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LIVING IN FOREST HILLS: Suburban living in the city

Some described it as a suburb in a city. Others talked about the rich history of the neighborhood that goes back more than 100 years. Some spoke about the quality schools and recreational opportunities at the beautiful parks. Still others talked about the diverse business community and fabulous group of restaurants.

This area is Forest Hills. A diverse community located in central Queens, Forest Hills is an upscale, tranquil, clean neighborhood in the backyard of Manhattan.

“It’s unique in New York City because it’s a real community, and it provides a really wonderful environment whether they are single or people with families,” said Susanna Hof, who owns Terrace Realty in Forest Hills with her husband Robert.

HOUSING AND TRANSPORTATION

Houses in Forest Hills Gardens – which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year – could range from $700,000 to upwards of $3 million. In addition, there are many co-ops, both inside and outside of the Gardens, which range from as little as $200,000 to as much as $800,000.

“It’s a great community to sell,” Susanna Hof said, referring to the Forest Hills neighborhood. Hof and her husband Robert have owned Terrace Realty, located at 16 Station Square for many years and Robert’s ancestors actually worked at the Cord Meyer Development Company, which bought the land currently known as Forest Hills back in 1906.

One of the biggest advantages numerous people mentioned when speaking about Forest Hills was the access to mass transportation.

“Here you can live 13 minutes from Manhattan by train [Long Island Rail Road],” Hof said. “You can come home to wonderful clean streets and good neighbors.”

In addition to taking the Long Island Rail Road into the city, Forest Hills residents also have access to five subway lines – the E, F, G, R and V lines. Residents can choose to ride the express E and F lines for a 20 minute commute into Manhattan or take the local routes to neighborhoods in Kew Gardens and Rego Park.

“The beauty of Forest Hills is that you can be in Manhattan in 20 or 25 minutes,” said Community Board 6 District Manager Frank Gulluscio. “That’s why people want to be here.”

BUSINESS

Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce (FHCC) President Leslie Brown described the neighborhood as a blend of upscale chains including stores such as the Gap, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor Loft and Sephora with a wonderful mix of small individual boutiques and stores.

“There’s always change in every area,” Brown said. “This is still a very vibrant community. Even though we are in a recession, we have very few available storefronts.”

Heskel Elias, who is the founder of the Heskel Group, has been in Forest Hills since 1975 and is one of the leading developers of commercial and retail space in the neighborhood. Throughout the years, the Heskel Group has built Ann Taylor Loft, Staples, Gap Superstore, Duane Reade and The Disney Store in Forest Hills.

Elias described the Forest Hills business community as stable, and he cited the low rate of foreclosures in the area as well as the ability of the area to weather economic storms in the past as reasons to view Forest Hills in a positive light.

“If anyone wants to sell a property in Forest Hills, I’d be the first one willing to buy it,” Elias said.

There are also new businesses opening up in Forest Hills on a consistent basis. Customers looking for banking options in Forest Hills now have a new one as TD Bank recently opened a location at 63-54 108th Street.

The new TD Bank will be open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“TD Bank is committed to providing Queens with convenience, legendary service, personal attention and key locations,” said TD Bank Market President Peter Meyer. “The openings of our new Forest Hills location reaffirm our dedication to this market and strengthen our ability to serve both our retail and commercial customers.”

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

Community Board 6, which covers Forest Hills and Rego Park, is very active with members who are deeply passionate about the area they live in. On a monthly basis, the organization’s meetings have a high attendance rate and members often engage in spirited debates about things going on in their neighborhood.

In addition to Community Board 6, the 112th Precinct Community Council and the Forest Hills Community & Civic Association are both very active groups who hold monthly meetings to address neighborhood needs.

Another popular organization in Forest Hills is The Community House – a nonprofit, nonsectarian recreational facility for residents of Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods located in Forest Hills Gardens. The Community House serves as a meeting hall for different groups as well as offering programs for children and activities for adults.

The Bukharian Teen Lounge – an after-school program held at the Central Queens YM/YWHA – helps with the adjustment process of young Jewish immigrants from the Central Asian part of the former Soviet Union known as "Bukhara." At-risk high school teens meet after school to socialize and are offered programs in life skills, college preparation, counseling and field trips.

Recently, the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps installed a new slate of officers with Alan Wolfe serving as the organization’s President. The group helps aid the city’s emergency response organizations and responds to emergencies within the local community.

“I have a lot of experience with organizations both volunteering and professionally,” said new President Alan Wolfe. “I think that setting up a proper foundation is what will make the transition smooth and will make for a successful year.”

SAFETY

Forest Hills falls within the confines of the 112th Precinct. In 2008, there was one murder reported in the precinct and three rapes.

This year, crime is down nearly 14 percent, according to city crime statistics, with the most dramatic reductions coming in felony assaults, which are down 31 percent compared with this time in 2008 and grand larceny incidents, which are down 23 percent from last year.

“It’s very safe,” Hof said. “We have a safety patrol in the Gardens. That has seemed to reduce the small street crime.”

FOREST HILLS HOSPITAL

Forest Hills Hospital is a proud member of the North Shore-LIJ Health System. According to its web site, Forest Hills hospital is a 222-bed community hospital whose mission is to provide the highest quality and most compassionate healthcare in the county.

The hospital’s emergency department, a certified heart station, designated stroke center, and 9-1-1 receiving site, treats more than 25,000 patients a year, and its house calls program delivers non-emergent medical care to the community’s frail, homebound elderly.

The hospital also has a Women’s New Life Center, which has areas for new moms and their families to recover. It also offers general surgery, bloodless medicine and surgery, bariatric surgery, orthopedics, gynecology, and gastroenterology services conveniently on-site and through a vast array of affiliated medical staff, according to its web site.

EDUCATION

Quality schools – both public and private – are two staples in the Forest Hills community.

“The reputation of the schools is excellent,” said Kathryn Thome, who serves as a parent on the Community Education Council (CEC) and is involved in the Forest Hills Youth Athletic Association (FHYAA).

Public schools in District 28 include grade schools P.S. 101 in the Gardens, P.S. 144 Colonel Jeromus Remsen, P.S. 196 Grand Central Parkway and P.S. 220 Edward Mandel. The J.H.S. 190 Russell Sage school on Austin Street has students from seventh, eighth and ninth grades, while Forest Hills High School located 67-01 110th Street houses students from 9 through 12th grades.

Meanwhile, The Kew-Forest School, established in 1918, is the oldest independent, co-ed, college preparatory school in Queens. Located in Forest Hills, Kew-Forest offers a challenging academic experience, a culturally diverse peer group and a structured, caring environment to students in grades K-12.

Kew-Forest boasts one of the most diverse student bodies amongst independent schools, with students coming from different parts of Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island to attend the school.

In September of 2010, a much-anticipated new school building will open at 91-30 Metropolitan Avenue. The new building will contain a 998-seat high school (grades 9-12) and a 913-seat secondary school (grades 6-12). There will also be a 216 seat District 75 program on the campus.

The schools will be separate, although there will be shared spaces, such as the auditorium. The brand new school will have science labs, a new auditorium, gym and air conditioning in addition to the state-of-the-art classrooms.

“Everyone is very excited,” Thome said.

RECREATION

If you are looking for a good dinner, Forest Hills certainly has many options to choose. Known for its restaurant row, Austin Street is the home to many restaurants of different cuisines. You can get a steak and Austin’s Steak and Ale House, Mexican or southwest cuisine at Garcia’s Restaurant, sushi at Tako Sushi, Thai food at Thai Austin or fruit juices and wraps at Ripe Juice Bar.

“When you think Forest Hills, you think Austin Street,” Gulluscio said.

Forest Hills has also become a hotbed for families.

“There is no place that is quite like this for kids,” Susanna Hof said. “The kids grow up like brothers and sisters. They go to the same schools, pools; they run from one house to the other.”

The Forest Hills Youth Athletic Association (FHYAA) – which has more than 1,000 members – is a great place for kids to get involved playing basketball, baseball, soccer and softball, according to Thome, who helps coach her daughter’s softball team.

In addition, Thome said there are all kinds of dance studios, parks, Karate classes and many other activities for youth

“I think it is very family friendly,” Thome said.

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