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Queens leaders blast plan to change zoning as weak

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Queens civic leaders criticized parts of a proposal restricting the ability of community facilities to expand in residential areas at a Department of City Planning meeting in Manhattan Tuesday, saying it does not go far enough to protect neighborhoods from the facilities’ impacts.

One borough Jewish leader said the proposed legislation went too far, noting that the parking requirements on houses of worship did not take into account the fact that Jewish worshipers did not drive to synagogue on holy days.

The new zoning legislation, spearheaded in the Council by Tony Avella (D-Bayside), chairman of the Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee, was aimed at addressing residents’ anger over the strain on parking, other city services and quality of life caused by the unrestricted growth of community facilities.

Tuesday’s meeting at the Department of City Planning’s office near City Hall began the formal public review process of the proposal, expected to be adopted by the end of this year.

The proposed legislation would impose stricter parking requirements on houses of worship and reduce the number of low-density residential neighborhoods into which medical offices can move, among other provisions.

“The incursion of community facilities is not warranted,” said Douglaston Civic Association President Eliott Socci, one of a handful of Queens civic leaders who attended the meeting. “We’re looking for relief for residential areas.”

City planners were soliciting input on what factors should be considered in the agency’s environmental impact study of the proposal.

The study will examine the effect on land use, socioeconomic conditions, community services, open space, traffic, noise and many other conditions affected by the city’s first major zoning change in more than 40 years.

“We do have some very serious reservations,” said Queens Civic Congress Vice President Pat Dolan, who did not testify during the meeting but submitted a written statement outlining the civic organization’s criticisms of the proposal.

“The scoping document does not address the crucial issue of ... the special treatment of community facilities or assess the need to give community facilities blanket exceptions” to zoning requirements, wrote Sean Walsh, president of the Queens Civic Congress.

Walsh’s statement included an extensive critique of the proposed changes, including the provision that houses of worship provide one parking space for every 10 occupants. He said the number should be one space for every six to eight people.

He also called the allowance for 10,000-square-foot medical facilities in certain residential areas via special permit from the Board of Standards and Appeals “an outrage.”

“There is no need in today’s practice of medicine for such enormous (facilities) to be sited in primary residential zones,” he wrote.

Speaking on behalf of Jewish groups was Manny Behar, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council, who said he was concerned over the parking requirements for houses of worship.

“These parking requirements would mean that a house of worship has to purchase an additional lot ... prohibitively increasing the cost of building a new house of worship,” Behar said.

He said such a lot would be “a total waste” for Jews because of prohibitions on driving to synagogue on holy days.

“We would have to incur the expense of parking ... which we’re not even going to use,” he said.

The public comment period on the community facilities environmental impact study will last until Jan. 23. Comments can be mailed to Robert Dobruskin, Department of City Planning, 22 Reade St. Room 4E, New York, NY 10007.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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