By Bob Harris

In Bayside, 380 blocks now have the new low-density R2A zoning, which better reflects the actual type of homes there. Builders wanted bigger houses so they would tear down fine homes and build a larger out-of-scale home. Some were sold as a big home, but some were built in such a way that illegal apartments could be made in these houses in the future.This was such a problem in Bayside that City Councilman Tony Avella hired an urban planner named Paul Graziano, who surveyed every house in his district. From this came the new R2A designation which prevented excusing recreation rooms, whole basements with boiler rooms, attics and garages from the size or floor area ratio of the total building. Using these loopholes some houses were able to have a swimming pool in the house. These houses towered above the other houses built decades ago in the community.Homeowners disliked the elimination of lawns and trees, the blocking of light and the sheer bulk of the McMansions. People had bought houses in a distinctive neighborhood with a certain amount of air and light and were unhappy with these gigantic buildings. Too many people in a house would mean more garbage and cars on the block with overcrowding.The new R2A calls for a maximum building height and a restriction on building coverage on the lot. However, a larger lot means more building is permitted, but a lot over 80 feet wide can't be split into multiple lots. Another provision makes it illegal for a new structure to have a front wall closer to the street than neighboring houses on either side of the property.An exception permits a one-car garage up to 300 square feet, either attached or detached, to be built. Previously, the entire first floor was exempt if it contained a garage. That zoning rule, with the one exempting recreation rooms and boiler rooms from the size of the house, gave us those legal gigantic buildings.Now if only the Buildings Department can function properly, then illegal additions can be found and the builders prosecuted and punished. But that is another problem which the civic associations have been concerned with for years.Community Board 11 in Bayside studied the R2A proposal, held public hearings and voted for the proposal. Some civic leaders had wanted the rules stricter. A couple even thought they were too strict. The Queens Civic Congress evaluated the proposals and made suggestions. Eventually there was enough compromise and support from City Hall that the proposal was passed by CB 11, went to Queens Borough Hall for a vote, then the City Planning Commission and finally the City Council. Now, civics in Fresh Meadows are looking at the possibility of downzoning.In past few years, the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association, the Holliswood Civic Association and the Jamaica Hill Civic Association has rezoned. This was prior to the new R2A zoning. More civic associations such as the East Flushing Civic Association, the West Cunningham Park Civic Association and the Civic Association of Utopia Estates are looking at the new R2A zoning.Good and bad news of the weekI recently came across a story about India and China which implies a profound change is taking place, which does and will continue to affect us here in Queens, New York City and all of the U.S. China and India are emerging as dynamic economic powers. They already contain one-third of the people on earth. Their need for energy is driving up the price of oil. The goods China produces are bought by more and more Americans, so our foreign trade deficit keeps on rising. We often eat in Chinese and Indian restaurants, which bring in spices and products from Asia.We do have debt for foreign goods we bought, debt for overspending by our federal government and individual debt. Not only do we have to pay the money back but the interest rate is a deficit also. Our leaders have to consider these deficits and find ways to reduce them. Of course, if the dollar decreases in value, then we can pay back our deficits with cheap dollars. But that means all the dollars we have saved become less valuable.Our leaders have to figure a way to better educate our children so they can better compete in the modern technological global economy. Our citizens must also know more about the world. India and China have 3,000-year-old civilizations that our citizens should know about so they can better understand the many Chinese and Indian immigrants who have come here to Queens. Our leaders have to spend our money wisely and not waste it. There is a whole earth out there in competition with us.

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