But the schools, which included PS 133 in Bellerose, hung on and eventually found their salvation in the mid-'90s in the form of another demographic shift: Attracted by the area's cleanliness, safety and good schools, South Asians began buying homes there. In 1990 more than 16,000 whites lived in the 11004 zip code in the heart of the area with about 2,000 Asians. By 2000 the count had changed to approximately 8,900 whites and 4,300 Asians.
The presence of the new families helped fill the schools and keep the area stable and dynamic.
"It's continued to be a strong and vibrant area," said Richard Hellenbrecht, chairman of the area's Community Board 13 for the last three years and a resident of Bellerose for more than three decades.
So many new children came to the area, in fact, that schools soon became crowded, Hellenbrecht said, further spurring efforts to construct more facilities. Thanks to the efforts of the Queens Civic Congress, among others, two K-to-8 schools and a high school opened last fall as part of the Glen Oaks Campus, built on the former grounds of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center.
But as South Asians reinvigorated the three neighborhoods, they also became associated - fairly or not - with overbuilding, an issue residents really began to take note of in the last 10 years, Hellenbrecht said. With many houses expanded or razed and rebuilt as "McMansions," residents said the look and feel of the area, once composed of one-and-a-half-story modest homes, began to transform.
"Prior to that this neighborhood never really changed," said James Trent, vice president of the Bellerose Business District and a resident of Bellerose Manor since 1951. Zoning alterations, such as a 22-block initiative planned for Bellerose, may limit the number of families living in a home but will probably not stop homes from growing higher, he said.
With zoning regulations often obtuse, which construction projects are legal and which are not is not always clear, and local civic groups have said the Department of Buildings is lax in enforcing the laws. The South Asian arrivals have been frequently blamed for overbuilding, though the critics are quick to point out they object to the actions of some of the newcomers, not to their ethnic background.
"No one likes to see construction next door," said Corey Bearak of Bellerose, an attorney and adviser on government, community and public affairs. "They fear it."
But some South Asians have complained to the TimesLedger Newspapers that longtime residents automatically assume the newcomers are guilty of violations.
Shri Pallakil, an Indian-American real estate agent whose business coverage extends into Glen Oaks, said of his fellow South Asian immigrants: "They are not only God-fearing but they are very law-abiding citizens."
Their established neighbors just want to protect a cherished area, Hellenbrecht said.
"Is that racism?" he asked. "No, I think that's the natural reaction to change. Will the new people think that's racism? Very possibly."
Besides the construction of McMansions and the school campus, the communities of Glen Oaks, Floral Park and Bellerose have visibly changed in other ways over the last 15 years.
A Burlington Coat Factory outlet opened in March 2003, anchoring the Glen Oaks Shopping Center on Union Turnpike. And in 1995 the Bellerose Business District was founded on Jamaica Avenue, eventually cleaning up the shopping area and installing antique-style street lights.
"It was no slum, but it showed wear and tear," Trent said.
While graffiti has recently started to show up again, thanks to civics the frequency is not anywhere near what it was 15 years ago.
"There was a time when every overpass and piece of concrete and roll-up grate had a piece of graffiti on it," Hellenbrecht said.
Adding to the visual effect, plants have been added to apartment complexes and roadway medians.
"You drive through Glen Oaks today and it looks a lot nicer than it did 15 years ago," said state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who grew up in the area and has long represented it.
While some residents complained the area is too congested now, Hellenbrecht said he still loves his neighborhood.
"It's clean and wide open; it's safe and secure," he said, adding that some people are now moving back from Long Island.
Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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