Today’s news:

The Civic Scene: Practically all of Queens has undergone rezoning

Decades ago residents of Queens neighborhoods recognized that their regular one- and two-family houses had been built in areas where their houses could be torn down and larger houses could be built. Some of the houses were so big they were called McMansions.

The City Planning Commission has slowly been examining North Flushing, Maspeth, Middle Village, Auburndale and Oakland Gardens. During this time the city took the time to upzone parts of Jamaica so larger buildings could be built, which would mean more tenants, economic activity and taxes.

A 500-block area of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale has been downzoned to protect it from larger out-of-context buildings and thus protect the community’s character so it would be consistent with the structures that existed when residents bought their homes decades ago.

While downzoning is necessary, the reality that speculators sometimes figure out ways to build bigger anyhow. Even with loopholes eliminated from the R-2 zone there is still the right to build a bigger house if it is on a corner or going to be a community facility or the builder self-certifies his own plans or adds space as he builds on the assumption the city Department of Buildings will never compare his original plans to what is built.

The city has always under-funded the DOB, although this agency takes in much revenue from the filing of plans and other activities. Even if a builder gets caught, he figures the fine will be only a few thousand dollars and the finished house can be worth a million dollars or more. Every neighborhood has one or two of these big bordered-up houses on which work has been stopped while the builder and the city negotiate the fine.

Some builders could be dissuaded from doing illegal things if they knew they would actually have to pay high fines and would have their names and their company’s name written in the papers or displayed on TV. Why can’t this be done?

This over-development is ruining many Queens neighborhoods. There are too many illegal conversions, McMansions, lack of land marking historic buildings and community facilities without on-site parking.

GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK: I visited family in California a few weeks ago and discovered that one 18-year-old cousin who recovered from leukemia about 10 years ago is helping run the 10th-annual American Cancer Society Relay For Life of the Beach Cities in North Redondo Beach.

Edna and I brought our T-shirts from the Cunningham Park Relay For Life and took part in the activities. It was July 18-19. They had a similar brochure and the same emotion as our Cunningham Park relay, colored shirts, signs, Luminaria Ceremony, tents and list of sponsors and entertainment and teams walking all night. Two different activities were a kids camp and a fireman’s pancake breakfast.

BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: Some of the biggest banks that received federal government money to stay afloat just gave out millions of dollars in bonuses. The irony is the money did not only go to “keep experienced bankers,” but to star salesmen and traders. Nearly 5,000 salespeople received millions each. This means those who took the risks, which led to our financial meltdown, are being rewarded for taking the risks using our tax money.

Congress is passing a bill limiting how Wall Street rewards these traders and salespeople in the future when banks get federal bailout money. This new law does not apply to last year’s bonuses.

This column speaks out against the speculative economic chances and bonuses given out by the financial institutions that led to the meltdown. What we need is a leader who will speak out against speculation, conspicuous consumption, illegal activities and huge salaries and bonuses. A nation cannot survive if a few receive large salaries while the masses struggle along with economic problems.

Speaking about struggling along, my own family needs health care reform.

One member broke his ankle playing baseball and the insurance company did not want to pay for the ambulance bill and surgeon. Another member had to pay out of her own pocket for the surgeon who took out her fibroids. Another family member wants an insulin pump to better manage his sugar levels while at work but was told by the health provider he just wants it for convenience and threatened to penalize him in various ways if he bought his own pump.

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