The Quinn Building in Astoria was the launching point Saturday for the Long Island City Alliance’s campaign to challenge the nature of development in Queens.

“We want to say to the politicians that we understand it’s going to be developed, but we want a structured development system,” said Patrick Comaskey, president of the alliance, talking to a crowd of about 60 residents, students and community activists.

The grass roots organization hosted what it called a “get to know you” session and called the meeting to announce that it will make zoning its top focus in 2007. Specifically, the group plans to fight for downzoning in residential, low rise neighborhoods and draw attention to the problems caused by overcrowding. Comaskey said his group is planning a meeting later this year, where he hopes to address the concerns with local elected officials.

Saturday’s session was billed as a first step to encourage members of the community to get involved. “We need to get power and movement behind us,” Comaskey said. “We need a correction in zoning on certain blocks, wherever that may be.”

Comaskey, land use consultant Paul Graziano and Christina Wilkinson, secretary of Juniper Park Civic Association, made their concerns about overdevelopment visible during the meeting. They displayed photographs of buildings that could be knocked down under current zoning laws, including homes and churches, as well as new buildings in Astoria that have replaced older structures on blocks around 37th and 38th streets, and elsewhere.

The images drew frequent, audible gasps of dismay as the crowd reacted to the differences between the old and new buildings. Comaskey several times referred to new structures as “cash cows” for developers and real estate professionals. “This is what’s happened to your neighborhoods, your homes,” he said. “It’s just nasty. It looks nasty, it feels nasty. It’s just not good construction.”

Graziano pointed to successful efforts over the last few years to rezone parts of Queens that might have otherwise been threatened. In College Point, he said, large areas that had been zoned for multifamily, medium density housing, were rezoned for single family detached housing, which he said better reflects the existing context of the neighborhood. Another successful example of what Graziano called “community zoning” occurred in Maspeth and Woodside, where a number of blocks were downzoned to preserve their character.

Other examples of rezoning took place in Forest Hills, Middle Village and Bayside. Most recently, portions of Douglaston and Little Neck were rezoned to reflect established patterns of development.

But Graziano said much of city planners’ approach to development is misguided, charging that it harkens back to the days of Robert Moses. “We are going back to the idea of mega projects as the solution to New York’s woes,” he said. “Development, especially in Astoria, should be more reasonable. Part of the problem has to do with elected and appointed officials. And you need to do something about it.”

Residents who turned out for Saturday’s meeting said they came out of concern over what they see happening in their neighborhood. “There’s a lot of poor construction that’s going on,” said John Ziedonis, of Long Island City. “This looks like it’s not too late to do something. I’m about to talk to them and see what I can do.”

Evelyn Bayard came from Brooklyn to attend the meeting. “It’s not right. They’re destroying old colonial houses,” she said. “The new construction doesn’t match the area. And it’s like they’re not listening.”

Madeline Robertaccio, an Astoria homeowner and a member of the alliance, said the pace of development is what worries her. “We’re not anti growth. We just want to have appropriate buildings with common sense,” she said. “In my area, in my block alone, I’ve seen little houses like mine pulled down.”

Robertaccio said residents need to understand the legal process and engage elected officials to foster change.