Council modifies Special Forest Hills District

Special Forest Hills District, Proposed Zoning used with permission of the New York City Department of City Planning. All rights reserved.

Maximum height limit reduced from 150 to 120 ft. in portions of proposed C4-5X district. On March 24, 2009, the City Council approved, with one modification, the Department of City Planning’s proposal to rezone and create the Special Forest Hills District within a 10-block area in Forest Hills, Queens. The rezoning area, roughly bounded by Queens Boulevard to the north, the Long Island Rail Road to the south, Ascan Avenue to the east, and Yellowstone Boulevard to the west, had originally been zoned C8-2, C4-2, and R7-1 in 1961. The C8-2 and C4-2 districts allowed for further development of the predominant uses in the area, which were automotive, commercial, and mixed-use. Over time, the auto repair shops and gas stations gave way to retail businesses and restaurants, and the area transformed into the commercial core of Forest Hills. Despite the change in neighborhood character, the outdated zoning remained, and developers increasingly sought variances from BSA to construct large, residential and commercial buildings.

Local residents and elected officials became increasingly concerned with the possibility of haphazard, out-of-character development. They feared developers applying for variances would endeavor to construct buildings that did not reflect the current neighborhood context. Council Member Melinda R. Katz and Queens Community Board 6 requested that Planning devise a rezoning for the commercial core that better reflected current uses and development patterns in the area. Two years later, Planning proposed to rezone the area to R5D/C2-3, C4- 4A, and C4-5X, and to establish the Special Forest Hills District within the entire 10-block area.

The maximum building height in the C4-5X district would be 150 ft. except for buildings within 60 ft. of the northerly side of Austin Street between Yellowstone Boulevard and 70th Avenue; those buildings would not be permitted to exceed a height of 80 ft.

Although the City Planning Commission, in its January 21, 2009 report, acknowledged concerns from the community regarding the 150-ft. height limit in the C4-5X district, it found the height to be appropriate, noting that it was significantly less than the height of the tallest structure in the area, which exceeded 200 ft. The Commission also acknowledged the community’s desire to retain a supermarket at the corner of Yellowstone and Queens Boulevards, but found the request to be beyond the scope of the proposal. The Commission did, however, modify the zoning text amendment to allow a special permit granted by BSA for 68-60 Austin Street to remain in effect if the plan were approved.

At City Council’s March 4th public hearing before its Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee, Katz stated that she supported the rezoning and text amendment, but asked that the vote be laid over so that she could ascertain a “more appropriate height limit” for the C4-5X district and secure a guarantee from Don Rick Associates that it would not eliminate the Key Food supermarket currently in operation at the corner of Yellowstone and Queens Boulevards.

When the Subcommittee reconvened on March 9th, Katz stated that the maximum building height in the C4-5X district would be 120 ft., except for those areas limited by the 80-ft. height restriction. She also noted that Richard Grobman of Don Rick Associates promised to include a 15,000 sq.ft. food store as part of any new development at the site. Though Key Food would be shut down during construction, Katz explained that an order-by-phone/home-delivery program would be implemented to serve local residents.

Council: Special Forest Hills District (March 24, 2009).

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