The Civic Scene: Fresh Meadows residents oppose proposed facility

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About three weeks ago a public hearing was announced by the Area/Zoning committee of Community Board 8 to permit two doctors, a husband and wife, to have a special permit to convert a one-family dwelling in an R-2 residential area into medical offices.

The white house they purchased in Fresh Meadows is on the southeast corner of Union Turnpike and 192nd Street. It had been a doctor’s office years ago but was a private residence until sold to the new doctors.

There are several zoning irregularities with the house. The front yard is less than eight feet, which is contrary to the zoning rules, but this is how it was built in the 1940s. The couple needs a variance to legalize it. And since it is a frame-and-brick building, subject to fires, it needs a permit to be used. These two are easy to obtain.

The special permit to add an examining room is harder to get since the use of the cellar and the first floor for the doctors’ offices will exceed the 1,500 square feet permitted on the property. They want to expand to 2,800 square feet.

A reason for allowing a special permit is if there is a hardship for the owners. They want to make two offices out of a one-family house, and so they are creating their own hardship. They should have known this prior to buying the house. The original doctor had built a side door on the Union Turnpike side, used the cellar as the office and lived upstairs.

Several neighbors spoke at the Community Board 8 committee hearing at Ryan Junior High School on May 13. Monte Schwartz, first vice president of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association, and Jack Kessel, executive board member, spoke against the proposals.

They were concerned about another medical community facility being installed in the neighborhood and with the traffic congestion and loss of parking spaces it would bring. Neighbor Howard Angione was concerned with more cars, double-parked cars on Union Turnpike and the danger of accidents.

Neighbor Janette Solomon, Yuttsiang Niu and Ellie Steinhart had concerns about parking and that there are four doctors’ offices on Union Turnpike. Bill Steinhart was concerned about the handicapped ramp that would be on the front and the Union Turnpike side of the house.

The ramp would be big because there would be one doctor’s office in the cellar and one on the first floor. A few other members of the community were present but didn’t speak.

It is ironic that private people want to build handicapped ramps on their property, but the city of New York has frozen the money needed to make the comfort station, just a few thousand yards away in Cunningham Park, handicapped-accessible to park users.

West Cunningham Park Civic leaders have just realized that on the south side of Union Turnpike there are three doctors’ offices, and on the north side of the turnpike is another, as well as one dentist and one pediatric ophthalmologist.

One must realize that these offices are community facilities permitted as of right by the 1961 Zoning Resolution because they serve the community. The Cunningham Park part of Fresh Meadows has suddenly come face to face with multiple community facilities.

City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has proposed a bill to limit community facilities. The City Planning Commission has been promising for years to define “saturation” of community facilities.

Residents are waiting for a resolution to this outdated community facilities rule in purely residential neighborhoods. But since houses of worship and group homes are involved, officials have been dragging their heels. While nothing happens, fine residential communities become commercial areas with all the good and bad that commercial activity brings.

Another problem is that the law says that for this size building there must be four parking spaces, which they intend to do by tearing down the garage. They want to add a kitchen on the second floor of the building and rent it out to a residential tenant. The tenant will have one parking space.

The committee voted, and all nine members of the Area/Zoning committee voted against this proposal.

The next night, May 14, the full Community Board 8 discussed this topic. The owner was not present but was represented by a big shot “expediter.” The owner agreed to landscape all the ramps and have only a small bottle of oxygen so it would not be a fire hazard. The office would be open Monday through Saturday.

Saturday office hours would be more of a problem because there is no parking along the Cunningham Park side of the street on weekends to protect the homeowners across the street from the park from the noise and disruption experienced in the past. Patients would have to park on the side streets or on Union Turnpike.

The full Community Board 8 voted on this issue. Only two people voted for the proposal, and 38, from my count, voted to oppose. The issue now goes to Borough President Helen Marshall for her decision.

The final hurdle will be the Board of Standards and Appeals in Manhattan, which votes on all variances and special zoning changes.

This is where the owner’s expediter, who once was a member of this body, hopes to win the changes sought.

If one loses at the BSA, one can always go to court, but this is very expensive... a problem for the little people. Of course, there are so many of us little people that we can win.

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