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New zoning catching on in Fresh Meadows

By Zach Patberg

The McMansion-busting rezoning measure landed squarely inside Christ Lutheran Church on April 27 and has since sent a ripple of enthusiasm through civic groups that represent thousands of residents from Flushing's border down to Cunningham Park.And it's not all talk.Last week, at their second joint meeting since introducing R2A to the community in May, heads of two civic associations, West Cunningham Park and Utopia, handed out surveys to dozens of their members eager to participate in the first step toward tightening zoning on their 63 blocks.Calling it a “grass-roots effort,” Rob Holbrook, Community Board 8's representative from the Department of City Planning, stressed to the volunteers the importance of documenting the correct number of stories in each house, any address changes, new construction and what type of garage there is — attached or detached.Once the surveyors returned from the field, Holbrook explained, he would take their data on the some 2,100 lots and update the city's maps of the area, which he said now could be six months to a year old.Then with accurate schematics on hand, discussions and votes on whether the mostly R2 community would benefit from a downzoning could begin, stretching from CB 8 boardrooms to ultimately the City Council floor.The R2A essentially restricts lot coverage and house height and eliminates certain building exemptions now allowed with the more lenient R2.West Cunningham's president, Bob Harris, said Monday he had received completed surveys covering almost all of his civic's area, which includes 1,200 homes from 188th to 199th street and from 73rd Avenue to the Grand Central Parkway. Harris said he expects the rest to come in by this week.Utopia's officials said their collection process was also virtually complete. The civic, which shares West Cunningham's 188th Street border, extends west, covering an 800-home rectangle enclosed by Utopia Parkway, 73rd Avenue and Union Turnpike.North of 73rd Avenue, reaching to the Long Island Expressway, is the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association. In what President Jim Gallagher called “the largest crowd we've ever had,” more than 200 members at a May 25 meeting voted unanimously in favor of rezoning their 830 homes R2A.Following in West Cunningham and Utopia's footsteps, Homeowners will have a city planning representative at their next meeting June 27.Next in line is the Flushing Heights civic, the most recent to join the R2A gold rush with a meeting on the issue scheduled for June 29. Its territory lies north of Utopia and west of the Homeowners.Other meetings on the topic are with the CB8 Zoning Committee June 16 and Queens Civic Congress June 20.Fresh Meadows is not alone, and certainly not the first, in Queens to catch the rezoning bug. In the last 2 1/2 years, 10 borough neighborhoods have been contextually revamped, with 15 others underway, according to John Young, the city planner for Queens.And since its successful pilot run with 350 blocks in Bayside in April, the R2A has become king — the most popular route toward, as Young said, “achieving orderly growth to protect the quality of life.”Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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