Today’s news:

The Civic Scene: Civics across Queens push for downzoning

South Jamaica residents, like those in Fresh Meadows, want to stop the building of enormous, unsightly houses and multiple dwellings, which overcrowd their blocks and schools as well as bring in more cars, noise, pollution, garbage and recycling cans and overburden the infrastructure.Too many older residential homes, built decades ago with a certain charm, are being expanded or torn down, replaced by large, box-like houses or two- and three-family dwellings. People purchased homes or rented houses or apartments in a certain type of neighborhood and experienced a certain type of civility. They now find new neighbors who want gigantic structures or to rent out rooms illegally. These new residents don't care about stately old trees or gardens with flowers or areas of green grass. They build from property line to property line and cement over some of the front lawn to make room for parking spaces.Instead of green spaces we are finding cement and bricks. Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12, has complained that builders are using lower-quality materials to build houses. Absentee landlords care about building as much as they can on the land and getting as much rent as possible, with no regard to the neighborhood's aesthetic value. The South Jamaica civics want to downzone their R3-2 blocks to prevent overbuilding.A number of blocks in Fresh Meadows with either one- or two-family row or semi-attached houses are zoned R3-2 or R4. This means that legally a speculator can buy the property and then tear down the existing houses and build three-story buildings or two-family houses. Some people don't know what their land is zoned for, some don't care and others think they might be able to sell their property for a lot of money. When a large building is erected next to or near them then they will become concerned and fearful of overdevelopment.In Bayside there are many large, English Tudor homes built around 1910. Many have historic significance. The Property Civic Association is working to have the area downzoned. It is also pressuring to prevent demolition permits that would destroy two very fine old homes.The Juniper Park Civic Association in Glendale is also fighting overdevelopment. President Robert Holden spoke against a proposal to build a four-story, mixed-use building in a residential district that has a commercial overlay. The community opposed the height of the building and the number of parking spaces that would be provided.Community Board 5 eventually approved the plans for the building after community-facility space had been added so the building could be built "as of right." Although the number of parking spaces for the structure exceeds the required number, the Juniper Park Civic still opposed the building, saying that 15 apartments and other uses will bring too many cars into the community, where parking spaces are now at a premium.The civic association leaders then testified during the next step of the process, a public hearing at Borough Hall with Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. They complained that community facilities and commercial properties are taking up too many parking spaces. This problem also is an issue in many other Queens neighborhoods, including Fresh Meadows.Eliott Socci, president of the Douglaston Civic Association, is fighting to preserve his community from the destruction of historic homes. He has watched William Sievers and Kevin Wolfe, vice presidents of the Douglaston-Little Neck Historical Society, fight to preserve their community from developers by having Douglaston Hill declared a historic district by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.Landmarking a neighborhood is one strategy to fight the destruction of such valued old homes. One particular residence under the gaze of speculators is a three-story Queens Anne house at 240-35 43rd Ave. Sadly, the Landmarks Preservation Commission ignored the Douglaston Hill community for years until disgruntled homeowners put signs on their lawns calling for an end to the destruction of historic homes, and newspapers printed stories about the issue. Similar signs are now appearing in many communities in Queens.Good news of the weekThe New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has authorized Virginia's Verdant Power Co. to test turbines in the East River adjacent to Roosevelt Island for the production of electricity from the water current. This would provide a non-polluting energy source.Bad news of the weekThe 911 system still has not been redesigned so that when someone calls 911 the location of the caller is automatically pinpointed. We each pay about $1 for the 911 service on our phone bill, so a locator system should be designed and installed. The money has been used by the state police for their own personal needs. Where is the $1 fee going? Where is our 911 locator system?

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