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Editorial: ‘Community destiny’

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In a thought-provoking letter to the editor that appeared in last week's edition, Tyler D. Cassell, the zoning chair for the North Flushing Civic Association, takes issue with our editorial defending the placement of group homes for retarded adults in the residential communities of Queens. In his letter, he raises important questions.

At the heart of the controversy surrounding group homes and community board review is the wording of what has come to be known as the “Padavan Law.” This law permits a community board to reject the opening of group homes and other facilities if the board can demonstrate that a neighborhood is “saturated” with public facilities. Unfortunately, the law does not define “saturation.” Community boards have no legal standard to use in determining whether a community is “saturated” with group homes. This has made the Padavan Law completely useless.

We have addressed this problem on numerous occasions. But we are not holding our breath waiting for the state legislature to act and neither should you. Once again we urge Albany to revisit this legislation. The Padavan Law has caused has caused tremendous frustration for community boards and it needs to be changed.

Mr. Cassell then raises an issue of even greater importance. “Clearly,” he writes, “this is another strong case for advocating community review for all public facilities. We and the other civics have been pushing for community review to give us a vote in our community destiny for some time now.”

Since community boards already review the placement of community facilities, Mr. Cassell is clearly suggesting that local associations should also have a vote in this review process. This would allow the members of the civic association to shape the destiny of the community in which they live. Bear in mind that virtually every civic association is already represented on a community board.

Call us skeptical, but we cannot imagine any civic association that would welcome a generator, an AIDS hospice or a methadone clinic within its confines. Andwe do not know of a single civic association that does not already believe it is “saturated” with community facilities. There is no question that, if neighborhoods were given the right of veto, most community facilities would be relocated to the East River or Jamaica Bay.

How much voice should a community have in its own destiny? Last year community leaders in Queens argued that zoning laws, which allow churches to build as-of-right in residential neighborhoods, should be amended. There is no question that the churches and other religious centers that have opened in the residential areas of Queens have had an impact on quality of life.

One community in Flushing has even petitioned for the right to fence off its streets to keep undesirables out. Another community in Bayside opposed the expansion of St. Mary's Hospital for Children because it found the traffic created by families coming to see their terminally ill children disruptive. And yet another civic group in Bayside fought hard to prevent a car dealer from expanding on Northern Boulevard because they feared the impact of this expansion on nearby residential streets. Further down the boulevard, Douglaston resident bitterly opposed the opening of a 7-11 store in area clearly zoned for commercial use.

Striking the balance between the needs of the city, the concerns of local homeowners and the rights of businesses and nonprofit organizations is perhaps the greatest challenge facing both city planners and community leaders in the coming decade.

We fully agree that communities have the right to help shape their own destinies. But the civics have that opportunity to voice their opinions on the community board level. That should be enough. To give civics the right to “review” proposed facilities would only open up Pandora's Box.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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