Rezoning OK’d despite opposition from residents, civic association

Avella critical of Community Board 7’s representative. On September 24, 2008, the City Council approved the 44-block rezoning plan for Waldheim, a neighborhood immediately southeast of Downtown Flushing. The plan incorporates lower- and medium-density contextual zoning for 43 blocks, an upzoning of one block from R6 to R7-1, and commercial overlay modifications to stop commercial development from spilling over into residential midblocks. The rezoning area is generally bounded by Sanford and Franklin Avenues to the north, 45th Avenue to the south, 156th Street to the east, and Colden Street and Kissena Boulevard to the west.

Local residents, concerned with overdevelopment, petitioned the Department of City Planning seeking changes to preserve Waldheim’s housing character. In response, Planning offered a proposal that limits development to one- and two-family detached homes in most of the rezoning area, allows for semidetached homes and small apartment buildings in fewer areas, and encourages high-rise apartments near Kissena Boulevard, a primary thoroughfare that extends toward Downtown Flushing. The plan also includes a revamping of the commercial overlay scheme, adding new overlays to bring existing uses into conformance and reducing portions of existing overlays to restrict uses to local service and retail.

At the September 16 public hearing before Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning & Franchises, members of the Holly Civic Association spoke in opposition to the R7-1 upzoning near Kissena Boulevard. They disagreed with the upzoning because the R7-1 designation would allow more high-rise apartments to spring up in an area that already has a substantial number of apartment buildings 9-17 stories high. Also, some believed that the R7-1 designation for the entire block amounted to spot zoning for the benefit of one building, the New York Armenian Home, a non-profit facility that serves the Armenian Community.

Chair Tony Avella questioned John Young of City Planning about whether the R7-1 district amounted to spot zoning. Young defended City Planning’s decision, stating that the block in question is developed with a mix of buildings, up to 19 stories-high, with densities ranging from 2.5 to 3.75 FAR. Young also mentioned that the R7-1 designation was “entirely appropriate” and consistent with the character of that specific area. The Chair of the New York Armenian Home explained that the Home requires renovation, and that the R7-1 district would allow redevelopment of the property into a mixed-use community facility and residential building. He added that the new market-rate housing would generate the revenue needed to finance the renovations.

Council Member John C. Liu, who represents Waldheim, stated that although some residents opposed the plan, he believed it was comprehensive and appropriate. Liu also felt that, after many well-advertised community meetings, the plan was thoroughly vetted, and was ultimately supported by Community Board 7.

However, the district manager of CB7, speaking on behalf of CB7, testified that CB7’s recommendation to leave the proposed R7-1 district as R6 was based on “misinformation.” She stated that, on the night of the vote, “residents of 45th Avenue came out in droves” to oppose the R7-1 district, and that CB7 was “intimidated” into voting for the R7-1 district to be removed from the plan. Chair Tony Avella reprimanded the district manager for signing up to represent CB7 at the hearing and then stating on the record that its recommendation lacked credibility because of intimidation and misinformation. Avella then opined that Community Board members who speak on behalf of the Community Board should not discredit the Board’s recommendation.

Addressing Liu’s remark that CB7’s meetings were well-advertised, both Avella and Council Member Simcha Felder noted that local residents complained about the lack of adequate notice. Avella stated that the City should send out an official notification to every property owner subject to a potential rezoning. Avella added that it would cost approximately $25,000 annually to mail the notices, and it was a “disgrace” that the City chose not to do so.

The Subcommittee ultimately found the rezoning appropriate and voted to approve it, as did the Land Use Committee and full Council.

ULURP Process
Lead Agency: CPC,Neg.Dec.
Comm.Bd.: QN 7,App’d, 27-7-1
Boro.Pres.: App’d
CPC: App’d, 9-0-0
Council: App’d, 50-0-2

Council: Waldheim Rezoning (C 080457 ZMQ – rezoning) (Sept. 24, 2008).

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