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Photo by Alex Robinson
By Alex Robinson

Flushing neighbors are fuming over a large house they say dwarfs the small homes around it and completely changes the character of their block.

The two-story house, which has been under construction since the fall at 146-15 56th Road, will replace a one-story dwelling that was built in 1935 in a row of townhouses.

“It has destroyed the neighborhood,” said Jose Fernandes, who has lived next door to the site of the new house for more than 22 years. “If they got permits to do that, what stops others?”

A number of community leaders and civic organizations have joined the residents to speak out against the building, which they say is one example of a wider problem that affects the whole borough.

“It’s getting more and more egregious,” Don Capalbi, president of the Queensboro Hill civic Association, told Community Board 7 at a February meeting. “If it’s not addressed now with the new City Council and new mayor, it won’t happen in the next 10 years.”

After the frustrated neighbors contacted him, Capalbi alerted CB 7, which forwarded the complaints to the city Department of Buildings. The agency said the development was completely legal and there was nothing it could do to prevent it from being built.

The new house’s owner, Min Lin, who bought the property in August, said her home’s construction has followed all city rules and zoning laws.

“I wish we could be on the same page. I think at this time there’s nothing I can do to change,” she said. “I think the neighborhood is changing anyway. There are many houses like this.”

Once finished, the 2,290-square-foot house will be more than double the previous home’s size of 899 square feet former size, according to DOB permits.

Lin said she needed to rebuild the home because she has a large family to accommodate. She said she expects construction to be done in the spring.

Apart from changing the character of the neighborhood, Fernandes said the front of the new house blocks off his sunlight for a large part of the day.

“I am planning seriously on moving out of here,” he said. “I already had plans to move away to be closer to my daughter in Nassau County, but not as fast as I’m thinking now.”

Fernandes said he is not alone, as the development has triggered what he described as a mass exodus from the block. The neighbor on the other side of the development, Jacek Taper, who has lived in his house for 10 years, is also considering putting his house up for sale.

“The neighborhood I moved into now looks completely different,” he said. “I can’t do anything. My only option right now is to sell the house and move out.”

Two other houses have been put up for sale since the building’s construction started, Taper said.

Councilman Peter Koo’s (D-Flushing) office will be bringing the issue to the Department of City Planning in the hope of getting a rezoning approved.

“I will not stand idly by while the character of our neighborhood is threatened by out-of-scale development,” Koo said. “I will be meeting with the Department of City Planning soon to discuss this issue and to explore all possible options, including rezoning, to prevent instances like this from becoming unsightly patterns in our community.”

Koo’s chief of staff, Jonathan Chung, worked on a similar situation when he was employed at then-Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.’s office. A number of large developments in Astoria prompted Vallone’s office to seek a special rezoning for the neighborhood in 2010.

The rezoning for the neighborhood was approved by the City Council in May 2010 and would “preserve the existing scale and character of the area while allowing for a modest increase in residential and commercial density in appropriate limited locations,” according to the City Planning website.

Chung said Koo’s office might push for a similar change in order to dissuade developments that are out of character with the neighborhood.

“If we let another 10 years go by until the next census, God knows what damage will be done,” Capalbi said. “From a developer’s point of view, one successful project opens the door to the next.”

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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