Today’s news:

City Planning OKs rezoning for Austin St.

The creation of a new Forest Hills Special District is one step closer to becoming a reality with a vote by the City Planning Commission last week to approve plans for new zoning regulations along portions of Queens Boulevard and Austin Street.

“Consistent with Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg’s sustainable planning strategy and working closely with Council member Melinda Katz [D−Forest Hills] and Community Board 6, we have crafted a 10−block rezoning to protect the distinct character and strengthen the vibrancy of the Austin Street retail corridor and more appropriately frame and reinforce development patterns on Queens Boulevard,” City Planning Commission Chairwoman Amanda Burden said in a statement.

The plan, approved by Community Board 6 in October, pertains to the 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.

Should the zoning changes be implemented, which must be approved by the City Council, building height on the south side of Austin Street would be limited to about 40 feet, or three stories. Buildings on the north side of Austin would be limited to approximately 70 feet, or four to six stories. Buildings along eight blocks from Yellowstone Boulevard to 72nd Road south of Queens Boulevard could be no taller than 150 feet, or 14 stories.

Because the area is currently zoned primarily for automotive uses, such as repair shops and gas stations, Katz said developers potentially could have received variances that would allow them to build 20− to 30−story structures.

“It was important for me to keep Austin Street very low,” Katz said. “Austin Street has a great feel for the community, and I felt it should not be overbuilt.”

Forest Hills business officials applauded the commission’s approval of the rezoning.

“It’s going to help the area grow, and it’s going to regulate the size of the buildings, which will keep everything nice,” said Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce.

Stan Markowitz of the Muss Development Company in Forest Hills said developers will want to build less parking than what the plan now specifies.

“But anything that helps Austin Street we are certainly in favor of,” he added.

Community Board 6 District Manager Frank Gulluscio said community members, politicians and business owners have been working hard on the rezoning for the past two years and was pleased it passed planning.

“It maintains the character of Forest Hills,” Gulluscio said. “It’ll maintain the quaintness and will keep the uniqueness of Forest Hills.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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