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The Civic Scene: Zoning key concern of boro’s civic groups

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The Queens Civic Congress, the umbrella group which represents about 100 civic associations in Queens, recently held workshops on how civics could create newsletters and reach out to their legislators, and how civics can solve their zoning problems. The zoning workshop was the most popular, as it always is when zoning comes up in neighborhood issues.

Some civics were concerned about the right of community facilities to be built in almost any location in any community “as of right.” These are state-sponsored facilities, city-sponsored facilities and private facilities. The only limitation is that there not be “saturation” of community facilities in any one neighborhood. The problem is that there is no definition in the law of “saturation,” and although a definition has been promised by the city Planning Commission at the meetings of the Queens Borough President’s Zoning Task force for years, nothing has been presented to the civic and business leaders who attend these meetings.

Other civics at the workshop were concerned about homeowners or builders who build or try to build houses larger than other houses on a block. It seems that sometimes one-family houses were built in a community but the area was zoned for much larger houses. In this case the civic association has to have the area down-zoned to the size of the current houses.

If an owner wants to build a bigger house on a lot, he can sometimes do this if the size of the house follows the rules. Community Board 8 can help residents obtain building plans. Recently the city gave builders the right to “self certify” what they are building. Their license can be removed if they cheat, although I have not heard of this happening.

The Mid-Queens Community Council made up of several civic associations and other community groups, has been trying to have legislation passed to prevent a builder from putting a-two family house on the “Irving Newman Triangle” at the confluence of Parsons Boulevard, 72nd Avenue and Aguilar Avenue. Irving Newman ran the Queens Little City Hall on Union Turnpike between 192nd and 193rd Street during the Lindsay administration in the 1960s. Eventually it was realized that this circle had a cherry tree on it ore than 200 years old.

For some reason, the city sold the lot to an individual in 1987 who tried to rezone it so he could build a 60-seat restaurant. The application was denied because the lot was too small and the tree would have to be destroyed. Now the owner wants to build a two-family house there even though the lot is undersized and there would be no room for parking spaces. Shirley Weinstein, president of the Mid-Queens Community Council, would like all these little traffic circles to be down-zoned to prevent any houses to be built on traffic circles.

At the June Community Board 8 meeting the owner of a gasoline station at 73-15 Parsons Blvd. requested to be able to tear down the current station which pumps gasoline and does auto repair and build a retail convenience store and still sell gasoline. Among those opposing the application was Kenneth Cohen, president of the Flushing Suburban Civic Association. He, and others, opposed the store because there are other stores in the community and the neighborhood doesn’t want more beer sales. C.B. 8 voted against this request 27-0.

In another case, Community Board 8 voted against the request by the owner of a house in the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association area to legalize a real estate office in the one-family house. The civic opposed the variance because the owner has had his office in this building for 12 years and has accumulated about 30 violations. The community is concerned about parking on this block and the keeping of the residential character of the area. The fact that this issue has been dragging g on for 12 years gives you an idea of the dysfunction of our Building Department. Hopefully a new mayor will change things.

OMITTED NEWS OF THE WEEK

A school safety officer I know showed me a copy of the Sep. 28 issue of “The Chief,” the paper which prints Civil Service news. The front page article described how several school safety officers narrowly escaped serious injury in the World Trade Towers collapse. The NYPD's School Safety Unit is stationed in the East Village and officers were sent to the Twin Towers to help evacuate the children. Twenty three of these men and women sustained injuries that day, ranging from damaged corneas, smoke inhalation, injured backs and broken bones. None were lost.

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