Douglaston residents hope for community facility laws

By Kathianne Boniello

About 60 Douglaston residents braved strong rains and stifling heat Tuesday night as the Douglaston Civic Association held the second of three meetings designed to generate residential support for legislation to regulate community facilities.

Residents had simple reasons for turning out.

“The issue is crucial because a whole community can be changed without the consent or advise of those who are affected,” said Douglaston Hill resident Sam Greenberg, who has lived in the area 32 years.

Aslan Oktay, a Douglas Manor resident whose family has been in the area about 30 years, said the community must be strong for change to occur.

“Unity,” he said. “If you don’t care, that’s what the politicians want — a quiet community.”

Community facilities are institutions such as medical offices, schools, community groups, hospitals and churches which are permitted under the city’s zoning rules to build in residential areas without first notifying the community and without other restrictions such as parking and size requirements.

Queens civic leaders have been fighting the thorny issue of community facilities for years, and the Douglaston Civic Association has recently joined its neighbors in Little Neck and the Queens Civic Congress — an umbrella group of 102 Queens civics — in a new letter-writing campaign to generate political interest in the topic.

Zoning changes affecting community facilities have been slow to take effect, with protests against community facilities frequently dissolving into arguments against religious institutions or racism toward the immigrant groups which often construct new community facilities.

Eliott Socci, president of the Douglaston Civic Association, told the residents who turned out at the Zion Episcopal Church on Northern Boulevard Tuesday that the letters they would write had one specific purpose.

“We’re not against churches,” he said sternly. “We’re not against community facilities. What we are for is the regulation of community facilities in residential neighborhoods.”

Douglas Manor resident Bernard Haber, former chairman of Community Board 11, said it was time for regulation of community facilities in residential neighborhoods.

“We’re the community, and they should be a facility for us,” he said.

Opposition to community facilities among Queens civic groups has been running high for some time as civic leaders fight financially strong groups that buy land and draw people to residential neighborhoods without paying taxes or creating more parking. Sometimes new community facilities are much larger or are out of character with surrounding structures.

Because community facilities are just beginning to move into the northeasternmost corner of the borough, Little Neck-Douglaston civic leaders have just begun to mobilize against them.

Little Neck-Douglaston residents have been battling one community facility project — a three-story, 20,000-square-foot Korean church being built on lot adjacent to homes and other businesses — for more than a year.

Last month more than 130 residents attended a similar letter-writing meeting held by the Little Neck Pines Civic Association, and Socci said the first Douglaston Civic Association letter-writing meeting at St. Anastasia’s in Douglaston generated about 50 letters.

At each letter-writing meeting, residents are being given definitions of community facilities and an outline of the issue, as well as a sample letter to follow that requests legislative changes to how community facilities are zoned. Residents are asked to hand write letters, however.

“If you’re willing to write, you’re willing to vote,” Socci told the crowd. “That’s what a public official acknowledges.”

The civic, which serves about 950 residences throughout Douglaston and about a dozen in Little Neck, is also providing residents with addresses for public officials like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan), City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden and City Councilmembers Tony Avella (D-Bayside), David Weprin (D-Hollis), Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) and John Liu (D-Flushing). Avella, Weprin, Katz and Liu all support the letter-writing campaign.

The third Douglaston Civic Association letter writing meeting, which is open to anyone, was slated to be held Tuesday, July 23, at 8 p.m. at the Zion Episcopal Church at 243-01 Northern Blvd.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

More from Around New York