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Zoning study starts in borough

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But when a developer bought four of the homes and razed them to make way for...

By Jennifer Warren

The detached single-family homes that line Booth Street between 63rd Drive and 63rd Ave in Rego Park are affectionately dubbed by the community board as “Archie Bunker” houses.

But when a developer bought four of the homes and razed them to make way for a five-story green marble and brick complex, there was nothing anybody could do to save the Bunkers. Under the current New York City zoning laws, the developer was well within his rights.

“There are little tiny areas that are the last of the private homes,” said Barbara Stuchinski of the Forest Hills Civic Association. “Folks that live there want to stay there, but if zoning is not changed to reflect private home use, they’re at the mercy of any developer,"

During last week’s meeting of Community Board 6, which covers Rego Park and Forest Hills, the top of zoning topic came to the floor once again.

John Young, the director of the City Planning Department for Queens, and his colleague Francis Grunow announced the launch of a new zoning study for specific sites in the district.

The downzoning, if passed, would increase building restrictions to maintain the current character of a street or neighborhood. In short, the new regulations would prevent a property from sticking out like a sore thumb and avoid the influx of larger complexes on residential homes such as the Bunker houses named after the 1970s sitcom about Queens.

Zoning districts for the area were last drawn in 1961 when the entire city was comprehensively rezoned, Young said. “Since that time we’ve developed tools that allow us to take a look at areas more closely than we had -- using a more fine-grained standard.”

Young expects to complete the study within two to three months. At that time the department will report back to the borough president’s office, her zoning task force and the community board to reach a “consensus” on the findings.

The four sites that residents and civic groups have proposed for so-called downzoning, and which will be reviewed in City Planning’s study are:

• the area between Yellowstone Boulevard, Burns Street, 69th Avenue and Selfridge Street

• the stretch of 67th Drive between Booth and Austin streets

• the small area demarcated by 67th Avenue, Austin Street, 66th Avenue and Booth Street

• the Van Court district, which runs several blocks south of Harrow St. and west of Ascan Ave.

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For the first location between Burns Street and Selfridge Street residents are pushing to tighten the zoning status to maintain it as a district of one- and two-family houses. But the new zoning variance would prevent homeowners from demolishing the original house in favor of one twice the size, which would maintain a consistent house-to-lot ratio for the neighborhood.

The proposed zoning at the second location, 67th Drive between Booth and Austin streets, would shift from apartment buildings to one- and two family houses, thereby preventing further apartment complexes from springing up. The new zoning would also stiffen regulations for homeowners who had planned additional floors on their houses or would want to build in yard space.

    

The third location, between 67th Avenue, Austin Street, 66th Avenue and Booth Street, is also zoned for apartment houses and zoning in that area would restrict future building to one- and two-family homes.

The fourth site proposed for downzoning is the Van Court district, an area of 320 one- and two-family homes which is currently designated for multiple-family dwellings. The rezoning requested by Van Court Association would change that status to allow only one-family houses.

Brian Nixon, president of the Van Court Home Owners’ Association, said he and his association members are simply trying to shield their district from what has already struck other nearby neighborhoods.

“The threat of multiple family units being built would change the character of the area,” Nixon said citing the neighborhoods of Richmond Hill and Rego Park where multiple-family homes have been erected. “It can affect us as well and by having this rezoning passed we could be protected from that aggressive development.”

The four zoning petitions were all initiated by civic associations, said Al Kargan of CB 6’s zoning committee. But more often than not homeowners are not aware of their zoning status until a large, anomalous but completely legal structure suddenly appears on the block.

“Homeowners don’t care about it,” Kargan said, “until it comes along and bites them.”

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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