Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rezoning of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale and Takes Effect

By Conor Greene

After years of watching as out-of-character developing threatened to destroy the area’s quality of life, community leaders breathed a sigh of relief this week as new zoning regulations finally went into effect for parts of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who said pushing the rezoning through the Department of City Planning and the City Council was a top priority since she took office in November, gathered on 83rd Street on Tuesday to announce that the plan is now law.

The rezoning, which seeks to prevent overdevelopment on more than 300 blocks roughly bounded by the Queens-Midtown Expressway, Woodhaven Boulevard, Mt. Carmel Cemetery and Fresh Pond Road, was approved by the City Council on July 29. According to City Planning, the new zoning takes effect immediately, but was subject to a mayoral veto for five days.

Joined by Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano, Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden and CB 5 Land Use Committee Chairman Walter Sanchez, Crowley told reporters that years of unchecked development has “really hurt property values” and “brought down the quality of life” on affected blocks. She said it was a “painstaking and long” process that began years ago.

“For far too long, overdevelopment has been plaguing this community,” said Crowley, adding that fighting it has been “one of our greatest challenges.” While the formal rezoning rocess began in 2006, she said civic leaders ere calling for it years prior. “Protecting ur neighborhood’s character, the very aesthetic of our low density community, has remained a priority of mine since before taking office.”

Giordano called the occasion “a big day for us locally” and noted that the new regulations will help prevent one-family homes along quiet blocks from being converted into multi-family units. “We were getting very overcrowded” as a result of such projects, he said. “We are looking to preserve the beauty of these neighborhoods for as long as we can, and one way to do it is to reduce the size of the buildings you can build here,” said Giordano.

Like others present, Giordano expressed some frustration that the process took so long to complete. “I think some studies moved ahead of us but today is our day,” he said.

Holden called it a “great step forward” but stressed that the fight against over-development is long from over. Also frustrated by the amount of time that has passed since volunteers began going door to door to collect data on each neighborhood, Holden recalled kicking the effort off on May 20, 2004. “We have finally downzoned most of the area,” he said. “This is a good step forward but we are going to have some development.”

Sanchez, of Maspeth, said the rezoning is “probably one of the greatest accomplishments a community board can make” in its advisory role. “We said let’s take the bulls by the horn and try to be proactive against overdevelopment,” he said, adding that the community still needs additional protections to prevent units from being divided. “There is a lot of work to be done. The one-family designation is very important to us.”

While recognizing the delays that held the process up, Crowley boasted that the proposal went from getting the community board’s approval to being officially adopted in “record” time. “I think you have a lot of frustration here for not being a priority for City Planning,” she said.

At this point, only projects in which the entire foundation is completed are allowed to proceed under the previous zoning, which had been in place since 1961. The majority of the next plan replaces the old zoning “with newer, lower density and contextual zoning districts to more closely reflect the existing built form of the neighborhoods,” according to City Planning. Queens District of City Planning John Young told CB 5 that this particular effort is “very complex” and will eliminate a developer’s ability to tear down a one-or-two family home and replace it with a large multi-family building.

City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden noted that more than 4,200 borough blocks have been addressed “with finely grained contextual rezonings to protect the borough’s lower density neighborhoods from out-of-context development.” She said this effort will “bring comprehensive zoning protections to three of the most appealing communities in the city.”

One of the largest rezonings to date, this plan builds upon contextual zoning changes for 180 blocks in Middle Village and Glendale adopted in 2006, added Burden.

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