St. Albans opposes five-story building

By Juan Soto

The clock is ticking.

Neighbors in St. Albans are gearing up to launch an attack against plans to build a five-story affordable housing dwelling in two empty lots on Farmers Boulevard between 118th and 119th avenues.

Some residents of the area said the developer, the St. Albans Presbyterian Church, is seeking zoning variances to erect a 67 one- and two-bedroom unit structure.

“Southeast Queens is already overdeveloped with projects that don’t fit the neighborhoods they are in,” Karen Plummer, president of the St. Albans Civic Improvement Association, said. “There is going to be an influx of people, and when that happens, where are the kids going to go to school?”

Plummer said the nearby PS 36 “is already overcrowded” as well as PS 15 and IS 59.

The area is characterized by having one- or two-story homes and local stores along Farmers Boulevard. The tallest building is three-stories like the school. The church needs variances, especially, for the building’s height, to construct the structure. The neighborhood is zoned for low-residential developments.

“The structure is not compatible with the neighborhood,” said Sharon Johnson, a longtime resident of the neighborhood and member of the civic association.

She added that if the five-story building becomes a reality, the area will increase its population by at least 200 people.

“Neighbors here have cars, where are we going to park?” asked Johnson. “This is a big issue for us.”

Neighbors pointed out that Farmers Boulevard “is constantly congested” due, in part, to new businesses, making the current traffic conditions “hazardous to pedestrians.”

Community Board 12 approved the project in November by a 19-9 margin with eight abstentions.

The board’s approval is non-binding “because it’s not up to the community boards” to allow new constructions, said Johnson, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years.

It is up to the city Board of Standards and Appeals to approve the zoning variances the church needs to build the affordable housing project.

The public hearing is scheduled for June 24.

The church did not respond to a request for comment.

Elected officials hope the St. Albans Presbyterian Church and the community can reach a compromise.

“I supported the project because of my respect for Rev. [Edward] Davis,” said state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-Jamaica). “But if the community opposes it, they should sit down and work out some sort of agreement,” the lawmaker added. “But I do think that the project is too large for the area.”

But residents complained that the church “tried to get the project approved without letting us know,” said Johnson. “The church tried to bypass the community.”

She explained that the residents found out about the proposed construction of the five-story building only at a community board meeting.

“Our community is not for sale,” Johnson said. “We are just asking that the building stays within the actual zoning guidelines.”

Johnson and several community members will testify at the June 24 hearing. Just days before, on June 21, the association is planning a noon rally to express its opposition to the building.

“We’ll be at the hearing voicing our concerns,” Johnson said. “If the project is approved, it sets up a precedent. It opens a floodgate.”

Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at jsoto@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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