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Queens Chronicle

Three Historic Districts Proposed For Bayside

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Posted: Thursday, January 18, 2007 12:00 am

To help prevent tear downs and inappropriate alterations, Bayside residents are looking into creating three landmark districts in their neighborhoods.

The idea was the brainchild of Paul DiBenedetto, 41, an audio engineer who lives in the Bellcourt section. “Even with rezoning, the areas are all in jeopardy,” he said. “Rezoning only slows it down.”

The three areas within Bayside being considered are Bellcourt, Lawrence Montauk and Weeks Woodlands. Bellcourt runs from Bell Boulevard and the Clearview Expressway to 35th and 39th avenues and the railroad tracks. Lawrence Montauk runs east of Bell Boulevard and 40th Avenue to 221st Street. Weeks Woodlands takes in an area north of 35th Avenue and east of Bell Boulevard up to 26th Avenue.

About 60 people turned out for a preliminary meeting last Thursday at the Bayside Historical Society in Fort Totten. According to DiBenedetto, there was no opposition to pursuing landmark status.

Speakers included Paul Graziano, a zoning and land use consultant, and Councilman Tony Avella (D Bayside), who supports landmarking if the majority of homeowners favor it.

The most likely area to be researched first is Bellcourt. Graziano said it includes about 400 houses built in 1904 and later. “It’s interesting because this is the first area where deed restrictions were placed by Rickert Finley,” he said.

Rickert Finley was a real estate company that developed housing in the early 1900s. Its restrictive covenants were rules that the homeowners had to abide by, including no front fencing or front garages and no flat roofs. After Bellcourt, the firm put in similar restrictions in the Broadway Flushing area and Douglaston Manor. It has helped to keep the neighborhood stable, but pressure by developers has grown, threatening the area, DiBenedetto said.

He called last week’s meeting a good first step, “but now we need to generate support in the neighborhoods.” He will start going door to door and organize a meeting in Bellcourt in a month.

The homeowner also wants to start collecting money from neighbors since he estimates it will cost around $20,000 to hire Graziano and his partner, Phillip Esser, to do the Bellcourt survey. The pair did similar work in Broadway Flushing, which is in the process of being landmarked.

Avella has promised to provide some funding for the survey, if a majority of the neighbors are in favor of it. “Everyone at the meeting felt we have to do something, but they have to organize and need great, strong support for landmarking,” Graziano said.

He is optimistic the work could be done in a year, but warned that landmarking is a difficult process involving a lot of research. The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission must also be convinced to consider the district.

“People realize that zoning isn’t the end all,” Graziano said. “There has been so much destruction already that it has made people’s attitudes change about landmarking.”

DiBenedetto noted that only one person attending the meeting was concerned about restrictions if the neighborhood is landmarked. Under city regulations, no exterior changes can be made to landmarked property without a permit. “Modifications can be done in the context of the design of the house,” he said. “Builders can find a way to do it, they just don’t want to.”

The Lawrence Montauk area is named for the Lawrence family, who were early settlers, and the former Montauk Avenue, which is now 40th Avenue. A third of the houses there were built before 1909.

Weeks Woodlands has some of the oldest houses in Bayside. They were built from the 1890s through the 1920s.

DiBenedetto called Bellcourt an eclectic neighborhood with house designs ranging from Tudor to Dutch Colonial. “We favor appropriate renovation and less rebuilding,” he said.

Steve Tong, who lives on 210th Street, agrees. “I moved here with my wife two years ago from Manhattan for the charm, not the huge mansions that are popping up,” he said.

Two McMansions are being built next to his house, which he finds offensive and out of place in the neighborhood. “Landmarking would add protection,” Tong said. “It would not be too restrictive.”

Welcome to the discussion.