Kew Gardens Civic fights to keep neighborhood feel

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Members of the Kew Gardens Civic Association have been battling developers for more than 40 years to preserve the character of their neighborhood, members said.

They have fought high-rise buildings, illegal conversions and an influx of community facilities that threaten to change the predominantly residential feel of the area.

Dominick Pistone, president of the association, said his organization has yet to stop opposing builders who want to launch big projects in Kew Gardens because of its location as a nexus for subway and freeway traffic.

“It’s a constant battle for keeping things out of a residential community that don’t belong there,” said Pistone, who said the civic association is trying to get portions of Kew Gardens landmarked as a historic district to prevent future development by private developers and the city Department of Buildings. “Where [the DOB] is not corrupt, they’re inept.”

Pistone, who has been president for three years, and other association members, including past president Murray Berger and his wife, Carol Berger, have been instrumental in making the group an integral part of the community, Pistone said.

Pistone said his group contends Kew Gardens covers Queens Boulevard to 85th Avenue and Union Turnpike to 127th Street, although the city maps incorporate a slightly larger area.

Along with the civic association, which is only open to area homeowners, there is also the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association and the Kew Gardens Improvement Association, said Berger, who lives on 82nd Road and has been using his house for more than 40 years as the association’s headquarters. He said a lot of the members interact to help maintain the neighborhood’s residential feel.

“We appreciate and agree it is a marvelous location,” said Berger, who has lived in Kew Gardens for more than 45 years and was born in Brooklyn. “We’re focused strictly on our role as homeowners, regardless of political, religious or cultural preference.”

Pistone said the association has had several recent victories, including the halting of a planned high-rise tower development adjacent to PS 99 at 82-37 Kew Gardens Rd. He said the civic associatio­ndemandedt­hat the construction on the site be classified as new construction, not a modification, to make sure the developer would have to obey by zoning rules.

“Now it’s an empty lot,” said Pistone, noting that the developer pulled out of the project after the costs ran too high. “The area used to be a garage.”

Berger said the organization was also largely responsible for establishing the Kew Gardens Community Center at 80-02 Kew Gardens Rd.

Berger said the group focuses on limiting traffic, overcrowding and trash problems in the area and it works with Community Board 9 to help achieve its goals. He said he has seen the neighborhood change significantly since he first moved there in 1957.

“We’ve seen changes in the waves of different ethnic groups that have migrated through the community through the years, the intrusion of some apartment buildings where they don’t belong and some two- or three-family houses that replaced single-family homes,” he said. “That’s fine for the people moving in, but it erodes from the beautiful community that the people who stay on have to live in.”

Berger said the community’s involvement has led to the creation of other civic groups, including the Kew Gardens Council for Recreation and the Arts, a non-profit organization that subsidizes events in the neighborhood. He said his wife, Carol, has been instrumental in helping him and other members of all the groups contribute to the welfare of people in Kew Gardens.

“Our house is everybody’s house,” said Berger, who has no plans on discontinuing his services to the community. “We all came to Kew Gardens because we liked what we saw, so our goal is to maintain that as much as possible.”

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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