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The Civic Scene: Civics fight to stop housing developments

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The community is made up of mostly one-family houses under R2 zoning, but the community wants R2A zoning to limit the housing density. People bought homes with a certain style, size, and density with grass, trees, light, clean air and street parking. They are unhappy with the construction of McMansions or more than one house where one stood.At this meeting were representatives from the North Flushing Civic Association and the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association, who like the Aburnadale group have been waiting about four years to have their area rezoned. Tyler Cassell, president of North Flushing, told me that the two civics are the largest R2 areas left in Queens. Builders have been coming to their areas and getting a bonus floor due to the R2 designation. By changing the zoning from R2 to R2A, the free area is lost, so if the speculator does not cheat, then any new house built will be of reasonable size.Since Bayside has been rezoned down to R2A, builders cannot make as much money building big houses, so they go to R2 areas. One argument for building new houses is to provide affordable housing for people, but these larger houses are anything but. Plus, they pave or cover lawns and yards with bricks, so water does not get absorbed into the ground. During a heavy rain, one can see rain flowing down driveways into the street, where the sewers back up.The Broadway-Flushing group is approaching the protection of their community from builders by petitioning the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to become a historic district in the same way as Sunnyside Gardens.The Briarwood Community Association has pressed for years to be re-zoned. Its problem is that its area has a number of different zonings, such as R4 and R5, where builders can legally tear down one-family houses and build bigger. Apartment houses next to row or detached houses are inappropriate. Queens DCP has been slowly studying Briarwood to find the appropriate zoning, making proposals which Community Board 8 approved. A few days ago, the City Council re-zoned 40 residential blocks. Sey Schwartz and his executive board worked very hard for this protection.Astoria's Dutch Kills Civic Association is very angry that the Queens DCP has not rezoned its community to stop builders from tearing down commercial buildings and houses to build bigger. There are almost a dozen high rise hotels being built in the community. City Planning has been looking at the area since 2005 with the idea of increasing residential density while limiting light industry and commercial sites.Dutch Kills was always a mix of residential, industrial and commercial zones. The homeowners wanted the right to add some residential property and protect their quality of life. City Planning keeps studying the situation while builders rush to build high-rise property. The fact that the area is close to Manhattan via the subway makes it an ideal alternative to Manhattan's high-priced rents.Adding to the problem, the city Buildings Department has waived the requirement that some of the large residential apartment houses need parking spaces. If there are lots of parking areas because there are factories which have parking lots or if the tenants take the subway into Manhattan, then this may not be a problem.Some civic activists are annoyed that the city stopped all these rezoning proposals so the DCP could do the rezoning of Jamaica for the past couple of years. The city wanted lots of upzoning in Jamaica so development could take place and business could expand.The various civics are angry and there is talk of a demonstration or rally. DCP officials have been saying they will have plans available in May 2008, but then there have to be hearings which could take up to seven months. Will this be too late for some blocks, and after the new zoning is complete, will the DOB be able to enforce the new rules?GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK: The city has been encouraging high school students to take college-level Advanced Placement classes. New York state leads the nation in students who passed at least one AP exam. The state average is 23.4 percent; the national average 15 percent.BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: Scores of wealthy New Yorkers do not pay their state income taxes. Some owe $1 million, others much more - and to think that Edna and I pay our taxes!

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