Thursday, May 14, 2009

No Objections Raised During Rezoning Hearing

By Conor Greene

There were no major objections raised Monday during a public hearing on the city’s proposal to downzone 300 blocks in Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale.

Community Board 5 members were expected to vote in favor of the Department of City Planning’s proposal, which is intended to prevent out-of-character development, at its meeting this past Wednesday. Borough President Helen Marshall was scheduled to hold her public hearing on Thursday, which would allow the proposal to then move on to the City Planning Commission for review before the City Council considers adopting it.

Residents and civic leaders have been frustrated that the downzoning effort, which required volunteers to survey the blocks property-by-property, languished for several years before the Department of City Planning (DCP) finally released it for public review last month. Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) said she hopes the new zoning measures would become law by early summer.

Once the City Council approves the rezoning, all new development projects would be subject to the updated zoning. Only projects in which the entire foundation is completed before the City Council vote would be allowed to continue under the current zoning, which has been in place since 1961.

The majority of the plan consists of replacing the existing zoning “with newer, lower density and contextual zoning district to more closely reflect the existing built form of the neighborhoods,” according to the DCP. At Monday’s hearing, Queens Director of City Planning John Young called this particular rezoning effort “very complex” and said it will eliminate the developer’s ability to tear down a one-or-two-family home and replace it with a large multi-family building, as is being done now.

“That was what was creating a lot of that overdevelopment pressure,” he said during the session in Christ the King High School. “The benefit for everybody... is that you can more clearly understand what should be happening on a lot.” While the measure isn’t going to prevent all future development, it will ensure that projects conform to what already exists on neighboring properties. “What comes there should look pretty much like the street that it’s on,” said Young.

An environmental assessment conducted by the DCP predicted that the rezoning will result in development on ten sites resulting in a net increase of 66 dwellings, along with a net increase of 13 square feet of commercial space.

The rezoning area is generally bounded by the Long Island Expressway to the north, Woodhaven Boulevard to the east, Forest Park and Mount Carmel Cemetery to the south and 59th Street to the West. City Planner Tom Smith explained that the project has been broken down into four smaller sections: eastern Glendale (20 blocks), western Glendale (90 blocks), Maspeth (125 blocks) and Middle Village (65 blocks).

Following the public hearing, CB 5’s executive committee discussed the proposal before voting 8-1 in favor of it. According to board member Robert Holden, a question was raised about the R5D zoning along Myrtle Avenue, which raises the allowable floor-to-area ration. Smith and Young told the board that the R5D zoning matches the buildings already existing along Myrtle Avenue.

In a statement, Crowley vowed to continue pushing for the rezoning to become law. “Before even taking office, I started working on downzoning because it is necessary for limiting overdevelopment; maintaining and strengthening the value of our homes and protecting the character of our community,” she said. “After three years, I am pleased that at my appeal the Department of City Planning has finally moved forward with the rezoning proposal.”

Specific details of the rezoning plan can be found on the DCP’s homepage by going to In general, it replaces existing zones (R3-2, R4, R4B, R5, M1-1 and M1-4D) with lower density or contextual zoning districts (R3A, R4-1, R4A, R4B, R5B and R5D).

It also eliminates or reduces the depth of some commercial overlay zones to prevent commercial intrusion on residential blocks. In addition, several commercial overlays were added where appropriate to reflect current land uses and encourage retail continuity along prime shopping streets.

Graphic: A map shows the area included in the proposed rezoning (outlined in yellow), as well as the area rezoned in 2006 (outlined in blue).

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