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Fresh Meadows on track to limit house size

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The proposal, called Union-Utopia Rezoning, seeks to change the residential building code to a new zoning measure, R2A, that restricts house height and lot coverage. It would cover 76 full blocks and seven partial blocks within the neighborhoods of Fresh Meadows, Utopia Estates and West Cunningham Park.In the spring, three civic associations in those areas approved the plan, completed surveys to update layout maps of their streets and approached City Planning to initiate the required Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. The full CB 8 board was to vote on the issue Wednesday as the first step of the ULURP."This area has experienced considerable development pressure in recent years," said Robert Holbrook, CB 8's City Planning liaison, at the hearing at Ryan Middle School in Flushing. Holbrook was echoing concerns from many residents of oversized McMansions infiltrating their community.The rezoning area is bounded by 64th Avenue to the north, 196th Place to the east, Union Turnpike and Avon Road to the south and Utopia Parkway to the west.Yet unlike the unanimous approval shown at the three previous civic meetings, several residents adamantly rejected the contextual rezoning at Tuesday's meeting, which was the first fully public hearing on the subject. By limiting the size and shape of future homes, they said, the R2A would cause property value to drop and prevent the expansion of houses to accommodate growing families."I resent being zoned and legislated into a lower-class community," said Mitchel Greenberg, a 20-year area resident. Steven Love, a former CB 8 board member, said the downzoning would "have a disparaging effect" on Bukharian and Orthodox Jewish homeowners who traditionally have bigger families."It we adopt this proposal, they'll turn away and move elsewhere," he said. "It's like hanging out a sign saying, 'You can't live here.'"Nevertheless, a large majority of the 40 residents who spoke at the hearing applauded the proposal as a crucial tool needed to prevent their neighborhoods from becoming cramped with looming out-of-character structures."Just think of all the extensions that can be built," said Joan Hausmann, who has lived in Fresh Meadows for 40 years. "We need the R2A."Indeed, urban planners familiar with the R2A contend that the measure does not so much downsize homes as simply eliminates building exemptions and flexibility currently allowed under the existing R2 zoning. Examples they point to include tightening garage and attic space exemptions and establishing an absolute maximum wall height regardless of where the house sits on the lot. And the R2A does have a proven track record, having received a mostly warm reception from other borough areas since its pilot run in Bayside last year.Still, arguments were made for both sides."I don't see huge buildings, I see beautiful buildings," resident Larry Shelou said at one point, to which Charlotte Green shot back: "You want a big house, get a big piece of land. This isn't the place."Reach reporter Zach Patberg at news@timesledger.com or at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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