2005-07-07 / Features

Board 7 Approves College Point Rezoning

by richard gentilviso

Just one year after public outrage concerning overdevelopment in Queens reached a peak when demonstrators gathered on the steps of Borough Hall saying “enough is enough”, the rezoning of 161 blocks in College Point was overwhelmingly approved by Community Board 7 last week.

Within a week of that protest by residents from civic organizations throughout Queens on June 8, 2004, the city announced the most far-reaching zoning plan to preserve low-density housing in more than a dozen neighborhoods in the borough since the city’s zoning code was first established in 1961.

“Overdevelopment changes the character, overdevelopment changes the traditional appearance of neighborhoods,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on June 15, 2004 at Queens Borough Hall, as reported by the New York Times on June 16, 2004.

Since then, the Department of City Planning (DCP) and City Councilmember Tony Avella, chairperson of the council Zoning Committee, have worked to develop and implement rezoning to stop development of single-family lots into multiple family dwellings or oversized “McMansions”.

“Expediting the rezoning is very important,” Avella said. “Every day we wait, another house or property is lost.” The usual approval process takes six to seven months, he noted. Bayside approved its rezoning plan, the first in the borough, in January. East Flushing has also been rezoned, as has Kew Gardens. A rezoning plan for Whitestone is forthcoming.

“This is something that is long overdue,” said Avella, explaining that under the original zoning code, single- and two-family homes in College Point were zoned R4, which allows for multiple-family attached homes. “College Point is the worst example of overdevelopment.”

Queens Director of City Planning John Young said the rezoning was an opportunity to preserve much of the small town quality that still exists in College Point, a community that is bounded by Flushing Bay on the west, the East River on the north, and 132nd Street and 28th Avenue to the east and south, respectively.

Under the rezoning, current R4 and R3-2 zones, which allow a broad range of housing including attached and multi-family buildings, will be changed to generally limit development to detached one- or two-family homes.

“This [rezoning] will change [College Point] from 90 percent attached zoning to 85 percent detached zoning,” said Paul Graziano, an independent planning consultant who worked on the proposal for Avella.

“We cannot bring back the past, but we can preserve for the future,” said Fred Mazzarello, president of the College Point Board of Trade.

One point of contention was the extension of R5 zoning along College Point Boulevard from 27th to 14th Avenues. In a letter from state Senator Frank Padavan, read by his representative Joan Vogt, “Parking and traffic on College Point Boulevard is a serious problem already, [R5] rezoning will increase density and add to the problem.”

Some residents complained rezoning would affect their property values. “I think you are punishing every homeowner with a 50 foot by 100 foot lot in the R4 area,” said one. “My property will be devalued by two hundred, three hundred or four hundred thousand dollars,” said another.

“There are people who will be losing significant property rights if this [rezoning] is not done on a case by case basis,” an attorney representing a homeowner said.

Other residents were strongly in favor of the rezoning. “What makes me angry is when I see developers come in and knock down a property,” said one. “There’s nothing wrong with building, but this is not building, it’s destruction.”

Board Member Frank Macchio, the sole dissenting vote, agreed that something needs to be done but wasn’t sure this rezoning proposal was it. “I think we’re missing another step,” he said. “The destruction should stop but we should also preserve the rights of people who are already here.” Macchio noted that remodeled homes in College Point increase the property values of all homes.

Zoning Committee Chair Chuck Apelian said the final outcome of the numerous committee meetings held was to recommend rezoning as a means to stabilize the neighborhood by stopping overdevelopment.

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