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CB 7 OKs Waldheim rezone after long debate

After three votes, two amendments and four hours of questions and testimony, Community Board 7 approved a slightly modified version of the Waldheim rezoning plan Monday night.

A meeting that was often rife with confusion and emotion ended shortly before 10:30 p.m. after the board voted 26-7 with one abstention to approve the long-awaited rezoning of Flushing's Waldheim neighborhood.

With its approval, the board made one recommended modification to the Department of City Planning's proposal: to remove a one-block area that would have been zoned as a higher density residential area.

The rezoning has been nearly 10 years in the making, and the vote was viewed as a victory to many but a disappointment to others.

Much of the argument leading up to the final vote centered around 1 square block bordered by Kissena Boulevard, Colden Street, Elder Avenue and 45th Avenue. In the DCP's proposal, the block would have been rezoned as R7-1 from R6, which would enable developers to build about 70 more units of housing than previously allowed, while reducing the amount of parking they were required to build by 10 percent.

"Overall, we're really trying to explain that the floor area is the same, but future development will be more intact with what's there now," said Queens City Planning Commissioner John Young.

After votes were taken to amend the original plan, a cheer rang out from a crowd of nearly 200 who attended the meeting when the board voted to recommend the removal of the block from the rezoning.

"It was an amazing coming together of various elements in achieving the final vote," said former City Councilwoman Julia Harrison, a Holly Civic Association member. "It's restored my faith in the community board, I can tell you that."

If the disputed block is taken out of the proposal when the City Council votes on it later this year, it could jeopardize a major project planned on 45th Avenue: a 19-story residential tower that will house the 60-year-old non-profit the Armenian Home for the Aged.

The home has worked closely with the board on the proposal and had promised to include 100 percent parking for the planned 300 residential units the tower would include. The current zoning would allow for a similar building to be erected, but with 240 units of housing, which may make the parking promise economically unfeasible.

CB 7 Zoning Committee Chairman Chuck Apelian, who pushed hard for the block to be included, said he was shocked and disappointed that the plan was modified at the last minute — particularly after the zoning committee had voted 13-1 in favor of it last week.

"I think the board succumbed to some huge intimidation from the crowd," Apelian said, speaking of the at-times raucous crowd who attended the meeting. "You're talking about a developer that's guaranteeing 100 percent parking. That's phenomenal. Usually you fight for that and here it's being handed on a silver platter and you turn it down."

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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