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Fresh Meadows joins borough calls for downzoning

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Just as that 1970s rogue enforcer brought outlaws to their knees with his .44 Magnum so has the R2A become Queens most popular crusader against overzealous developers.With increasing speed, the downzoning measure has been a McMansion wrecking ball tearing through the borough: at least 100 blocks in Cambria Heights are likely to be be R2A-zoned within two months; 250 blocks in College Point by summer; 420 blocks in Whitestone by summer's end and 45 blocks in Kissena Park by 2006 -- with North Flushing, Douglaston and Little Neck just getting warmed up, according to independent urban planner Paul Graziano, who has authored most of the downzoning recommendations in northeast Queens.And now...Fresh Meadows. Some 100 residents at a joint civic meeting last week jumped head first into the fray, voting unanimously in support of rezoning their neighborhood from R2 to R2A, as if the regulation was their saving grace from impending doom."Be scared. Be very, very scared," warned Queens Civic Congress Vice President Pat Dolan, who, when it comes to battling oversized development, has been around the block, so to speak. "If you think you got McMansions now, you ain't seen nothing yet." Under the R2 zoning, which currently covers most of Fresh Meadows, developers can slip through loopholes and build to lot capacity to create three-story dwellings that balloon out of character with surrounding homes. The R2A designation proved itself a few weeks ago with the successful rezoning of 350 blocks in Bayside, said Graziano, who drafted the proposal. The new measure restricts maximum wall height to 21 feet and sets a 35-foot limit on roof peaks. In addition, R2A kills many of the exemptions permissible under the R2, such as the loophole exempting builders from including the lowest level in their floor plans."And here's the kicker," Graziano explained at the civic meeting. The R2A designation, he said, also protects the open yard tradition by restricting a house to no more than 30 percent lot coverage.At the meeting with the Holliswood and Utopia civic associations, more than two dozen residents volunteered to survey the some 200 blocks tentatively planned for the rezoning -- the first step in what Graziano said is typically a five- to six-month process. Once the Department of City Planning agrees with the survey that the neighborhood could benefit from rezoning, the proposal moves up the ladder from Community Board 8 approval to a City Council vote.Putting into words what the crowd appeared to thinking, Holliswood civic president Bob Harris said, "Let's do it now."Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Updated 7:04 pm, October 10, 2011
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