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CB 6 OKs Forest Hills zone change

Zoning changes for a core shopping area in Forest Hills are one step closer to becoming a reality after Community Board 6 members voted 20−4 to accept the zoning recommendations from the Department of City Planning that officials say will “strengthen and protect the character” of the community.

“This seeks to curb inappropriate development,” said John Young, director of the Queens office of City Planning. “We seek to ensure stable, orderly growth.”

Board members voted at their Oct. 22 meeting, following a public hearing during which the majority of residents who spoke were upset with the proposed zoning changes. They expressed fear the plans would pave the way for over−development and morph Forest Hills into a “mini−Manhattan.”

“Many of us who came to Forest Hills were attracted here by the open space of this community,” said Yvonne Marscheider, a 42−year Forest Hills resident. “We did not come here to find ourselves with Manhattan−style overcrowding with its heavy traffic jams and all that goes with them.”

Young, who along with fellow City Planning member Paul Philps presented the zoning change plans to CB 6, said the proposed plan would stave off tall buildings and would promote “three− or four− story development on Austin Street.”

“The height of buildings on Austin Street could be much higher on Austin Street than what exists there now without these changes,” Young said. “We would like to foster responsible development. We would hate to see something that breaks up the character of the area.”

The zoning changes, which community board members and planning officials have been working on for the past two years, pertain to 10 blocks bounded by Queens Boulevard to the north, Long Island Rail Road tracks to the south, Ascan Avenue to the east and Yellowstone Boulevard to the west.

The area is currently zoned primarily for automotive uses, such as repair shops and gas stations. Current zoning allows mixed use buildings with no fixed height limits. The zoning for the area has not been changed since 1961, when it was primarily dotted with repair shops and gas stations.

Should the zoning changes be implemented, which would only happen with the City Council’s approval, eight blocks from Yellowstone Boulevard to 72nd Road south of Queens Boulevard would be rezoned to allow for residential and community facility development. Buildings could be no taller than 150 feet or 14 stories.

Five “block portions” on the north side of Austin Street between 70th Avenue and 72nd Road would be rezoned to allow for commercial, residential and community facility development. Buildings could be no taller than 70 feet, or about four to six stories.

Two blocks on the south side of Austin Street between Yellowstone Boulevard on the west and Ascan Avenue on the east would be rezoned to allow for. residential, commercial and community facility development. Buildings could be no taller than 40 feet, or about three stories.

Because the area’s zoning has not been changed since 1961, Young said developers are able to apply for variances in order to build basically whatever they want. Therefore, he said, a developer now could potentially build something far taller than what planning officials are proposing.

Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D−Forest Hills) threw her support behind the changes and said she has seen plenty of proposals for “very big buildings” on Austin Street.

“It was zoned for automotive in 1961, and the area has become ripe for variances,” Katz said. “Developers can say, ‘Look, this was zoned in 1961, and it’s not right for today.’ ”

For more information, visit www.nyc.gov⁄html⁄dcp⁄html⁄forest_hills_sd⁄index.shtml.

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