Today’s news:

The Civic Scene: Kew Gardens Hills civic aims to stop overbuilding

Susan Cleary is a member of Community Board 8, the Kew Gardens Hills Tenants Association, the 107th Precinct Community Council and the Kew Gardens Hills Community Council. She aims to help the people who live in the community to be treated fairly and with respect.

Cleary is a stalwart advocate of keeping neighborhoods alive and is against the megabuilding that has been going on for the past eight years.

Born in Jamaica, Queens and raised and educated in Chicago, Cleary attended the Illinois Institute of Technology, Institute of Design. In 1976 she relocated to Kew Gardens Hills to work at Ted Bates Advertising, then the third largest advertising agency in the world, where she was a vice president and art director on the M&M Mars Corp. account.

Her husband, Paul Norwich, is president of the Kew Gardens Hills Tenants Association. Cleary has been vice president since 1986. Her husband is the United Federation of Teachers chapter leader and a math teacher at IS 204 in Long Island City. He is championing the fight for safety in schools. Sounds like a family of fighters.

Cleary has been fighting for two stop signs on 77th Avenue in front of PS 164 since the late ’90s. To date, three bumps and 13 metal signs were installed, which are disturbing the quality of life of her quiet neighborhood.

Cleary’s fight against megabuildings is common to many civics in Fresh Meadows and other communities in Queens. Individual families often tear down fine homes and build larger houses known as “McMansions.” And speculators also tear down houses and build two or three houses on the same lot.

Sometimes a builder will “make an error” and put a lot number on a building permit for a neighborhood that is zoned R3-2 or R4 instead of the legal zoning of R2, which only permits a one-family home.

A homeowner can often build a McMansion because the Department of Buildings does not count the basement or the attic as part of the permitted floor-area ratio of any house being built. A recent cartoon in the TimesLedger made fun of this, saying, “It’s not very showy, but we do have six floors of basements.” Civic leaders and the Queens Civic Congress are trying to get city officials to change these rules.

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) are sponsoring a bill to end another law that permits people to build large houses that are completely out of character with a neighborhood. Oscar Berenberg, president of the Lost Community Civic Association in Floral Park, complained that these oversized homes often do not have driveways because the owner builds on the whole property.

It seems that in 1978 in an attempt to encourage people to build new homes or expand older ones, the state Legislature gave a tax break on the increased value of the property. Although the tax break is slowly phased out over six years, it has the wrong result for some neighborhoods.

This reminds me of the abuse of the infill zoning law years ago in Bayside, which permitted people to receive a building size bonus if they built on empty lots. Builders then tore down houses and claimed the building bonus on the vacant lot. The law has now been changed.

I hope the Padavan-McLaughlin law can correct the current bonus on building bigger houses that are completely changing the character of neighborhoods into which residents had moved years ago.

The new bill should be ready for the governor to sign by this summer. Only then will Queens civic leaders such as Cleary find relief from these McMansions in our fine residential communities.

Good and bad news of the week

It is good that judges have the right to stop noisy outbursts in their courtrooms by disorderly people; however, federal Judge Deborah Batts seems to have gone too far in ejecting former Metropolitan Correctional Center guard Louis Pepe.

In November 2000 Pepe was attacked by Al Qaeda member Mamdouh Mahmud Salim with a sharpened comb. Pepe was stabbed in his left eye, an act that blinded him, left him with brain damage and caused speech and mobility problems. While testifying at the sentencing of the convicted criminal, Pepe began shouting, probably out of frustration of not being able to tell his feelings easily.

Judge Batts ejected Pepe. I wasn’t there and don’t know how long this incident went on so I don’t know if Pepe was given enough time to calm down.

The only good thing was that the judge sentenced the defendant to 32 years in jail. It is sad that Pepe is confined to a wheelchair and had to leave the courtroom frustrated.

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