The Civic Scene: Three steps forward for area civics on rezoning

By Bob Harris

In the past year R2 areas of Bayside, Woodside, Springfield and Cambria Heights have been re-zoned to R2A to protect the fine one-family areas from construction of those monster houses. People had bought homes in nice neighborhoods with green lawns, flower beds, nice trees, lots of outside space and open air space. Then the McMansions came.The West Cunningham Park Civic Association, Inc., Utopia Estates Civic Association, Inc. and the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association, Inc. decided to protect their areas from McMansions so they held several meeting. They had invited speakers from the Queens Civic Congress and the Queens City Planning Commission. The Cunningham and Utopia Civics held joint meetings. The West Cunningham Park mailed notices to every home in the area. The Utopia Estates Civic hand-delivered notices to all, using their block captains. Two standing-room- only meetings of more than 100 people produced unanimous votes to rezone to R2A.The Fresh Meadows Home Owners Civic, which mails its meeting notices to all homes, had more than 200 people at their last meeting. They also unanimously voted to rezone to R2A. Based on these meetings, the Queens City Planning Department decided to check to see if rezoning was appropriate. On Dec. 19, City Planning finally affirmed that rezoning could take place, if the people wanted it to happen.The three civics had the responsibility to notify all the homeowners in their areas of the rezoning hearing. On Jan. 10, approximately 400 people filled the auditorium of Ryan Middle School 216. Since almost every seat was full and the auditorium holds 500 people, a figure of more than 400 is not exaggerated. The Zoning/Area Committees of Community Board 8 held the hearing. In order to register to speak, people had to sign up by phoning the CB 8 office or just prior to the meeting.Councilman James Gennaro declared that he was neutral and that he wanted to hear what the people said prior to voting eventually at the City Council vote. Some 28 people spoke for the rezoning and eight were against it. The 10 members of CB 8 present constituted a quorum, so they voted 9 for and 1 against the R2A rezoning.What bothered me was that two of the eight opposed were not neighborhood people. One was an architect from Richmond Hill and one owned about five homes somewhere in the area. I was annoyed that a couple of dozen homeowners who I knew were opposed to those McMansions were in the audience and did not register to speak against those Monster Houses. These were the same people who had voted with a raised hand for R2A at the civic meetings. I guess some people are not outgoing like the civic activists.The next day, Jan. 11, Community Board 8 held its monthly meeting in Hillcrest Jewish Center. So many people had registered to speak for the R2A issue and speed bumps for PS 26 in Fresh Meadows, that each speaker had only one minute to express their views, and more than the usual 15 minutes were allocated to community views.After a discussion, Community Board 8 voted 27 for the rezoning and six against. The item was sent to Borough President Helen Marshall's monthly Land Use Public Hearing the next morning. The item was near the end of the agenda so the five civic leaders had to wait until 12:30 to speak. Deputy Borough President Karen Koslowitz conducted this portion of the meeting.The civic leaders presented their arguments for R2A. A supporting paper from the Queens Civic Congress was also presented. Also present were the Far Rockaway Neighborhood Association and the Bayswater Civic Association, whose six representatives spoke for rezoning to prevent McMansions in the Bayswater section of Far Rockaway.The borough president has 30 days to make a recommendation to the City Planning Commission which then has 60 days to make a recommendation to the City Council, which will then vote on the application. Concerned civic activists, who are volunteers, have been and will be busy for a while. They are the glue which keeps our communities viable here in Queens.Further evaluation of the Zoning Public Hearing, by one of our civic leaders, finds that Bob Holbrook said that 83.5 percent of the properties in the Fresh Meadows civic areas have not taken advantage of the Floor Area Ratios which they are allowed. Under the new zoning, 38 percent would be able to expand horizontally and 38 percent expand sideways, depending upon whether the properties are a cape or ranch style house. Therefore, under the new zoning of R2A, 76 percent of the homeowners in the area to be rezoned can still build their houses larger.All the civic leaders and homeowners want to do is maintain the quality of life in the neighborhoods in which they bought houses. We are happy that our legislators and administrators are working with us. This is good.

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