Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hearing Set on Forest Hills Rezoning

Intended to Prevent McMansions in Cord Meyer Section

By Conor Greene

The city is moving forward with a plan to rezone the Cord Meyer section of Forest Hills, where many modest homes have been demolished and replaced with huge McMansions in recent years.

A public hearing on the proposal, which would limit the height of single family houses in a 32-block area, is scheduled for next Wednesday’s Community Board 6 meeting. Under the plan, restrictions would be put into place establishing a 25-foot maximum perimeter wall height and a 35-foot maximum roof height.

Under the area’s current R1-2 zoning, established in 1961, there are no firm limitations on building height, according to the Department of City Planning, which is pursuing a similar strategy in North Flushing. Some community residents and leaders have objected as many Cape Cod and Tudor-style homes have been torn down to make way for large, often ornate mansions – many of which featured paved-over front lawns.

Frank Gulluscio, district manager of CB 6, called the current zoning “outdated” and said that “over the past couple of years, what has existed there is changing… The prevailing scale and character has changed and doesn’t really reflect what the existing houses looked like,” he said. The formal public review process for the proposal began this week, giving the community board 60 days to review the plan.

According to Gulluscio, depending on the outcome of Wednesday’s hearing, a vote by the board is likely that evening. It will then go Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and the City Planning Commission for review before City Council considers granting it final approval.

The rezoning will be confined to the Cord Meyer neighborhood, bounded by 66th Avenue to the north, Grand Central Parkway to the east, 72nd Road to the south and 108th Street to the west. The area consists primarily of one-family detached homes, mostly built between 1910 and1940 on relatively large lots, according to city planning, which notes that the area’s low density and low-rise character is a distinct contrast with the character of nearby blocks lined with mid-rise apartment buildings to the west and south, especially near Queens Boulevard.

The rezoning comes “in response to community concern,” according to city planning, and was pushed by Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), who is chair of the City Council Land Use Committee. Katz did not return a phone message seeking comment on the proposal left at her office.

Many of the large new homes have been constructed by members of the area’s large Bukharian Jewish community, a trend that has been criticized by some in the community as being out of character with existing homes. City officials have reached out to the Bukharian community to discuss the rezoning plan, and Gulluscio said he thinks the proposal is a fair compromise. “Is there some opposition on both ends? Yes, but at the end of the day the city has proposed a decent compromise,” he said. “I think it’s a step to ensure the future is more predictable.”

Meanwhile, a separate project to rezone parts of Austin Street from Yellowstone Boulevard to Ascan Avenue is also moving through the land use review process. That plan would allow residential development along parts of the popular shopping district while placing height restrictions on new construction for the first time. The proposal has already been approved by the City Planning Commission and is scheduled for a hearing before the City Council zoning subcommittee in coming weeks.

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