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The Civic Scene: Fresh Meadows builders jeopardize quality of life

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For years I have written columns about different communities that are under siege by developers, community facilities or homeowners who do not want to follow our city’s zoning rules. Now my own West Cunningham Park Civic area is under siege. If various changes are permitted, the very nature and quality of life in Fresh Meadows could change for the worse.

Most homes in Fresh Meadows are well-built with neat gardens and lawns. Cunningham Park is a decent area but it needs modernizing. The few homes that are not well-kept often are owned by absent landlords interested only in receiving rent checks. There are probably a few illegal apartments, but since neighbors do not complain we are unaware of them.

The Fresh Meadows Development is a planned community. And although owners may have overpaid for property, there is enough density so that they can make a reasonable return on their investments.

In 1975 the Tenants Association made the area a special planned preservation district. The Klein Farm is in this area. It is zoned R-4 while the homes across 73rd Avenue are zoned R-2. Now a builder wants to erect houses on the Klein Farm as well a gigantic Pathmark opposite PS 26 on 69th Avenue.

In another zoning matter, a doctor and his wife bought a white house on Union Turnpike and 192nd Street, intending to almost double the size. The neighbors testified at Community Board 8, at the borough president’s hearing and at a Board of Standards and Appeals meeting in Manhattan.

After several BSA hearings, the variances to expand were turned down. The doctors still can create another office along Doctors’ Row — as of right — but it will not be big. There already are too many community facilities in R-2 houses.

At the same time, the house of worship on 188th Street and Midland Parkway wanted five variances to double the building’s size. Neighbors on both sides of 188th Street say the facility would be too large and there would be an excessive amount of garbage, noise and traffic, especially during special event parties by the members.

Although CB 8 approved the variances, the BSA is still questioning the need for such a large structure in R-2 and R-2-1 neighborhoods. After the March 2 BSA hearing, the applicants were asked to answer eight questions pertaining to use and need. The next hearing is scheduled for May 11 at the BSA.

These zoning disputes are not limited to the above mentioned areas. The situation is repeating itself throughout the borough. Homeowners, probably not all speculators, are tearing down fine homes in all Queens neighborhoods and building larger houses on the lots.

The way the zoning laws work is that most of these gigantic houses are legal if not offensive to neighbors. Just look at blocks such as 196th Place near Union Turnpike, on Kent Street and on Chevy Chase.

All of these actions are disturbing to city homeowners. Now Fresh Meadows is under siege. Whose block will be next? What will the city do to maintain our quality of life?

Good and bad news of the week

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recently said Social Security benefits should be reduced to ease fiscal woes. Years ago, at his urging, it was decided to increase the amount we pay into Social Security so there would be enough money in the system for future retirees.

Social Security was not supposed to be a full retirement benefit but part of one’s retirement income. Our legislators, however, have borrowed and spent all that surplus money to run the country.

It was not put into a locked box as had been proposed. About $1.8 trillion of the Social Security money has been borrowed and spent by Congress. This has been going on for years and it is disgusting. Congress has its own retirement fund, which means members are not tied to the fate of Social Security. They should be put on Social Security so they will care more about it.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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