By Connor Adams Sheets
The City Council unanimously approved the long-awaited rezoning of more than 418 blocks in northeast Queens last Thursday in an attempt to preserve the area’s suburban character and relatively low density.
The rezoning is the largest in the history of New York City and will protect much of the Auburndale, Oakland Gardens and Hollis Hills neighborhoods from what residents describe as creeping overdevelopment.
Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) praised the initiative, although he acknowledged concerns some Auburndale residents have about a troublesome parcel of land’s contentious removal from the plan.
“The city has completed the largest rezoning project in history, which stands to protect the character of countless neighborhoods across the 19th Council District and throughout eastern Queens,” Halloran said in a statement. “While this rezoning effort is not perfect, and there are some pockets which need to be further addressed, the overall plan will provide relief to thousands of homeowners worried about the overdevelopment and exploitation of our neighborhoods. We are moving in the right direction in preserving the quality of life for our city and local communities.”
The plan downzones most of the area to protect one- and two-family homes and prevent out-of-scale development, according to the Department of City Planning. It also reinforces commercial uses along wide corridors but keeps them out of residential areas, the department said.
The changes come in response to years of concerns by residents that their neighborhoods were increasingly being targeted by developers, who knocked down existing structures to make way for unsightly replacements such as high-density apartment, condo and hotel towers. Henry Euler said members of the Auburndale Improvement Association — of which he is first vice president — are mostly in favor of the rezoning except for a couple of issues.
“We’re pleased it finally went through. It took over five years to get through,” he said. “It’s going to be a big plus. It’s going to help preserve the character of the communities and it will keep the sizes of the houses in check. They will be in line with what the other houses are like.
The rezoning comes on the heels of a series of northeast Queens rezonings under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, including ones in College Point, Whitestone, Queensboro Hill and North Flushing, and more than 30 others throughout the rest of the borough. Many who watch such developments say they came as a result of last decade’s construction boom, which longtime residents said threatened the characters of their neighborhoods.
Euler said the Auburndale community will continue to press on two issues which were not addressed in the rezoning. The first is the need for a single-family attached zoning class to protect those homes from being turned into multi-family dwellings.
The second was also a major concern for Rhea O’Gorman, president of the Station Road Civic Association, who explained that the rezoning will have some positive impacts, but she was “disappointed” the final plan did not include a section of land at the intersection of 172nd Street and Station Road, commonly referred to as the “T.”
She and other nearby residents said their ongoing complaints about noise, traffic, cleanliness and other issues at Star Nissan, a dealership located in the “T,” were ignored when City Planning removed the section from the plan, saying instead that they will address that area separately and that the department would push for increased enforcement there.
O’Gorman said the rezoning may have been the best chance to fix the issues in the “T” and that the department may avoid addressing them for many more years.
“We haven’t noticed any change. They’re as noisy as ever, they’re open almost 18 hours a day, they have too many cars. Everything we complained about for the past five years is still ongoing. It’s pretty sorry if the city can’t enforce a business of that size,” she said. “It’s not done, that’s all that I can tell anybody. It’s not over. They didn’t rezone it, but the conditions still exist and the community isn’t going to roll over and play dead.”
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.