Rezoning, RKO Keith’s Plan Supported
For 20 years residents on the northern end of Kissena Park have watched helplessly as their neighborhood slipped from a quiet, bucolic enclave into a densely populated sub-borough. Over the same time, the once grand RKO Keith’s theater at the crossroads of Main Street and Northern Boulevard rapidly declined.
But at a February 14 Valentine’s Day meeting of Community Board 7, action was taken to protect Kissena Park from overdevelopment and to revitalize the dilapidated RKO Keith’s, as Board 7 approved new rezoning and development plans, respectively.
“The purpose is to preserve the existing low-density character of the neighborhood,” said Board Member Arthur Barrigan, explaining the rezoning of a 40-block section of the northern Kissena Park neighborhood at a packed meeting held in Flushing.
Current R32 zoning is the lowest density zone that permits multiple family housing in the city. However, rezoning to R3X and R3A will limit new development to single-family and detached two-family homes.
Existing attached multi-family homes will be grandfathered, becoming non-conforming uses. “These are contextual zones,” said a representative of the Department of City Planning. Existing R2 zones, which allow only single-family detached homes, have also been extended.
“There is concern with tear-downs of single-family homes that are replaced with multiple-family (four-, five- and six-family) homes,” said the DCP representative, noting that current non-conforming houses that are torn down after rezoning must be replaced with a conforming house.
Joe Amoruso and Beverly McDermott of the Kissena Park Civic Association led the fight to rezone their neighborhood. Amoruso, chair of the civic association zoning committee, said the new zoning guarantees that residential housing in the area will remain the same in the years ahead while McDermott, association president said, “Wall to wall buildings are not attractive. Overcrowding creates an unstable community.”
But opponents said the rezoning was actually a downzoning that will affect property values. “Downzoning is equivalent to the taking away of the property values of current owners,” said Kissena Park resident Howard Lee.
“Downzoning, in some cases, does affect the value of a property,” said Barrigan, but fellow Board Member Kim Ohanian said rezoning affects neither the value or the rate at which the city taxes a property.
City Councilmember John Liu, speaking in favor of the rezoning, said, “This is a very solid plan, not perfect, but it gets to the goal of preserving this very vital and important neighborhood.” A DCP study to rezone College Point has been completed and will soon be presented to the community board as well.
A plan to build a 19-story, 250-unit condominium building while preserving the original 1928 RKO Keith’s lobby and grand foyer was unanimously rejected one year ago last February by the board.
However, this time, the board approved a slightly scaled-down proposal by a vote of 31 to 2. “The FAR (floor-area ratio) has been reduced from 9 to 7.5,” said Zoning Committee Chair Chuck Apelian. The new FAR represents a drop of 50,000 square feet from the original 375,000 square foot proposal.
Boymelgreen Developers also agreed to one parking space per housing unit or 200 total, plus 33 spaces for retail use. “Basically it’s the same world-class design,” said Howard Goldman, attorney for the developer.
“RKO Keith’s has always been one of the most important sites in Flushing,” said Architect Jay Valgora, of the Walker Group. Valgora said the signature glass curtain of the original design had been reduced from 50 to 40 feet and would serve as the entrance to the landmarked lobby, retail stores, restaurants and residences. “The curtain of wavy glass is the same size as the original proscenium of the theater,” he said.
“Make no doubt about it, this is going to be a very tall building, the tallest building in Flushing,” said Apelian, “but it will also be a landmark.” The 18-story tower will be 175 feet high.
Two issues almost derailed the board during its discussion. “This is not affordable housing,” said Board Member Isaac Sasson, one of two members to vote no on the project. The issue of union labor was raised and referred to a special committee.