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Civic says Middle Village has become too developed

"It's getting way too crowded," said Rose J., who did not want to give her last name. "Try crossing Grand Avenue with a baby carriage up at the L.I.E. (Long Island Expressway). I thought my nephew and I were going to get killed."

Rose is just one resident who called on the city to heed development in her neighborhood last Thursday during a Juniper Park Civic Association meeting at Our Lady Hope Auditorium in Middle Village.

To speed along the effort, the civic has formed a task force to help the Department of City Planning rezone parts of Maspeth and Middle Village, said Robert Holden, the association's president.

Comprised of local volunteers and headed by City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village), the task force will profile Middle Village streets for the Planning Department, which will set new zoning standards forbidding structures that exceed or do not match whatever buildings dominate a block, Holden said.

The civic wants to preserve the integrity of its neighborhood by preventing owners from converting their single-family homes into apartments, Holden said.

The practice, which zoning regulations permit in much of the area, has transformed Middle Village in recent years from a quiet neighborhood to a cramped, noisy metropolitan area, residents said at the meeting.

"Single-family homes are a dying breed in Middle Village and every day we lose another," Holden said.

"You notice more garbage on the street," said 78th Street resident Sean Burns, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade. "Trying to park at night when you come home - you can't park."

John David Young, chief of the Queens Department of City Planning, told the residents that the borough has not been comprehensively rezoned for 40 years. The population has soared to 2.2 million since then, he said, and zoning regulations are outdated.

"A lot has changed in 40 years," Young said.

Middle Village is just one of many Queens neighborhoods where development is encroaching on its traditional character. For instance, he said the Planning Department has slated more than a dozen Bellerose neighborhoods for downzoning to combat a similar problem.

Before the department does the same in Middle Village, he said it needs to develop a profile of the area. The Juniper Park task force should help the department "find the critical balance" between growth and neighborhood preservation, he said, informing an appropriate new zoning standard.

Holden said that more than 30 residents signed up for the task force, and it will begin touring the neighborhood when the weather turns warmer this spring. Downzoning the area is just one of the task force's goals, he said. Cracking down on contractors that violate their building permits will be another priority.

The group will report illegal conversions and work to eliminate the city's policy of allowing licensed engineers and architects to approve their own construction plans. Holden said this self-certification is "like a fox watching a hen house."

Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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