The Civic Scene: Avella, civics take issue with community facilities

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The Zoning Resolution of 1961 legalized the establishment of community facilities. Decades later, community facilities have proliferated throughout New York City, sometimes intruding on neighbors and reducing their quality of life.

Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) is fighting to regulate the growth of community facilities because he had been a civic association leader and knows the problems and concerns of residents of our residential and heavy urban areas.

Community facilities include medical, religious, educational and social service establishments. They can be installed “as of right,” even in purely residential areas of one-family homes. For example, a religious institution may use non-fixed seating (chairs that are not bolted to the floor) so a one-family house can be used by hundreds of people at a time.

A doctor’s office might be convenient, but when five people open offices in one-family houses, such as those along Union Turnpike from 188th to 193rd streets, the parking may become a problem. This is especially true if there are commercial stores nearby. The West Cunningham Park Civic Association is concerned.

The North Flushing Civic Association has suffered an invasion of religious institutions that have taken over, as of right, the one-family homes in that area.

Tyler Cassell, president of this civic, said there are more than 45 religious community facilities in an eight-block area, and more are still acquiring houses and changing the complexity of the neighborhood. Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) owns a home in this community and became interested in politics as president of the North Flushing Civic Association.

This community facility problem exists in the more densely populated areas of New York City. In Manhattan and Queens, large community facilities such as universities, hospitals and medical office buildings can build far larger structures than would otherwise be permitted.

These facilities can be useful for society in general, if not for some members of the local community specifically, but there has to be a balance between what the facilities want and what the community can tolerate.

The Queens Hospital Center site in Jamaica is being renovated, with some of the land to be used for other community facilities. Four buildings are being planned. The residents of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association are concerned about parking. They are really fearful of what will happen to parking spaces near their homes if facilities are built and parking is not provided.

A health careers high school, which will be very valuable to the community since it will provide the health professionals we need, is planned for the site. But the Department of Education does not usually provide parking for its facilities.

I do some work for Hillcrest High School and can see what these health career students learn. Even if paid parking lots were provided, many people still would try for free street parking.

The Hillcrest Estates Civic Association is in the middle of Queens Hospital Center and St. John’s University, so homeowners find their driveways partly blocked or their ears assailed with noises of all kinds.

Until recently, homeowners would paint yellow strips adjacent to their curb cuts so people using these facilities could see not to block the driveway. Like the store awning rule, the city has dug out a rule that prohibits homeowners from painting yellow marks or any marks on curbs in front of their houses. Homeowners are getting more and more frustrated.

For decades the civic associations of Queens County and throughout the city have worked to solve the community facility problem and define what is meant by saturation of these facilities. Past officials from the Department of City Planning and former borough presidents have listened but not provided any real solutions.

It is a very difficult problem since religious institutions are involved. The Queens borough president’s Zoning Task Force has worked to fix this situation and for years the Department of City Planning has been promising some resolution, but the problem just grows and people become more frustrated.

Avella is looking into permitting these facilities in manufacturing districts where there is often adequate parking. The Department of City Planning is doing a study. I don’t know if it is new study or the one I heard about years ago at Queens Zoning Task Force meetings.

Commissioner Amanda Burden, Department of City Planning, 22 Reade St., New York, NY 10007, has stated that she will work on the problem one bite at a time. Well, I could say something but I won’t.

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