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Oakland Gardens residents fight plans to clear woodland for a parking lot

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

A Queens developer really does want to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

But a group of self-proclaimed tree huggers in Oakland Gardens — who know what they’ve got before it’s gone — are banding together to stop a developer’s plan to uproot hundreds of trees and shrubs from a strip of wilderness behind their homes.

The property owner, Windsor Oaks Tenants’ Corp., came to an agreement with the city in 1950 that allowed them to build co-ops in Oakland Gardens even though the co-ops broke several zoning laws, according to city records. In the agreement, Windsor Oaks agreed to not build on a strip of land they owned that separates the co-ops from several blocks of private homes.

Now, the corporation is trying to renegotiate its deal with the city that would allow them to  turn the wooded land into a parking lot and a community building, according to city records.

“I came to this neighborhood precisely because of this beautiful surrounding of trees with so many birds in them,” said John Hatzopoulos, who has lived in one of the private homes on 77th Avenue with the unbuilt land directly behind his home.

“So yes, you could definitely call me a tree hugger,” he continued.

This tree-filled divider is about 200 feet wide from north to south and more than 1,200 feet from west to east bordered by 217th Street and Springfield Boulevard.

Along with 300 people in the neighborhood who have signed a petition, Hatzopoulos is hoping to convince the city not to allow the agreement to be made. In a request made to Community Board 11, the corporation wants to create a parking lot with 98 spaces with an entrance on Springfield Boulevard and a community building.

In the original agreement of 1950, the city required the corporation to not only leave the area undeveloped but to also maintain a “ landscaped appearance” and that “the planting in the area shall be suitable and shall be maintained at all times in good condition.”

The emphasis on aesthetic was a requirement from the community but if the corporation succeeds in creating a new deal with the city, the area would undergo major construction.

“If that happens, we will have to move,” Hatzopoulos said. “I came to this area 20 years ago knowing that this spot cannot be developed. I saw that there was a deal made with the city and it couldn’t be broken. Who knew you could break deals with the government?”

Community Board 11 will weigh in on the corporation’s request at their meeting in March. It will ultimately be up to the Board of Standards and Appeals, the city panel that determines whether zoning variances can be granted.

The corporation didn’t return calls for comment.

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