By Bob Harris

These are positive steps in the right direction, but many want to know exactly what will be done and how soon.Queens County has a Zoning Task Force created a decade or so ago by then Borough President Claire Shulman. The task force met in the second floor conference room in Queens Borough Hall. Civic association leaders, community board officials, builders, architects and engineers met to discuss community issues, and Marshall continued this unique body.Civic association leaders complained about homes being bought by builders and then torn down to create larger buildings out of character with the original homes. The builders had discovered that a number of communities were zoned for larger buildings than those originally constructed on the lot. For example, one-family homes designed for R2 areas had been built on lots that were zoned for R4 or R5. Whole neighborhoods were affected. Thus, a four-story building or three or four one-family houses were built where there had been one home.As the years passed, Shulman and then Marshall pressured the Department of City Planning to rezone the areas downward to reflect the types of homes standing there. Slowly this was done to a dozen areas, but the progress came too slowly. The civic association leaders, many who are now affiliated with the Queens Civic Congress, kept pressuring. The problem is that every home in the neighborhood had to be examined to prove the contention of the civic association. This took time. The Department of City Planning was chronically short of people, although fees are paid to the city coffers by architects and engineers.In Kew Gardens, civic president Patricia Dolan enlisted teenagers to check each house and verify the size. This area has since been downzoned. People had bought their homes expecting a certain size and style home in their community.Now developers are buying homes, tearing them down and building larger out-of-character homes, some legally and some illegally. A lot of money is involved. It pays to pay a fine or bribe an inspector because there is so much profit to be made. I think a few Department of Buildings inspectors should be going on trial soon, after they were caught taking bribes a couple of years ago.A lot of this would stop if more people doing illegal things would be tried, fined, jailed and have their licenses revoked, with stories being written about the punishments in the media.Last May 4 the Zoning Task Force held a meeting at which the Community Facility Zoning Text Amendment was discussed. That issue has just moved up to the City Planning Commission.At the Task Force meeting it was stated that Queens City Planning is involved with zoning studies in Bellerose, Hunters Point, Brookville, Jamaica Hill, Kew Gardens/Richmond Hill, Maspeth/Woodside, Springfield Gardens and all of City Council District 19, represented by City Councilman Tony Avella in Bayside and College Point. Avella had used his discretionary funds to hire conservationist Paul Graziano to survey his whole district. Now that is a councilman!Some Queens civic associations complained so loudly and for so long that their areas also are being surveyed. Some are the Royal Ranch Civic area in CB 13; West Lawrence in CB 14; the Holly, Waldheim, Kissena Park and Utopia civic associations in greater Flushing; the Property Civic in Bayside and the Queensboro Civic in CB 11.This action is taking place because civic associations have held rallies, met with officials, printed articles in their newsletters, had stories placed in local papers such as the TimesLedger Newspapers and written letters on the issue. It is interesting that Bloomberg is supporting these downzoning initiatives because he is for economic development and new houses should pay more taxes.As explained in this column a couple of weeks ago, however, builders have discovered they can use a state development law to get tax reductions while building big fancy houses in nice neighborhoods. With luck, state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin's (D-Flushing) bill will close this loophole.Of course, several hundred homeowners demonstrating in front of Queens Borough Hall a few weeks ago against overdevelopment made a clear point: People buy homes or rent apartments in a community expecting a certain ambiance and do not want a McMansion down the block or right next door to them. People will fight for their quality of life.Good and bad news of the weekThere seems to be a concerted effort to maintain the character of our fine Queens neighborhoods, but it has been taking too long to accomplish the task.

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