Jamaica Plan Approved By Council
By SASHA AUSTRIE
After years of brainstorming, hearings, and amendments, the Jamaica Rezoning Plan has cleared the final hurdle.
In a vote of 45 to 3, the plan was approved by the City Council. The three who voted against the plan were Queens Councilmen Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and David Weprin (D-Hollis). Three council members were absent from the vote, including Tom White (D-South Ozone Park)
“The potential of Jamaica to become one of New York’s premier business and residential districts has been talked about for a long time, and today we’ve taken a giant step toward making it happen,” Mayor Mike Bloomberg said.
The plan will rezone a 368-block swath of downtown Jamaica, which is the largest undertaken under the Bloomberg administration.
According to the Department of City Planning, the current zoning in the vicinity limits growth and vitality in transit-accessible areas, especially surrounding the AirTrain. Existing zoning also allows out-of-character development in residential neighborhoods and does not differentiate density between major thoroughfares and residential streets.
The improvements and rezoning mapped out in the plan includes preserving lower-density residential neighborhoods while developing the area surrounding the AirTrain and LIRR station with hotels and offices on industrial land. The plan also calls for the Hillside Avenue corridor to be rezoned to R6A, which would allow 70-foot apartment buildings to be constructed.
The land around the AirTrain can now be developed via public acquisition or – as a last resort – eminent domain.
Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said the City is talking with business owners to purchase the property. He said there is a mitigation plan to assist them in relocation and retraining.
“This rezoning effort will help to transform and revitalize downtown Jamaica into a vibrant economic engine that will create much-needed jobs for the Southeast Queens community,” Comrie said.
Weprin voted against the plan because of the Hillside Avenue rezoning. A spokesman said the plan was good in concept, but there were so many other things that should be addressed in the plan.
“The infrastructure is not there to support this,” spokesman Pat Barrientos said. As is, the public transportation system is burdened by overcrowding and further development would compound the problem.
Weprin had proposed to downzone the Hillside corridor, rather than upzone it – a plan that fell on deaf ears.
Although Greater Jamaica Corporation President Carlisle Towery is elated with the approval, he concedes that the plan will have a few drawbacks. While public transportation into Jamaica may be under capacity, the commute to Manhattan would become even more troublesome.
“We [also] need to increase off street parking,” Towery said. “We need parking to be affordable in the downtown [area].” Currently, Jamaica could use 1,000 additional parking spaces, he added.
“Growth carries with it some costs,” Towery said. “We are very pleased and impressed with the hard work and great plan the City prepared.”