Forest Hills' Rezoning Gains Community Board Approval

From the Queens Chronicle

Forest Hills Rezone Proposal Gets CB 6’s Unanimous Nod
by Colin Gustafson, Assistant Editor

Homeowners in southern Forest Hills moved one step closer last week to seeing their quiet residential enclave rezoned to protect its lower-density character amid a surge of new real-estate development.

Last week, Community Board 6 unanimously approved a city proposal intended to correct an existing zoning rule that allows developers to build community facilities within modest two-story homes.

Civic leaders have long feared that such a zoning proposal paves the way for large medical clinics or public parks to proliferate alongside private homes — thereby disrupting the local quality of life.

Now, residents and city officials alike are hoping to curb mixed-use development and preserve the area’s prevailing one- and two-family character.

“You have to keep a residential area residential,” said Forest Hills Community and Civic Association President Barbara Stuchinski, who also serves on the community board. “When you start allowing regular family homes to be turned into clinics with blacktop, you start getting the type of hodgepodge of places like Austin Street. It keeps us from being a stable community.”

Currently, the southern tip of Forest Hills falls under a blanket R3-2 zone, characterized by attached low-rise houses that can legally accommodate one to two families.

Under the Department of City Planning’s proposal, the more than 40-block area — encompassed by Kessel Street on the north, Union Turnpike on the south and 69th Avenue on the west — would be rezoned to R3A, R3X and R3-1.

All three zones mark the department’s new “fine-combed” approach to rezoning individual clusters of blocks according to the area’s existing make-up, city planning officials say. About 80 percent of the housing stock are small multifamily homes, while the remaining 20 percent are attached brick houses, plus a few larger homes.

Excluded from the zoning is the commercial strip running along Metropolitan Avenue that is lined with fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and several mom-and-pop retailers. City officials want to preserve that overlay, but keep it from spilling over into nearby residential blocks.

City planning officials first pitched the idea of rezoning to the public last September, after Councilwoman Melinda Katz requested a formal study based on nearly five years of informal research and lobbying by local civic leaders. The current zoning has been unchanged since 1961.

Now, with the board’s endorsement, the proposal lands on the desk of Borough President Helen Marshall, who offers written recommendations before passing it onto the City Planning Commission and, finally, the City Council for a final nod. Officials hope to finalize the plans by mid-2008.

“There’s a whole process we have to go through before this becomes a reality, but we’re expecting smooth sailing,” said Frank Gulluscio, the community board’s district manager. “We’re doing what you’d call ‘maintaining and preserving.’ I don’t foresee anybody fighting that along the way.”

©Queens Chronicle 2007

Posted Under: Community Boards, Downzoning, Forest Hills, Queens

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