By Cynthia Koons
Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to Queens Tuesday to tout the city’s efforts to preserve the borough’s character by rezoning residential areas to limit growth and density while promoting development in areas with sufficient infrastructure.
Cooperation between the borough president’s office, Queens Council members and the Department of City Planning has resulted in the rezoning of 10 neighborhoods such as Jamaica, Springfield Gardens and Richmond Hill among other areas across the county.
“Overdevelopment changes the character, overdevelopment changes the traditional appearance of neighborhoods,” Bloomberg said on the steps of Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens where he held a news conference with several Queens Council members.
“There are places where the schools are so overcrowded you’re doing a big disservice for the children,” he said.
The focus of the most recent zoning studies in Queens also includes Kew Gardens, Woodside, Maspeth, Whitestone, Bayside, College Point and East Flushing.
In Borough President Helen Marshall’s office, the zoning task force identifies inappropriately zoned neighborhoods and works to have them rezoned. These identifications come through community boards, civic associations, local elected officials and area residents.
“The cooperation with the Queens office of City Planning has been excellent, aided by our close proximity in this building,” Marshall said. “They have cataloged existing development in the study areas, met with area residents on proposed zoning recommendations and monitored the application through the environmental and public review process.”
The Bellerose, Brookville, Jamaica Hill and Royal Ranch neighborhoods are currently up for public review in the quest for the implementation of more restrictive zoning known as downzoning, according to the mayor.
Behind the podium, a map showed the neighborhoods that would be the target of further zoning reforms. Many of them were in northeast Queens.
“This is a serious problem, overdevelopment,” Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said. “We need to move ahead on this expeditiously.”
Bloomberg agreed that time was of the essence in preserving the unique neighborhoods that make up Queens.
“Every day there is another neighborhood that is irretrievably lost or changed,” Bloomberg said.
He emphasized the fact that special attention should be placed on neighborhoods in which single-family houses are being torn down and replaced with multiple dwellings on the same lot.
‘There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just out of character,” Bloomberg said.
Bayside residents have taken issue with the development of a lot on 223rd Street where developer Tommy Huang purchased a lot once occupied by a single-family home and razed the structure. In its place, Huang plans to erect four others.
Avella has led the fight against that development because it will increase the neighborhood’s density. Across the street from Huang’s 223rd Street lot, another house is being torn down and replaced with two others.
To curb that type of development, the city also can contextually rezone a neighborhood. That type of zoning designation would require developers to maintain a street’s look when undertaking new building projects.
“Queens is known for its neighborhoods,” Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) said. “You can go from one block to the next and be in an entirely different world, and we like that.”
Overdevelopment has been a major issue in Queens in recent years, particularly in the residential areas dominated by single-family homes.
“This city needs housing,” said Amanda Burden, the director of city planning. “But we need to make sure this new housing does not undermine what makes our neighborhoods attractive and affordable.”
Later that day Bloomberg stopped at a Mitchell Linden Civic Association meeting in Flushing to field questions on the MTA’s impending takeover of private bus service in the borough, the development of Flushing Airport and the proposed cuts to Queens libraries.
With the takeover of the buses expected July 1, the mayor addressed questions on how the northeastern Queens neighborhoods would be affected.
“If the MTA takes over (private buses), there are no plans to alter service. I think we’ll see much better service,” he told a crowded auditorium at PS 214.
He emphasized that the libraries are run through the independent Queens Library agency, which handles the hours of operation for the branches. Residents and Council members have protested proposed cuts that would further reduce the amount of money the borough’s library system has for staffing and book purchases.
“We have not cut any money from the libraries,” Bloomberg said. “(The agencies) are all trying to adjust to the economic realities of the world.”
Turning to Flushing Airport’s development, which would require the city to rebuild Linden Place, a road that stretches through the neighborhood he was in Tuesday evening, Bloomberg said the plans for 180-wholesale business park are not yet definite.
“People need jobs,” he said. “We need more recreational facilities, we need more parks, we need more ballfields and we need jobs.”
Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.