By Eric Yun
Neighborhoods throughout Woodhaven and Richmond Hill are attractive for developers seeking to build out of character apartment buildings and condos that loom over the block. Residents, however, have been pushing for City to rezone the neighborhood to prevent these behemoth structures, and they may soon get their wish.
The two neighborhoods are popular destinations for new families. Public transportation is plentiful with the J/Z train running above Jamaica Avenue and 18 bus routes serving the neighborhoods. Also, with three major commercial strips—Jamaica Avenue, Atlantic Avenue and 101st Avenue—many residents don’t need to travel far for their shopping needs.
Zoning resolutions for the area have remained unchanged since the original rules were passed in 1961. The city originally made the zoning for the neighborhood extremely flexible because it anticipated a much larger population for the city.
As Woodhaven and Richmond Hill grew, the majority of the neighborhood was characterized by one- and two-family houses, which the residents now are seeking to protect. The Department of City Planning rezoned 140 blocks in Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill in 2005, and since, Community Board 9 has been lobbying for the department to rezone the southern portion of Richmond Hill and Woodhaven.
City Planning has listened, and for the last year, officials have been studying rezoning the neighborhoods. The preliminary study conducted by the department was presented to the community last Wednesday night at Emmanuel Church of Christ in Woodhaven. Another meeting will be held on December 15 at Royal Indian Palace in Richmond Hill at 118-06 Atlantic Avenue.
There are three major goals for the 248-block rezoning of the community, according to John Young, Queens Director of City Planning: protecting the neighborhood’s character, promoting higher density residential and mixed-use development along wide streets and near mass transit and reinforcing commercial districts to support economic development.
“The existing zoning does not reflect the character of the neighborhood,” said Brendan Pillar, City Planner. “We saw opportunities to refine the zoning there to closely reflect what’s there and ensure future developments are in line with the existing character.”
Woodhaven and Richmond Hill currently only have two zones: R3-1 and R5. Under the proposal, R3A, R3X, R4, R4A, R4-1, R4-B, R5D and R6A zones would be added.
The existing R3-1 zone allows for one- or two-family detached and semi-detached homes with a maximum building height of 35 feet. All building types are allowed on R5 zones with a maximum height of 40 feet.
Zones R3A, R3X, R4A, and R4-1 similarly called for one- or two-family detached and semi-detached homes with various differences in maximum and minimum lot widths and heights. Zones R4B, R4, R5D and R6A allows for all housing types.
The majority of the changes in Woodhaven occur north of Jamaica Avenue to Park Lane South from Dexter Court to 101st Street. In Richmond Hill, the changes will occur mostly south of Atlantic Avenue to 103rd Avenue from 102nd Street to the Van Wyck Expressway.
There was some contention that the city is acting too late. One resident complained that by waiting too long, the character of South Richmond Hill has already been destroyed. Out of character buildings already erected will be allowed to remain due to a grandfather clause in the resolution.
However, most residents were happy the process was starting. “This is a great step forward,” said Maria Thomson, Executive Director of the Woodhaven Greater Development Corporation. “We are in jeopardy of losing the character of our community. We need to save what we have.”
The next steps for the proposal include the second public meeting at Richmond Hill on December 15. Afterwards, City Planning will refine the recommendations and finalize the zone proposal. Then, under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure outlined in the City Charter, environmental reviews, Community Board approval, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall approval, City Planning approval and City Council approval must be met. This process will take approximately one year.