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Whitestone civic seeks zoning reforms

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Whitestone residents launched a letter-writing campaign at a civic meeting Sept. 25 in an attempt to capture politicians’ attention about the thorny issue involving the regulation of community facilities.

Some 110 letters were handed out to the members of the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association at a meeting at the Whitestone Armory.

The emergency meeting was called in response to concerns about three new churches in Whitestone.

The letters were to be sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) and Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing).

The letter-writing campaign continued the work of civic associations from farther east in Queens. Eliott Socci, president of the Douglaston Civic Association, and Sean Walsh, a Douglaston resident and president of the Queens Civic Congress, started a similar campaign with their organizations.

Community facilities are hospitals, medical offices, houses of worship, schools, recreation halls and any other type of facility that is not used specifically for commerce, industry or residence.

In recent years, civic groups have begun calling for more regulation of community facilities. Community facilities often appear in residential areas due to the city’s zoning laws, which discourage them from settling in industrial or commercial areas. The zoning laws also have more lenient requirements governing community facilities than neighboring homes.

Residents complain community facilities change the character of their neighborhoods, causing noise, a lack of parking and a loss of a tax base.

Unlike Flushing, where the expansion of large houses of worship unleashed a movement to regulate community facilities, there are no such major construction projects in Whitestone, according to civic leaders.

Joseph Rota, chairman of the taxpayers’ group, said three small-scale churches which have appeared within the last three years have disturbed Whitestone residents.

“They just popped up on us,” he said.

Rota said the main concern is the lack of parking, although he declined to give the exact location of the facilities.

The main focus of the meeting, however, was addressing future problems.

“We’re going to stop it before it starts,” Rota said.

In his address to the civic, Socci cautioned residents not to object to a community facility based on the ethnicity of the population to which the facility caters.

“You cannot say you are against community facilities,” said Socci, who reminded the audience that the Whitestone Armory was itself a community facility. “You have to say what you are for. And what you are for is the regulation of community facilities.”

Walsh said the movement was taking off because the current administration, led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was willing to listen to the issue.

“We have a city planning commissioner who is sympathetic to this,” he said.

Not everyone who attended the meeting, however, agreed to take part in the letter-writing campaign.

“My concern is that we still need property in Whitestone for new public schools,” said Vincent Dwyer, a member of School Board 25 and resident of Whitestone.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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