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"Why would I want a commercial establishment next to my house?" Harris Fiternick asked rhetorically as he stood outside his home on 260th Street Friday. Nearby a construction crew poured concrete into the blocks of the complex's foundation. "I think it devalues my property," he said.Fiternick and his neighbors said the shopping center would increase traffic, noise and trash in the area, affecting their quality of life. But they acknowledged that the owner and developer of the site are within their legal rights as the immediate area is zoned C2-2/R2, allowing for commercial and residential uses. To make way for the development, three homes and a building once holding a hair salon and an insurance office were razed in May."Unfortunately, we should have tried to do something years ago, but we didn't," said Richard Hellenbrecht, chairman of the area's Community Board 13. In the late 1970s, the board conducted a study of the block intending to propose a change to its zoning, established in the citywide code of 1961. But such requests are complicated, Hellenbrecht said, and the board did not feel a sense of urgency to complete the task."Unfortunately, we back-burnered it," he said. Like much of northeastern Queens, the quiet side streets of Floral Park once held modest homes, and commercial strips like Hillside Avenue featured buildings with retail space at street level and apartments above. But during the last 10 years the area has seen an influx of newcomers, and the community has complained that houses have either been greatly expanded or torn down and replaced with much larger structures.Residents have said Floral Park, Glen Oaks and Bellerose have become congested, with the construction ruining the aesthetics of the neighborhoods. The lack of modesty shown in the housing projects can also be found in commercial developments such as the new shopping center, Hellenbrecht said."Twenty years ago we didn't see it coming," he said of the current building philosophy. "I don't know why people would want to tear down perfectly good housing stock and make it a strip mall."In addition to the noise, garbage and traffic complaints, community leaders said last week that the owner still had not disclosed plans for the shopping center to them. "We would like to know what (the owner's) thoughts are," said Charlie Farruggia, president of the Floral Park Community Council.The developer of the site, Tony Hack, said this week that one of the three tenants would be a drive-through Taco Bell, confirming neighborhood rumors. A deal has not yet been worked out with the other two tenants, though he said one them might be a 99-cent store.Trying to allay residents' concerns, Hack said Taco Bell and the other tenants would keep the area clean and would provide jobs for the area. Traffic access would be mainly from Hillside Avenue, not from the residential 260th Street, and the new buildings would actually make the block look nicer and would host businesses appropriate for a family-filled neighborhood, he said."There's always going to be people who complain," Hack said. "It's going to be a plus for the area."Not everyone opposes the shopping center. At Hillside Video across the street, Shahed Mollah, the 22-year-old owner, said the project would bring more customers to the block."It will obviously help all our businesses," he said, referring to the real estate firms and convenience stores that line the street. "I would be able to eat tacos every day," he joked.At a real estate firm next to the construction site, agent Michael Katz said he viewed the project from both lenses: as a businessman and as a resident of the area."I think that from a commercial perspective it was a smart move," he said. "When I put on my community hat, I'm very disappointed."Katz said the area was growing in population and that commercial development needed to keep pace in order to provide the required services. But, he added, he did not want Floral Park to lose its suburban feel."In the end, there's no right answer."Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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