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The Civic Scene: Boro nabes seek protection from overdevelopment

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People in Fresh Meadows surrounding the Fresh Meadows Housing Development have organized and are fighting to enforce the preservation district designation there to prevent builders from overbuilding. They are fearful that a builder, the Federal Realty Investment Trust from Maryland, will put a gigantic Pathmark opposite PS 26 on 69th Avenue on a quaint residential block. They are fearful that another builder, who purchased the old Klein Farm, wants to put 22 two-family homes on the 2.2-acre property. At night there are few if any parking spaces for blocks around, so more housing would be a nightmare.Another developer, Oakland Capital Development, would like to develop an 8.5-acre site in College Point along the East River. This area is an abandoned dump that neighbors feel has all kinds of toxic materials. Resident Joan Vogt, director of the Northeastern Queens Nature and Historic Preservation Commission, doesn't want the area to become "Manhattanized" by developers. This philosophy is one shared by many other civic leaders in Queens.Ironically, City Councilman Tony Avella had engaged preservationist Paul Graziano, a member of the Queens Civic Congress, to survey his whole district. Avella is waiting for the City Planning Department to downzone College Point to prevent overdevelopment. However, if a speculator gets permission to build under the old zoning and gets a foundation into the ground, then any building could be grandfathered in. Avella has recently written to the Board of Standards and Appeals asking that they don't grant variances to build bigger buildings until new lower zoning is approved for his district.In Middle Village the Juniper Park Civic Association is pressuring to downzone to stop the building of several houses or bigger houses on lots where formerly there had been one home. A recent meeting of the Juniper Park Civic Association drew almost 400 people. Leading the fight to preserve their quality of life is civic president Bob Holden, who is unhappy with the Department of Buildings rule that permits architects to self-certify their own buildings and sometimes build illegal structures. The DOB has only 15 building inspectors for Queens. This is terrible since inspectors can generate huge amounts of money when they properly certify structures legally built.South Jamaica residents also are concerned about overbuilding, which creates unsightly structures and overburdens the infrastructure. Current zoning permits one-family homes to be demolished and replaced with two- and three-family buildings. The United Neighbors Civic Association is trying to preserve their community from what is being built. Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12, feels that builders are not constructing quality homes in the community. There is a desire to downzone the existing R3-2 designation so multifamily housing can't be built "as of right" on lots surrounded by one-family homes.If a house is not sold, absentee landlords rent them out to tenants who don't take care of the premises. Some houses are left with trash in the rear yard because new owners have different attitudes about property and only want it to make money.Good and bad news of the weekThe City Council just passed a bill, which was signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that extends the moratorium on issuing violations for non-conforming store awnings. This law was on the books for decades but suddenly last year Department of Buildings inspectors started giving violations to small stores in Fresh Meadows that have had the same awnings for decades.Store owners and their patrons had complained and the moratorium was enacted. It is now extended for two years or until new regulations are issued. It was disgusting that the DOB harassed small-business owners but hasn't been able to stop the illegal apartments that ruin neighborhoods.The bad part of this news is that some small-business owners had been fined $1,000 or more for the violation. Some had been forced to pay. Is the city going to give them back the money they paid during this farce? It is ironic that speculators who build illegal apartments or violate the zoning laws in various ways often don't pay anything.

Updated 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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