The Civic Scene: Beware of any suspicious proposals from developers

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The Queens Civic Congress is concerned about new tricks developers are using so they can build new and inappropriate buildings in communities. Instead of asking that a piece of land they want to build on is given a specific variance so they can bypass the zoning, some builders are asking for a rezoning of the property.

Builders may want to build but a particular zoning may not let them build the size or type of building they want. A variance lets them build or use only what is stated in the variance and is usually for five or 10 years. If the new building usage is detrimental to the neighborhood, the community board or the City Planning Commission will not renew the variance. But builders do not want to be held accountable, so they are asking for permanent zoning changes.

The rezoning permits buildings up to the new legal size of the zoned area, but a builder can ask for a rezoning and say he will not affect the community, then go ahead and build for any use which might be offensive to homeowners.

Communities have a certain type of zoning so residents can live in harmony with any tenant occupying a commercial building. For a limited time a variance is a protection for the quality of life, but a zoning change is permanent.

The procedure for a variance is for it to go to the 50-member community board, then go to the borough president’s Borough Board, then to the city Board of Standards & Appeals. Any of these groups can put a five- or 10-year renewal and review on the variance and other limitations.

But once an area is rezoned by City Planning and the City Council, then there is no renewal and a builder can build for any use no matter how it affects the community as long as it conforms to the zoning size.

For these reasons, the QCC is asking Queens civic associations to note what builders propose and contact the QCC if proposals look suspicious. Contact the QCC at

The city Finance Department released the assessments of property a couple of months ago. Queens condo and co-op owners were given upward assessments of up to 150 percent. When the condo and co-op owners complained, Finance discovered it used the wrong calculations in determining the assessments. To think that our taxes are at the mercy of computers.

The mayor raised the real estate taxes for one- and two-family homeowners 18 percent a few years ago. There was supposed to be a 20 percent real estate tax rise of no more than 20 percent every six years. This was created by former state Sen. Frank Padavan after the city wanted to raise assessments to 100 percent and then lower them to a fair level. The civics stopped that until the recent 18 percent raise. If we had fought that 18 percent, then perhaps this problem would not be here for co-ops due to the glitch.

The city is making our houses white elephants because, due to the decrease of the value of houses in most areas, people cannot sell their houses for the value of the mortgage which was obtained years ago. That subprime mortgage fraud caused our recession. Some older people with fixed incomes are becoming “land poor” because they do not have the money to keep paying their real estate taxes. We all have to work with the QCC and other groups to keep our taxes fair.

The Finance Department admitted it had made an error and promised to lower the condo and co-op assessments to 10 percent. State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) has sponsored a bill that would cap assessments at a lower 6 percent. Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) discussed this issue at his recent town hall meeting and Bob Friedrich, the Glen Oaks Village co-op president, is fighting this problem. State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) will discuss this issue at his town hall.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: Many New Yorkers are concerned about the proposed cuts in services, including layoffs of teachers, firemen and other city workers, in spite of a $3.2 billion surplus. There is concern the advances in the rights of workers won by the efforts of many union workers over the years will be cut back and the middle class will loose its way of life, health care and pension benefits.

All kinds of people have been holding rallies and demonstrations. A few months ago, for example, civic leaders rallied outside Queens Borough Hall to prevent the loss of services by the community boards which maintain our quality of life. The cuts were not made. People are upset and fearful and demonstrating.

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