Concerns over rezoning heard at Jamaica meet

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About 50 Jamaica residents got a lesson in zoning laws last week as the city Planning Department discussed its proposal to update a 415-block area of southeast Queens.

The plan would rezone residential communities that grew up in manufacturing areas in South Jamaica and would create a special district in downtown Jamaica to promote development, said Deborah Carney, deputy director of the city Planning Department's Queens office.

"We came up with the boundaries based on the task, which was to develop a strategy for industrial and commercial uses," Carney said. "All the time we were forever mindful there were residences that were adjacent and intertwined in that area."

But residents are still concerned that increased development in the Jamaica area could lead to increased parking and traffic problems, residents at the Feb. 5 meeting in Jamaica said.

The zoning proposal is the result of a four-year study, and it is still in the early stages, Carney said. Before the changes can be implemented, the plan must undergo an environmental impact study, which is expected to start this summer, and Uniformed Land Use Review Process approval, which the Planning Department hopes to have by 2004, she said.

The recommended changes are aimed at updating zoning in the 415-block area stretching from the Van Wyck Expressway to Farmers Boulevard. The zoning now in place was designed in 1961, and prior to that the area had not been regulated since 1916, Carney said.

The early zoning regulations from 1916 to 1961 were less stringent than current rules, and the area of South Jamaica below the Long Island Rail Road tracks was unrestricted, meaning a factory could be built next to a cluster of homes, Carney said.

When the zoning in the area was updated in 1961, many became manufacturing zones, allowing the current houses to stay, but not allowing any new residential development, she said.

"I'm aware many of you live in manufacturing areas - the 148th Street Homeowners Association is right there," Carney said. "Those houses were grandfathered in to non-conforming uses. There's definitely a land-use conflict there."

Under the proposed zoning changes, which would distinguish residential areas from manufacturing sections, all current structures would be permitted to stay, but new development would have to conform to the area's designation or seek approval from the city Board of Standards and Appeals.

In downtown Jamaica, the Planning Department has proposed forming a special commercial district to encourage development and private investment by making the area more attractive to businesses, Carney said.

"The major development over the past 30 years has been public investment, but we all know that it's through the private investment that you're going to get new jobs, get the employment moving," she said. "This zoning is one strategy to pull in private investment there."

But residents at the meeting were concerned that parking and transportation in the area would become even more congested than it already is.

"When they look at enhancing this area, one of the things they should have thought of is parking," said Vivian Foxworth, an Inwood Street resident. "Where are these people supposed to park?"

But the zoning in the downtown area was designed to promote the use of its mass transportation infrastructure, Carney said.

"I know this is Queens, but this is not an area where everyone needs to own a car," she said.

A chorus of residents sounded their response: "But they do."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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