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Jamaica Hills development causes concern

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When Jamaica Hills resident Deborah Ayala looked out her window a month ago, she saw her neighbor's green side lawn with trees. Now the lawn is fenced off with rough, wooden boards in preparation for the construction of two attached, two-story homes.

Ayala, the vice president of the Jamaica Hills Civic Association, is horrified by what she sees as the overbuilding of her neighborhood. To her, the building plans at 83-39 168th Place are yet another example of a landlord changing the character of the neighborhood by putting up multiple dwellings to be used by new immigrants.

"It's illegal development. They're taking their properties and subdividing to create two properties," Ayala said. "They're subdividing lots so they can have income."

But city Department of Buildings spokesman Sid Dinsay said that so far there is nothing illegal about the plans to build two attached homes on the vacant property that belongs to Chaudhury Farooque, Ayala's neighbor who lives in a relatively large, yellow house on the corner of 168th Place and 84th Avenue.

"A new building permit was issued, but not the construction permit," Dinsay said. "The granting of a new building permit is a good sign that what they're doing is as of right. I don't see anything that shows we have disapproved anything just yet."

Ayala and her neighbors live in an area that has been zoned "R-4," which allows for a building density that is greater than what exists in most of the neighborhood.

"It's an R-4, but it doesn't look like an R-4," Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) said. "If you were to build it out to what an R-4 would permit, it would look a lot different."

In response to Ayala's complaints, Gennaro said he would work with the community to try to down-zone the area to a lower-density zoning, if that is what the residents want. But first the community would have to be polled to determine what kind of zoning it favors.

"I would support the will of the residents to down-zone, but I can't impose it," Gennaro said. "You have to have a process. The community has to come together as a full community and tell me what it wants."

During a tour of the neighborhood, Ayala pointed out several fenced-off properties, which she said amounted to 12 new dwellings under construction.

"They're buying up the houses, bulldozing them down and building multiple dwellings," she said. "There are families of 10, 15, 20 in a house."

Neighbor Dorothy Dhandari complained similarly of overbuilding in the area, which is home to a growing population of South Asian immigrants.

"It's not right. It's bringing down the value of my property," she said. "It's become a common problem, a real big problem now. These people come in, they're building in their back yard, their front yard and everything. It's becoming so crowded."

But Farooque said under the current zoning laws, it is his right to build a house on his property, which is the largest in the neighborhood. He has five brothers and three sisters in the country, and he is building the house for his family to use, he said.

"You see, it's not overbuilding," he said. "It's not Park Avenue. It's Jamaica Hills, and you do not want to make this neighborhood out of the reach of the middle class. We have to be concerned that there should be enough houses and the market should control rent so that they are affordable."

Farooque said Ayala has wrongly accused him of running a house with Single Room Occupancies - a term that refers to illegally dividing up a dwelling into small rooms, which are usually rented out to low-income tenants. She has harrassed him by sending buildings inspectors to his house several times, he said.

Florence Fisher, the chairwoman of Community Board 8's housing committee, said she has asked Ayala to make a list of addresses of all the dwellings she suspected were running Single Room Occupancies, which have been a problem in other parts of the city. After the list has been made, she will organize a meeting among Ayala, the borough president and a zoning expert, she said.

Last year, the building of a house at 83-22 168th Place was stopped after numerous complaints by Ayala. Dinsay said the stop work order was issued because the contractors were working under an expired permit.

"His was illegal," Farooque said. "My architect has measured every inch. I told my architect to make sure that he legally build it."

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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