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Sparks fly at beep’s Waldheim rezone hearing

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The feud over the controversial Waldheim rezoning plan was reignited last Thursday as Borough President Helen Marshall heard testimony from residents and community activists before giving her recommendation on the proposal later this month.

In June Community Board 7 unexpectedly voted to approve a modified version of the plan, one which removed one square block that would have been zoned for slightly higher density residential development.

The block, bordered by Kissena Boulevard, Colden Street, Elder Avenue and 45th Avenue, would have been rezoned as R7-1 from R6, which would enable developers to build about 70 more units of housing than previously allowed, while reducing the amount of parking they were required to build by 10 percent.

At the hearing, held at Queens Borough Hall, several supporters of the plan—including CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty—criticized the previous vote, maintaining that several of the board members were bullied into changing their minds at the last minute.

"Some of the misinformation that was presented throughout the evening may have contributed to some of the members changing their vote," Kelty said.

If the disputed block is taken out of the proposal when the City Council votes on it later this year, it could jeopardize a major project planned on 45th Avenue: a 19-story residential tower that will house the 60-year-old Armenian Home for the Aged, a nonprofit.

The home has worked closely with the board on the proposal and had promised to include one parking space for each of the planned 300 residential units the tower would include. The current zoning would allow for a similar building to be erected but with 240 units of housing, which may make the parking promise economically unfeasible.

"It sounds like they have made their objection to this decision based on one building," said Beverly McDermott, the Kissena Park Civic Association president. "Sometimes we have to sacrifice for the greater good."

Supporters of the modification, such as former City Councilwoman Julia Harrison and former CB 7 member Chuck Wade,meanwhile, encouraged Marshall to embrace the change.

"I have not come here to object to the Waldheim preservation, but to come down to our district and change it to R7-1 is wrong," Wade said. "We are dealing with enough traffic and enough congestion already."

Marshall is the second step in the city's public approval process ladder.

When she issues her recommendation, which is non-binding and expected in the coming weeks, the plan will then go to the City Planning Commission, which can make modifications before sending it to the City Council for a final vote.

Reporter Ivan Pereira contributed to this article. Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0330, Ext. 138.

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