By Bob Harris

Under a special mayoral panel, dozens of neighborhoods in Staten Island were rezoned to protect their low-density residential character from developers or individual homeowners who are building McMansions, or multifamily buildings, and changing the face of these communities.

Dolan said Mayor Michael Bloomberg's and Borough President Helen Marshall's promise to contain overdevelopment could be best accomplished with a mayoral panel. Under the present zoning designation, many one-family detached homes as well as one-family row homes are in danger of being converted, legally, into two-family or multiple occupancy buildings.

People bought homes in a community that had a certain character and quality of life, but this can be changed because the zoning of the neighborhood permits the construction of larger buildings than those erected by the original developer.

For years, civic association leaders have attended the Queens borough president's Zoning Task Force meetings and asked that their neighborhoods be downzoned to reflect the actual one-family homes built there. Neighborhoods have been identified, but the City Planning Commission has not had the resources to check every house and then decide if the zoning should be lowered. About a dozen areas have been downzoned, but at least twice that number must be examined.

In one case, civics had to get wild to get the city to speed up the downzoning of their neighborhood. The Royal Ranch civics in Glen Oaks discovered that their homes were on land zoned for bigger houses. They saw a one-family house torn down and replaced by a two-family home. They petitioned for downzoning, but the City Planning Department was too slow.

When Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) held a meeting at IS 72, civics came out in force, yelling and demanding speedy action. Representatives of the Buildings Department and Queens City Planning were shouted down. Soon after, the homeowners were told that their request for rezoning was on a fast track for consideration. I reported this in my Jan. 8 column. We will see how fast that track is.

The New Property Civic Association in Bayside has just held a demonstration to protest the demolition of fine old homes and the development of much larger buildings that are not appropriate for the neighborhood. The community protested the planned demolition of two fine old Tudor-style homes on 208th and 209th streets that were built around 1910. Members of the civic had mapped huge areas of Bayside in order to expedite the rezoning process, but for a year the Department of City Planning has not spoken with the residents.

Andy Ippolito, the old-time president of the New Property Civic Association and whom I worked with years ago, has come out of retirement to fight the rezoning battle for Bayside. Assisting is urban planner and Queens Civic Congress leader Paul Graziano, who said that the process the Department of City planning is following will take until February 2005 or March 2005. This is way too long to wait.

Residents who have lived in the community for decades fear that the fine old homes could be demolished any day. This is why Dolan is calling for a mayoral panel to expedite the rezoning of communities to protect them from demolition. In my June 24 column I explained what our officials must do to preserve our tranquil Queen neighborhoods. Time is running out on our quality of life!

Good and bad news of the week

There are many fantastic medicines that can save lives and improve our quality of life. Research and development is costly, but too many Americans cannot afford to pay for these medicines. Because many senior citizens must choose among prescription drugs, food and housing, they buy medicines from Canada, which charges about 30 percent to 40 percent less than our area pharmacies.

The large pharmaceutical firms insist that seniors should not be able to buy from Canada and they have even lobbied our Congress members and persuaded them to pass a bill that is forcing U.S. Customs to confiscate medicines purchased by seniors from Canada. Shame on them!

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