who has worked in different areas of Queens to downzone communities.

He added that Union Turnpike is a primary road and already is mixed-use commercial.