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Rezone plan sparks uproar

Amid mutters of "not in my back yard" and "they're going to build a slum," residents at the meeting seemed united in their opposition to the plan that would line Hillside Avenue with buildings as tall as eight to 12 stories and could include an affordable housing component."The first thing to understand is this is a proposal being put forward by City Planning. It has not yet been certified. This is a period meant for give-and-take," Gennaro told the standing-room-only crowd of more than 200. "We need to figure out what the consensus is along Hillside Avenue."John Young, director of the Queens Borough City Planning Office and the meeting's primary speaker, said the goal of the rezoning proposal was to catalyze downtown Jamaica near the train station at Sutphin Boulevard and Archer Avenue, putting the highest-density housing zones immediately next to the train station and scaling down the density moving to the east and southeast.The audience did not buy it because Hillside Avenue - currently zoned to allow buildings up to 60 feet or six stories - would be upzoned to permit buildings up to twice that height, stretching as far as a mile east of the AirTrain station.Developers can use the full floor area ratio or build above the maximum height only if they include affordable housing, destined for households earning up to $56,720, Young said."Where do you live? Do they have affordable housing in your neighborhood?" one woman asked Young.Besides the possible influx of new residents, the audience was skeptical of many aspects of the plan and of its vision of the future. Water and sewers were two issues. "Has the Department of City Planning collaborated with the Department of Environmental Protection, and was this considered in the [drainage plan]?" asked Kevin Forrestal, president of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association."Yes. We are accelerating the existing plan to accommodate development," Young said.Besides the perennial concerns about the increased demand for parking and public transportation, audience members asked, what about services such as school and hospital construction?"We've met with the School Construction Authority and the Parks Department to mitigate the effects [of development]. This proposal takes the pressure off of many blocks that would otherwise be crowded," Young said.Every rush hour Hillside Avenue is jammed with cars, another woman said. "Where are the infrastructure changes now to facilitate the plan for the future? You're not planning for traffic," she said.State Sen. Frank Padavan (R- Bellerose) and City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) have both promised to oppose the project.Gennaro urged residents to educate themselves. "There will be meetings where the public can participate. The rezoning is not a done deal," he said.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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