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Neighbors oppose new apartments

A group of community residents on 125th Street in Richmond Hill are fighting to prevent construction of a nearby three-story commercial and residential complex that they contend would increase crowding and strain city services in the area.

James Lawson, spokesman for 40 out of the 46 houses on the block that belong to longtime residents and immigrant families, said the proposal to build 35,056 square feet of space at Garner Plaza at 124-20 Jamaica Ave. would change the essential character of the neighborhood.

"Most of the houses on our block are two-family homes," said Lawson, who was born in Woodhaven. "We don't feel it's going to represent our neighborhood or our community in a positive way."

Mary Ann Carey, district manager of Community Board 9, said the board approved a recommendation to allow a zoning variance to build the complex, which will include six one-bedrooms, 18 two-bedrooms and three three-bedroom apartments.

Borough President Helen Marshall presided over a public hearing on the project and will decide in the upcoming weeks on whether she approves of the request to allow a change in zoning.

There will also be 4,000 square feet of commercial space, Carey said.

Lawson said he and his neighbors are opposed to this project specifically because the developer, Poko Partners, wants to build rental units. He said his community has improved during the past few years because residents have bought and then invested in their properties.

"We're not opposed to new construction, but there's a sense of ownership if you are not renting," he said.

Lawson said new apartment units would overcrowd the neighborhood, which already has two apartment towers nearby on 126th Street. He said residents on 125th Street are afraid of a decrease in property values and insufficient parking because of the proposed residential units.

But Carey said the 27 apartment units Poko Partners wants to erect will improve Jamaica Avenue because they will be coupled with commercial space. She said the Garner complex, which would replace a dilapidated lumberyard, would reduce noise by eliminating the need for wood delivery trucks and have no effect on parking because private spaces would be made underground for at least 60 percent of future residents.

"It's a very positive development for the community and it will certainly improve that corner 100 percent," Carey said. She said the developers are hoping to secure federal and state funding to build affordable housing units.

Kenneth M. Olsen, president of Poko Partners, headquartered in Port Jefferson, L.I., said the form of the development will take shape once he finds out during the summer if federal and state funding has been approved. He said his firm mainly builds rental units and plans to start building Garner Plaza three or four months after the decision on public financing.

The public assistance funding would allow Olsen to build the units with federal and state assistance. He said he hopes to attract local Richmond Hill residents with incomes ranging from $23,000 to $38,000 a year.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 156

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