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The Civic Scene: Queens civic leaders decry boro development

As a Community Board 8 member, I was invited to attend the annual Scholarship Awards Program of the Educational and Cultural Trust Fund of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 3, in Electchester. The Electrical Industry Center is in CB 8. I find the event interesting because about 43 high school graduates, whose parents are members of the electrical union, receive scholarships.

As a member of the United Federation of Teachers, Local 2, AFL-CIO, I am proud the electrical union also gives scholarships to about 300 city high school graduates every year. The city's unions give back to the community. The money to pay for the scholarships comes from money the UFT negotiated from the city to help students, who would otherwise not have the money, to attend college.

I did not attend last year, so I was disappointed this year when I found only one Local 3 scholarship recipient whose family lived in Queens. She was Kristel Juntura, who attends Archbishop Malloy High School and who will attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In past years, I usually found two or three Queens residents. Why are electricians living outside Queens? This is something our legislative leaders who fund our schools have to think about.

After searching in vain for scholarship recipients from Queens, I settled for breakfast at a table of civic association leaders I have known for years. They were Michael and Angela Augugliaro from the Queens Colony Civic Association, Bruno and Lucy De Franceschi from the North Bellerose Civic Association and Bernard Aquilino from the Rocky Hill Civic Association in Bellerose Manor.

The table talk turned to zoning. The civic members were unhappy because they have been waiting for years to be rezoned downward to limit the free bonuses given in the old R2 zoning. They wanted the city to rezone them so they would not have to suffer larger or multiple houses built when developers tear down fine homes and leafy trees. They bought homes in a community with a certain amount of parking, trees, and open spaces, but now find larger homes with paved lawns, flower beds with cars and SUVs parked where once there were green lawns and colorful bushes.

Some of these new houses had an asking price of $1 million, but have now come down in price due to overbuilding and the mortgage scandals. The North Bellerose Civic wants its area changed to R2A zoning. The Queens Colony Civic wants its area changed to R2N because they have narrow lots. This is a special zoning devised a few years ago. It, like many other civic associations, is really annoyed with city agencies which have not given them the rezoning promised years ago.

Of course, even re-zoning does not mean their quality of life will return. The city Buildings Department has to actually enforce the new zoning efficiently. R2A zoning permits larger homes. One sometimes wonders if the size of a new house is in accordance with the zoning, but many homeowners can build a little larger. A new zoning resolution passed by the City Planning Department should stop the complete paving over of whole yards, but it still has to be enforced. Unscrupulous speculators have to be firmly punished to ensure that the zoning is followed. If not, this is all a waste of energy by everyone.

Another complaint was that builders build houses with illegal basements. They plan illegal apartments even as they build new houses. This is what drives the frustration of many Queens homeowners who bought their homes legally and want to live in them legally with a nice quality of life around them.

It is interesting that on March 31 the Queens Civic Congress held a forum on unfinished business concerning new zones for the R1 areas, one-family row houses and single-family homes on narrow lots. It turned into a bashing of the City Planning Department, with many civic leaders complaining that they have not yet had their promised rezoning. Why have city leaders permitted this to happen?

While the civic leaders fumed, they listened to the speeches of the leaders of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 3, and watched the fine young boys and girls receive their scholarships.

GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK: PS 154 in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, is the first city public school to stop using Styrofoam, non-recyclable lunch trays and start using trays made from sugar cane instead.

BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: On Feb. 26, 1998, 103rd Precinct rookie Police Officer Edward Byrne was assassinated as he sat in a patrol car outside the house of a drug witness. This killing was ordered by a drug kingpin to show his disdain for law and order.

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