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Some question Jamaica rezone

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John Young, the director of the Queens Planning Office, told Borough President Helen Marshall, Council members and civic activists Monday night that the rezoning represents a "comprehensive plan" to rejuvenate downtown Jamaica and direct residential and commercial growth in the area to streets that can handle the development.While some side streets would be downzoned, Young said Hillside Avenue and the area surrounding the AirTrain will be rezoned to allow to seven-to-12 story buildings and a mix of commercial and residential uses.And while the meeting was preliminary, the level of skepticism about the plan was clear from the comments of Councilmen David Weprin (D-Hollis) and James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who specifically questioned the provision to allow taller buildings on Hillside Avenue.Some also questioned if the city had plans to improve the area's infrastructure - primarily transit and schools - to accommodate the growth the plan would unleash.The rezoning plan also includes a proposal to create an "urban renewal area" on three blocks near the AirTrain where the city would use eminent domain, if necessary, to acquire buildings for development. Some of the buildings are currently vacant, but others are not and Dr. Gloria Black, the chairwoman of CB 12, expressed concern that about three homes could be targeted for acquisition by the city."This project is not as beautiful as it might seem," Black said, noting that she does welcome the "projected renaissance of southeast Queens."The "urban renewal" area is bounded by 150th Street, Archer Avenue, 94th and 95th avenues and Liverpool Street. The gritty stretch includes the site where bridegroom Sean Bell was shot dead by police on Nov. 25. Kalua Cabaret sits just outside the area where eminent domain will be considered, but another strip club up the street, Europa Bar, does not.Young said the rezoning was necessary, however, to develop downtown Jamaica into a regional transit hub and center of economic activity."We envision the area right at the AirTrain as a gateway to the world," Young said. "The time is right for Jamaica to get this treatment," Young said.Overall, the rezoning includes 368 blocks, loosely bounded by the Van Wyck Expressway to the West, 191st Street to the east, Hillside Avenue to the north and 110th Avenue to the south.Downtown Jamaica would be rezoned to allow taller buildings that could accommodate both commercial and residential uses, while side streets would be downzoned to protect residential neighborhoods, Young said.Reach reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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